These 25 Actors Passed on the Role of a Lifetime, but Most of Them Didn't Regret It
There are some roles you can't imagine anyone else playing — until you learn that another actor actually passed on the role of a lifetime! It happens more often than you might think: one actor is offered the role or preferred by the creative team, but then scheduling, creative differences, or personal reasons get in the way, and then magic happens when the second choice ends up in the role. Still, the "what might have beens" are always fun to look back on, and that's exactly what we're doing. We've rounded up some of the most famous and surprising times actors passed on what would become iconic roles. Keep reading to see which stars declined some of the most celebrated movie and TV roles!
Hugh Jackman in Casino Royale
Jackman, Hugh Jackman — can you imagine it? The actor revealed to Variety that the search for the next Bond (which eventually yielded Daniel Craig) included him, but he just wasn't interested. "I just felt at the time that the scripts had become so unbelievable and crazy, and I felt like they needed to become grittier and real. And the response was: 'Oh, you don't get a say. You just have to sign on.' I was also worried that between Bond and X-Men, I'd never have time to do different things."
Charlie Hunnam in Fifty Shades of Grey
The Sons of Anarchy star was initially announced to star in the much-hyped Fifty Shades adaptation, but dropped out before filming began, with the role of Christian Grey eventually going to Jamie Dornan. Ultimately, Variety reported, it was scheduling conflicts that led Hunnam to drop out.
"I'd given Guillermo [del Toro] my word, over a year before, that I was going to do [Crimson Peak]," he explained to VMan magazine. "People were saying, 'Are you crazy? Guillermo still has got four months to recast, it's the fourth lead, you can go and do this [instead].' I said, 'I can't. He's my friend, I've done a film with him, I gave him my word.'"
Emily Blunt in Iron Man 2
Way back in 2009, MTV broke the news that Emily Blunt had dropped out after being cast as Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Scarlett Johansson — reportedly after losing the role to Blunt the first time around — wound up playing the role and remained in it for a full decade of movies. Blunt's reason for dropping out was a simple one, she told MTV: scheduling conflicts with Gulliver's Travels, which she'd already committed to. "It was one of things that was conflicting," she said. "So it's a shame the two of them couldn't work together. It just got complicated, so I think I had to pull out for my own sanity more than anything."
Emma Watson in La La Land
The role that won Emma Stone an Oscar almost went to a different Emma! Watson was initially attached to star (along with Miles Teller), but ended up having to turn it down in order to film Beauty and the Beast, which she had been committed to for years.
"I knew I had horse training, I knew I had dancing, I knew I had three months of singing ahead of me, and I knew I had to be in London to really do that," she said at a SiriusXM Town Hall event, according to Entertainment Weekly. "And this wasn't a movie I could just kind of parachute into. I knew I had to do the work, and I had to be where I had to be. So scheduling conflict-wise, it just didn't work out."
Christina Applegate in Legally Blonde
It's hard to imagine anyone other than Reese Witherspoon in the iconic role of Elle Woods, but apparently, she wasn't the first choice! Applegate told Entertainment Tonight that she got the script right after wrapping Married... With Children and rejected the role out of a fear of being typecast early in her career.
"I got scared of kind of repeating myself. . . . What a stupid move that was, right?" she joked, adding: "Reese deserved that. She did a much better job than I ever could, and so that's her life."
Angela Bassett in Monster's Ball
Halle Berry became the first Black actress to win the best actress Oscar for her role in Monster's Ball, but the role almost went to another iconic actress: Angela Bassett. Bassett told Newsweek that she ultimately passed on the role over concerns about stereotyping Black women. "It's about character, darling," she told the magazine, according to People. "I wasn't going to be a prostitute on film. I couldn't do that because it's such a stereotype about black women and sexuality."
Gwyneth Paltrow in Titanic
Kate Winslet's star-making role almost went to a different then-fresh face. In a 2015 interview with Howard Stern, as Us Weekly reported, Paltrow evaded questions about turning down Titanic. "I know that the story is that I turned it down," Paltrow said. "I think I was really in contention for it — I was one of the last two." She added: "I look back at the choices I've made and think, 'Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?' And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There's a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?"
John Lithgow in Batman
Jack Nicholson's Joker became a movie icon, but he wasn't the only actor seen for the role. According to a 2017 Vulture interview, John Lithgow was approached, but turned down the role in hilarious fashion. "My worst audition was for Tim Burton for Batman. I have never told anyone this story, but I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded."
John Travolta in Forrest Gump
The character of Forrest Gump is so inextricably linked to Tom Hanks that it's very weird to imagine Travolta in the role instead. According to the BBC, though, that's exactly what could have been had Travolta not turned down the role in favor of doing Pulp Fiction.
Will Smith in The Matrix
Keanu Reeves became a sci-fi icon with The Matrix, but the role of Neo almost went to another action star — Will Smith! He admitted in a 2004 Wired interview that he turned down the role after just not vibing with the pitch. "In the pitch, I just didn't see it. I watched Keanu's performance — and very rarely do I say this — but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don't try and perform every moment."
Julia Roberts in Shakespeare in Love
Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar-winning role almost went to Julia Roberts instead! One of the film's costars, Simon Callow, revealed to the Daily Mail that the original cast had Daniel Day-Lewis and Roberts in the leads, rather than Joseph Fiennes and Paltrow. "Julia Roberts, who was playing Viola, had — it was confidently rumoured — been assured that the role of Shakespeare would be played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who was someone Miss Roberts clearly wanted to get to know better," he revealed.
"But it was not to be. Daniel wasn't interested, so Julia withdrew and the whole thing fell through just six weeks before filming was due to begin."
Michelle Pfeiffer in Basic Instinct
Before Sharon Stone took on the iconic role, Pfeiffer was offered the movie but passed on it. Pfeiffer told People that it was just one of several roles she turned down when she was a new mother, wanting to prioritize a family-work balance. "I just got pickier and pickier. It was hard to leave them, especially when they got to be school age. Before that, I could just take them with me anywhere I went. But then there was breaking up the family unit. My husband has a job that he can't just up and go. So it was always a juggling act."
Leonardo DiCaprio in American Psycho
In the years following Titanic, DiCaprio pretty much had his pick of top-notch roles and was offered the part of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. According to Guinevere Turner, who played Elizabeth in the movie, Gloria Steinem supposedly talked DiCaprio out of taking the part.
"Gloria Steinem, as legend would have it," Turner recalled, "took [DiCaprio] to a baseball game and said, 'Please don't do this movie. You're the biggest movie star in the world right now, and teenage girls are living for you, and I really don't want them all to run to the theater to see a movie where you're a man who kills women.'" DiCaprio did, in fact, back out of the movie, and Christian Bale was cast instead.
Tom Cruise in Footloose
We can't imagine Footloose without Kevin Bacon's brand of charm, but apparently the filmmakers could! The Chronicle reported that Cruise was actually the first choice to play city-boy transplant Ren, but he turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with All the Right Moves.
Sandra Bullock in Million Dollar Baby
Bullock was the driving force in trying to get the boxing movie made for years, but when it did finally get the green light, she was already committed to other projects. "We had Million Dollar Baby with someone else for a while, trying to get it made," she said, according to the Irish Examiner. "I couldn't get it made. We tried and tried and tried. . . . I then started doing Miss Congeniality 2 and they got Hilary (Swank) and they got Clint [Eastwood]."
Mel Gibson in Gladiator
Gladiator made a Hollywood star of Russell Crowe, but he almost never entered the arena at all. A New York Times review revealed that Gibson was the first choice to play Maximus, but the actor turned it down — reportedly concerned about the intense action scenes and believing himself too old for the role.
Tom Hanks in Jerry Maguire
A different iconic Tom almost starred in Jerry Maguire. Writer-director Cameron Crowe revealed to Deadline that he wrote the script with Hanks in mind.
"He liked my stuff and we had a couple conversations after Say Anything. The idea was, let's not be slaves to writing this as a Tom Hanks in capital letters movie, but let's have Tom Hanks on our minds as a guy who would play Jerry Maguire. So we were kind of developing it for him, based on us knowing he really wanted to do something with us. But as Hanks got more and more into that white hot heat of super stardom, I always did think, well, if Tom Hanks doesn't do this, who would be the dream Jerry Maguire? More and more over time, that was Tom Cruise." Ultimately, when Hanks's schedule directing That Thing You Do! took him out of the running, Cruise snagged the role.
Julia Roberts in Sleepless in Seattle
Rom-com queen Meg Ryan very nearly didn't star in one of her most iconic movies. In a 2014 InStyle profile, Roberts revealed that she was first approached to star in Sleepless in Seattle but turned it down. "I'd been offered Sleepless in Seattle, but couldn't do it," she told the magazine, according to ABC News. "[Meg Ryan] and Tom Hanks are just such a jewel of a fit in that. I guess what they did for that moment in time is sort of what Richard [Gere] and I were doing across town [in Pretty Woman], you know?"
Al Pacino in Star Wars
Harrison Ford is Han Solo, so it turns out it's a pretty good thing that the first actor for the role turned it down. Pacino was approached to play the smuggler-turned-rebel-hero, but he told MTV in 2014 that he declined because the script confused him. "It was at that time in my career where I was offered everything. I was in The Godfather. They didn't care if I was right or wrong for the role, if I could act or not act. . . . I remember not understanding it when I read it."
Molly Ringwald in Pretty Woman
The role of Vivian Ward is so perfect for Julia Roberts, but the then-unknown actress only landed the role after other actresses declined. The most famous of those rejections came from Molly Ringwald, who passed on the role a few years after her '80s hits. "I think I saw an early draft and it was called $3,000," Ringwald diplomatically shared in a Reddit AMA, referencing the earlier (and darker and raunchier) iteration of the script. "I don't specifically remember turning it down. The script was okay but I gotta say, Julia Roberts is what makes that movie. It was her part. Every actor hopes for a part that lets them shine like that."
Thomas Jane in Mad Men
Don Draper made Jon Hamm a household name, but in a 2011 podcast interview, Hamm revealed that he wasn't the first choice to anchor Mad Men. "I think they went to Thomas Jane for it, and they were told that Thomas Jane does not do television," he told WTF With Marc Maron.
Dana Delany in Sex and the City
Delany turned down the role of Carrie Bradshaw, which turned Sarah Jessica Parker into a TV icon, over concerns about pigeonholing herself. "I had done a movie called Live Nude Girls with Kim Cattrall that was somewhat similar," she told the Los Angeles Times. "It was women sitting around talking about sex. Darren Star was a friend of mine and he had joined up with Candace Bushnell and came up with this idea and he asked if I'd be in it. It was very much in the early stages, and I had just done Nude Girls and Exit to Eden and I just said to Darren, 'I cannot do a show with "sex" in the title.'"
Oliver Hudson in This Is Us
Oliver Hudson — yes, Kate Hudson's brother — was reportedly in the running to play patriarch Jack Pearson. The role ended up going to Milo Ventimiglia after Hudson declined to finish the audition process — thanks to a fishing trip.
"I had a 10-day fishing trip planned. It's my life! Fishing is a big part of my life and it was this 10-day fishing trip and my agent says, 'We got to test, and they really like you, and this, this, and that,'" he recounted on the podcast The Ladygang. "And I said, 'Oh. I'm supposed to go on a fishing trip.' And he's like, 'OK, yeah, so? I mean this is a big thing.' And I said, 'You know what? I'm going to do my fishing trip.'"
Katie Holmes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Katie Holmes both became big TV stars thanks to roles in late-90s/early-'00s WB shows, but the specifics were nearly very different. Digital Spy noted that Holmes reportedly turned down the role of Buffy in order to finish high school, before going on to hit it big with Dawson's Creek.
Macaulay Culkin in The Big Bang Theory
The megahit sitcom initially pursued Culkin for one of the lead roles, but he was extremely uninterested, even after repeated inquiries. "It was kind of like, the way the pitch was, 'Alright, these two astrophysicist nerds and a pretty girl lives with them. Yoinks!'" he said on the The Joe Rogan Experience, according to People). "And I was like, 'Yeah, I'm cool, thanks.' And then they came back at me again, and I said, 'No, no, no. Again, flattered, but no.' Then they came back at me again, and even my manager was like twisting my arm. . . . I'd have hundreds of millions of dollars right now if I did that gig. At the same time, I'd be bashing my head against the wall."