Iconic Roles That Were Almost Played by Someone Else
Rumer Willis as Serena van der Woodsen? Al Pacino as Han Solo? You won't believe which stars were originally cast in your favorite films
George Clooney & Paul Newman: Noah Calhoun, The Notebook
While promoting his upcoming Netflix film The Midnight Sky during a virtual chat for the 64th BFI London Film Festival, Clooney, 59, recalled how he and Newman — who died in 2008 at age 83 after a long battle with cancer — almost joined the beloved 2004 romantic drama based on Nicholas Sparks' novel.
“We were going to do The Notebook together,” Clooney said, according to Deadline. “Basically, I was going to play him as a young man, and it was funny. We met and said, ‘This is it. It’s going to be great.’ "
However, Clooney said he got cold feet after he went home and watched a number of Newman's iconic films.
"He’s one of the handsomest guys you’ve ever seen. We met up [again] and I said, ‘I can’t play you. I don’t look anything like you. This is insane,’ " Clooney recalled. "We just wanted to do it because we wanted to work together, [but] it ended up being not the right thing for us to do."
Gosling went on to play Noah Calhoun with James Garner playing the older version. Rachel McAdams starred opposite Gosling as Allie Hamilton and Gena Rowlands acted opposite Garner.
Nicole Kidman: Anna Scott, Notting Hill
Kidman stars opposite Hugh Grant in the HBO thriller series The Undoing, but if she had it her way, she would have shared the screen with him decades ago. The Oscar winner told Grant in a conversation for Marie Claire that she had her heart set on playing Grant's love interest Anna Scott in 1999's Notting Hill. The actress also revealed that she almost ended up in Grant's 2003 holiday flick Love Actually, as well.
"I think there was something where I think I really wanted a role ... maybe I was gonna do a small role in Love, Actually at one point," said Kidman. "Yeah. Yes."
"Were you? Which part?" asked Grant, to which Kidman replied, "I can't remember. It was not a big role. And I really wanted the role that Julia Roberts played in Notting Hill."
"Yeah, I did," she said before modestly adding, "But I wasn't well known enough, and I wasn't talented enough."
Claire Danes: Rose Dawson, Titanic
In an interview with Dax Shepard on his Armchair Expert podcast, Danes revealed that she was meant to be acting alongside Leonardo DiCaprio (again) in Titanic, but has "zero regret" about turning it down.
She told Shepard that there was "strong interest" in her for the role of Rose, "But honestly, I’d just made this romantic epic with Leo in Mexico City [Romeo + Juliet], which is where they were going to shoot Titanic, and I just didn’t have it in me,” Danes said.
The pair had the same manager at the time, and though Leo decided to go for the role, Danes did not feel "ready for it."
“I remember after that movie came out and he just went into another stratosphere,” Danes said. “I went to the premiere of The Man in the Iron Mask, and when he walked into the room the floor fell in his direction. Everybody in the room went toward him. It was a little scary. I think I may have sensed I was courting that. And I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want it."
But Danes has "zero regret," she told Shepard. "I was just really clear about it. I wasn’t conflicted. I wasn’t."
RUSSELL CROWE: ARAGORN, LORD OF THE RINGS
During an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Stern asked the actor if he regretted turning down a particularly lucrative role he'd been offered: Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which eventually went to Viggo Mortensen.
"They offered you 10 percent of the gross of the movie — I did the math for you, so eat your heart out," Stern joked. "I don't mean to upset you, but I think you would have gotten $100 million dollars ... does that eat at you?"
"Never thought about it. Only in situations in like interviews where people are polite and kind enough to add s— up for me," Crowe laughed.
"I didn't think [director] Peter Jackson actually wanted me on the film," the Gladiator actor explained. "I think he was forced into talking to me, because there was a moment in time when everybody wanted me in everything ... my instinct was that he had somebody else in mind ... and he should be able to hire the actor that he wants."
EMILIA CLARKE: ANASTASIA STEELE, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
After filming several scenes involving onscreen nudity early on while playing Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, Clarke got "sick and tired" of being constantly asked about it, which prompted her to turn down the lead role in 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey.
During The Hollywood Reporter's Drama Actress roundtable, the actress revealed she was offered the role of Anastasia Steele in the erotic thriller, but turned it down due to the excessive nude scenes.
“Well, Sam [Taylor-Johnson, the director] is a magician. I love her, and I thought her vision was beautiful. But the last time that I was naked on camera on [Game of Thrones] was a long time ago, and yet it is the only question that I ever get asked because I am a woman," Clarke said of turning down the part.
"And it’s annoying as hell and I’m sick and tired of it because I did it for the character — I didn’t do it so some guy could check out my t-ts, for God’s sake," she continued.
"So, that coming up, I was like, 'I can’t.' I did a minimal amount and I’m pigeonholed for life, so me saying yes to that, where the entire thing is about sensuality and sex and being naked and all of that stuff."
Ultimately, after wrapping up ten years of filming GoT, Clarke is glad to have avoided something that would have a sequel. "I'd like to not do one of those for a minute."
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: DUKE, G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA
Before he hit his big break as Thor, the Aussie actor had dropped out of high school and was struggling to get roles in order to support his family. "We had no money ... I wanted to pay off their house," he told Variety.
"I almost put too much pressure on myself," Hemsworth said, adding that the stress of taking care of his family led him to miss out on roles.
"I got very close to GI Joe," Hemsworth said of the 2009 movie starring Channing Tatum. "At the time I was upset. I was running out of money," he said of not landing the parts.
Now, Hemsworth realizes that it was all for the best, as it led him to the most lucrative role of his career: "But if I played either of those characters, I wouldn’t have been able to play Thor."
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: ELTON JOHN, ROCKETMAN
Elton John (and the rest of the world) may be thrilled with Taron Egerton's portrayal of the Rocketman himself, but the musical legend initially had a few other actors in mind — including Justin Timberlake.
The "Cry Me a River" singer first caught the attention of Sir Elton's husband and Rocketman producer David Furnish after he saw his portrayal of John in the music video for song "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" in 2001.
"We never formally approached Justin because we weren’t ever at a stage where it was the right time to approach him," Furnish explained to The Hollywood Reporter.
"But he did an amazing job in the video. He put on a prosthetic nose, and it turned out to have been some really interesting acting as well."
MERYL STREEP: PATSY CLINE, SWEET DREAMS
Even as a 19-time Oscar nominee, Meryl Streep still has roles she says she missed out on.
The actress was eager to play the lead in 1985's Sweet Dreams, a film about country singer Patsy Cline directed by Streep's pal Karel Reisz.
"Karel was a friend of mine who I adored, and he was making a film about Patsy Cline who is a singer I adored," Streep told PEOPLE. But when Reisz decided to cast Jessica Lange as the lead, Streep struck a deal to make up for her loss.
Before she began filming Plenty that same year, she pointed out that it happened to be filming conveniently nearby Reisz's home in England.
"I told him, 'Well the least you can do is let me stay at your house while I am there,'" says Streep. "He did, and it was a beautiful house."
JOE ALWYN: SAM, LOVE ACTUALLY
The Mary Queen of Scots star almost landed the role of Liam Neeson's son — the lovesick and adorable Sam — in the perennial holiday film Love Actually, he revealed on Live with Kelly and Ryan.
Alwyn, who has been dating Taylor Swift for almost two years, said he enjoyed the "time off school to go to this audition" and explained he had to go through a "whole series of workshops."
"I didn’t get it in the end, but I do remember meeting Hugh Grant and [screenwriter] Richard Curtis and sitting around reading some stuff," he added. The role in the 2003 classic eventually went to Maze Runner actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster.
REBA MCENTIRE: 'UNSINKABLE' MOLLY BROWN, TITANIC
The country crooner was set to make her silver-screen debut as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown in James Cameron's 1995 blockbuster, but ultimately had to turn down the role due to scheduling conflicts.
"We were on tour and I had a lot of people on the payroll and we had these three months to do the movie. And then they got behind on scheduling and said, 'No, we’re going to have to move it in this time.' So we couldn’t reschedule all the arenas and everything," McEntire revealed on an episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.
The role then went to Oscar winner Kathy Bates, and the movie turned into a box office hit that earned over $2 billion and won 11 Oscars.
Asked by Cohen if the movie's success killed her a little bit, McEntire admitted, "Well, sure, absolutely."
"But you got to take care of your people," she added.
ALDEN EHRENREICH: DAN HUMPHREY, GOSSIP GIRL
“Before Penn was involved, I desperately wanted Alden Ehrenreich to play Dan,” he shared.
However, the actor ultimately lost the part because producers decided he too short compared to co-star Blake Lively.
JULIANNE MOORE: LEE ISRAEL, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Moore was questioned about the film when a caller asked the Still Alice actress why she had left Can You Ever Forgive Me?, as had been previously reported.
“I didn’t leave that movie, I was fired,” Moore said. “Yeah, yeah, Nicole [Holofcener, the original director] fired me. So yeah, that’s the truth.”
GWYNETH PALTROW: ROSE, TITANIC
The 1997 blockbuster made Kate Winslet a superstar, but Paltrow came close to being cast as Rose, the posh passenger who fell for Leonardo DiCaprio's rakish Jack aboard the doomed voyage. "I know that the story is that I turned it down," Paltrow told Howard Stern. "I think I was really in contention for it – I was one of the last two." Regardless, Paltrow isn't bitter. "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?"
KATE WINSLET: VIOLA, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Paltrow may have lost Titanic to Winslet, but she took the role of Viola de Lesseps from her when the Brit beauty turned down 1998's Shakespeare in Love. Winslet reportedly rejected the part because she wanted to concentrate on making independent movies, and Paltrow ultimately won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
JULIA ROBERTS: VIOLA, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Paltrow recently revealed Roberts had first agreed to make Shakespeare in Love.
“The movie had many iterations. Julia Roberts was going to do it for a long time, and then that version fell apart. It ended up in Miramax, and I was the first person they offered it to,” Paltrow told Variety.
CHRISTINA APPLEGATE: ELLE WOODS, LEGALLY BLONDE
The Vacation star recently told ETOnline that the script for the 2001 hit about sorority girl turned lawyer Elle Woods initially came her way but she was leery about taking on another "dumb blonde" role since her TV series Married … with Children had just wrapped. "I got scared of kind of repeating myself," she said. "What a stupid move that was, right?" Still, Applegate is happy with the way things turned out. "Reese deserved that. She did a much better job than I ever could, and so that's her life. That's her path."
JACK NICHOLSON: MICHAEL CORLEONE, THE GODFATHER
There are few films more iconic than 1972's The Godfather, in part because of Al Pacino's turn as mob boss Michael Corleone. But Nicholson actually turned down the role because he didn't feel he was the right fit. "Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians," the actor, who would go on to play hit man Charley Partanna in 1985's Prizzi's Honor, told MovieLine. "There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone."
JOHN TRAVOLTA: FORREST, FORREST GUMP
Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get. In this case it was Tom Hanks instead of Travolta in the titular role of the 1994 hit. While Travolta reportedly has said that passing on Gump was a big mistake, he went on to make a splash at the box office that same year with Pulp Fiction and even competed against Hanks for the Best Actor Oscar. Ultimately, Hanks took home the gold.
LINDSAY LOHAN: JADE, THE HANGOVER
LiLo may have a rep of being difficult to work with (hey, there's a whole New York Times piece on the subject), but it wasn't her behavior that kept her from landing 2009's The Hangover. "Honestly, it felt like she ended up being too young for what we were talking about," said director Todd Phillips, who met with then-20-year-old Lohan for the role that eventually went to Heather Graham. "People love to attack her for everything, like: 'Ha, she didn't see how great The Hangover was going to be. She turned it down.' She didn't turn it down. She loved the script, actually. It really was an age thing."
JOHNNY DEPP: FERRIS, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF
Decades after the film's 1986 debut, Matthew Broderick is still synonymous with the role of pro hooky player Bueller. But believe it or not, it could have been Depp twisting-and-shouting through the streets of Chicago. The future 21 Jump Street star was John Hughes's first choice for the title role, but he had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts. Depp later conceded during an Inside the Actors Studio interview that Broderick did a "great job" in the film.
AL PACINO: HAN SOLO, STAR WARS
Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, R2D2 … Pacino? It almost happened! The actor was offered the part of Han Solo in the 1977 space vehicle but passed on it because he felt it was too "out there." "It was mine for the taking," he has said. "But I didn't understand the script." Though the role eventually went to Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray were also considered.
ANNE HATHAWAY: TIFFANY, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Jennifer Lawrence won critical acclaim (and a Best Actress Oscar) for 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, but Hathaway was actually movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's first choice to play the role of Tiffany, he revealed in an interview last year. Though Hathaway turned down the part due to "creative differences" with director David O. Russell, she also went on to win an Oscar that year, for Best Supporting Actress in Les Misérables.
MOLLY RINGWALD: VIVIAN, PRETTY WOMAN
Famous throughout the '80s for coming-of-age, high school movies, Ringwald had the opportunity to break out of her mold when she was handed the script for $3,000 – or what would later be known as Pretty Woman. "I don't specifically remember turning it down," she now says. "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."
SANDRA BULLOCK: MAGGIE, MILLION DOLLAR BABY
Despite reports to the contrary, PEOPLE's World's Most Beautiful didn't turn down Hilary Swank's Academy Award-winning role in the 2004 Clint Eastwood film. "I couldn't get it made. We tried and tried and tried," Bullock has said. Unfortunately, by the time Baby got off the ground, Bullock was filming Miss Congeniality 2. But Bullock remains congenial about the whole experience, saying, "When things like that happen, that's the way they are supposed to be."
RUMER WILLIS: SERENA VAN DER WOODSEN, GOSSIP GIRL
The CW's casting director David Rapaport revealed that the network was gunning for Rumer Willis to play the star role of Serena van der Woodsen, the Manhattan it-girl for whom drama follows wherever she goes. Blake Lively ended up nailing the role – and, to be quite honest, we can't imagine golden girl Serena as anyone else. Rapaport was pleased with how it all turned out, too: "These lesser-known girls really captured the essence of the show and carried it for six years."
MILES TELLER: SEBASTIAN, LA LA LAND
Teller has been open about missing out on the movie-musical role made famous by Ryan Gosling. He told Esquire that he almost gave up the film War Dogs with Jonah Hill due to scheduling conflicts with La La Land when he unexpectedly found out the film was moving forward without him. "I got a call from my agent, saying, 'Hey, I just got a call from Lionsgate. Damien told them that he no longer thinks you're creatively right for the project. He's moving on without you,' " the actor recalled. Despite the change of plans, Teller remains optimistic, as he told Vanity Fair: "I'm a pretty strong believer that everything happens for a reason."
EMMA WATSON: MIA, LA LA LAND
"The casting of this movie during the six years it took to get made went through lots of permutations, and it's true there was a moment where Emma Watson and Miles Teller were doing it," La La Land director Damien Chazelle told Uproxx. While the part of Mia ultimately went to Emma Stone, Watson ended up landing the leading role in Disney's live-action film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Not too bad, eh?
LEONARDO DICAPRIO & BRAD PITT: JACK TWIST & ENNIS DEL MAR, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
While Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal scored Academy-Award nominations for their performances as forbidden lovers in Ang Lee's critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain (2005), the gay romance could have turned out entirely differently in the hands of Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant.
Vant Sant, best known for Good Will Hunting (1997) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), revealed to Indiewire that he was pitched the opportunity to direct the film before Lee signed on, and had some bigger names in mind for casting.
"I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no," Van Sant recalled. "Nobody wanted to do it."
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: JACK DAWSON, TITANIC
The Oscar winner recently revealed that he "had a good audition" for the role of Titanic's Jack, and it seems like he's never let go of the missed opportunity.
"I wanted that. I auditioned with Kate Winslet," the Oscar winner said on The Hollywood Reporter’s "Awards Chatter" podcast. "Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it. I didn’t get it. I never got offered that."
Leonardo DiCaprio got the role instead, and McConaughey hopes that it wasn't because his agent never got back to him.
"And as I've said before, not even half jokingly if it’s true, if that was an offer and it didn't come to me, I've got to go back and go, 'I've got to meet in an alley with that agent,'" he joked on the podcast.
HENRY CAVILL: EDWARD CULLEN, TWILIGHT
The Justice League star auditioned to play the eternally teenaged vampire, and was reportedly the favorite of author Stephenie Meyer, who penned the romance books the film franchise was based on.
"I think the writer of the books, when the movie came around, I think I was her first choice," Cavill explained on The Graham Norton Show. "That's the rumor I heard. And she wanted me to play the role, but it wasn't up to her. And instead, a very talented actor played him instead." The aforementioned actor was Robert Pattinson, who played Cullen in five movies from 2008 to 2012.
TIFFANI THIESSEN: RACHEL GREEN, FRIENDS
So what kept her from joining the cast? "I was just a little too young," she explained. "I was a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them."
Thiessen was just 20 years old when Friends first premiered in 1994, while Aniston was 25 and still the youngest member of the cast.
But the actress has no hard feelings about missing out on the role, calling Aniston’s performance "very, very funny."
CONNIE BRITTON: OLIVIA POPE, SCANDAL
Of filling the role of D.C. crisis manager Olivia Pope, casting director Linda Lowy revealed network executives originally envisioned Scandal's leading lady as a white woman. "The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie [Britton] and all white women," said Lowy. "I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, 'We're going to have to redo this list.' " Kerry Washington was ultimately cast, making her the first black woman to topline a drama in 37 years.
MATT LEBLANC: PHIL DUNPHY ON MODERN FAMILY
Before Ty Burrell landed the part of the Dunphy family patriarch on Modern Family, showrunners had another funny man in mind: LeBlanc, who they offered the part to first. However, he turned it down — not because he didn't think the show would be a hit, but because he didn't think he could tackle the character. "I remember reading it thinking, this is a really good script, [but] I’m not the guy for this," the Friends actor told USA Today. "I’d be doing the project an injustice to take this. I know what I can do, I know what I can’t do. Plus, I’m having too much fun laying on the couch.”
CHARLIZE THERON: ROXIE HART, CHICAGO
"I've definitely wanted stuff that I didn't get. For awhile I was attached to Chicago. I really wanted that — I was a dancer for most of my life, and there was a real nostalgia — the idea of making that movie for me. I got kicked off it. The directed kicked me off it. I was really bummed about it," Theron told Howard Stern on his SiriusXM radio show of losing out on the lead role in the 2002 film. "I think because I had it I was like, 'Oh I'm going to make this movie,' and then I was kicked off it."
She added: "There was another director attached and he brought me on. And then that director got fired and this new director got brought on and he didn't want to make the movie with me. I was going to play the Renée Zellweger role — which by the way, she did an amazing job. So yeah, I'm fully envious of what she did … I've seen that movie a lot. I really like the movie, I think everybody's great in that film. I fantasize to be in that movie. I think it just would have been different."
HUGH JACKMAN: JAMES BOND, CASINO ROYALE
In an interview with Variety, the Australian actor opened up about getting the opportunity to play James Bond following the success of X-Men — a role he eventually turned down after being told he didn't get a say in how the story of James Bond went. "I was about to do X-Men 2 and a call came from my agent asking if I'd be interested in Bond," Jackman recalled. "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."
BRAD PITT: RUSSELL HAMMOND, ALMOST FAMOUS
Although Billy Crudup took on the Famous role of the rock star, Pitt was set and even shot a few scenes for the film's writer-director Cameron Crowe before dropping out due to creative differences. According to Crowe, the role was written with Pitt in mind.
SELMA BLAIR: JOEY POTTER, DAWSON'S CREEK
Katie Holmes became a household name as Joey Potter, the moody tomboy everyone rooted for, on Dawson’s Creek. But another actress almost scored the part, creator Kevin Williamson revealed in Entertainment Weekly.
"I really loved Selma until, of course, I got the infamous videotape from the basement of the Holmes family in Toledo, Ohio,” he says, referencing Holmes’ last-minute audition tape filmed in her parents’ house. “And when that video showed up, it changed my whole life.”
OLIVER HUDSON: JACK PEARSON, THIS IS US
While we can't imagine anyone but Milo Ventimiglia play the role of the beloved patriarch in the family drama, Kate Hudson's brother was in the running — but missed out on the opportunity due to scheduling conflicts.
"So I went in and read, and it went very well, and they wanted me to come and do a chemistry read with Mandy Moore," the actor said during an interview on the podcast The Ladygang. "But this will tell you how much I love to fish."
"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 have to test, and they really like you, and this, this, and that,'" he recalled. "And I said, ‘Oh. I'm supposed to go on a fishing trip'… And he's like, ‘Ok, yea…so? I mean this is a big thing.' And I said, ‘You know what? I'm going to do my fishing trip, so…'"