6 actors who passed up legendary roles
A couple of weeks ago, Will Smith revealed that he turned down the part of Django in Quentin Tarantino's blood-soaked revenge flick Django Unchained. His reason? "Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead," he said. Whether it was hubris that stopped Smith strapping on his six shooter and blowing holes in all who stood in his way, or because it simply "wasn't for him" is irrelevant; Smith backed out, Jamie Foxx jumped in, and the rest is cinematic history. In fact, Smith is no stranger to passing on leading roles, having famously declined the role of Neo in the Wachowskis' smash hit The Matrix. That film went on to gross almost half a billion dollars, spawn two undecipherable sequels, and make Keanu Reeves a bona fide movie star, despite his line delivery being as hollow as balsa wood.
Smith is by no means the only actor to have passed up on fairly meaty film fodder recently. A Walk Among the Tombstones is currently being filmed on the streets of NYC with Liam Neeson bringing his own inimitable brand of muscularity to the lead role. He wasn't the first choice to play lead character Matthew Scudder though, as Harrison Ford turned it down.
All this got me thinking about how different our cinematic landscape would look if actors had made different choices. With that in mind, I've compiled a list of actors who turned down famous roles and whether movie history is a better or worse place because of it. Some of these choices might be well known, others less so. All of them are intriguing if only to ask the question, what if?
Brad Pitt- The Spy Who Got Away
Back before Matt Damon was a roof-top jumping, bad guy-punching action star, Brad Pitt was the first choice to play Jason Bourne, but turned it down to star opposite Robert Redford in Spy Game. Pitt is arguably one of the finest actors of his generation, but Matt Damon's muscular, yet vulnerable performance meant he was Jason Bourne. Plus, it's questionable whether Pitt would have committed to two more movies.
Verdict- The Damon Legacy
Johnny Depp- Logan Adamantium Hands
In what would have probably been the biggest WTF casting in history, Johnny Depp turned down the role of beardy-badass Wolverine, with the gig going to Hugh Jackman instead. Although it might be difficult to imagine Depp bulking up and getting moody for Wolverine, it's worth remembering that Jackman was known more for his jazz hands than his fighting skills before he landed the part.
Verdict- Hugh Jackman: First Class
Tom Selleck- Indiana Jones and the Last Moustache
It's hard to believe that one of the most iconic characters in movie history was almost played by that dude from Magnum P.I. Tom Selleck was offered the role of the adventuring archaeologist after impressing in a screen test, but had to turn down the role due to a recently signed contract with Universal and his commitment to Magnum. It's a decision that Selleck admitted has haunted him ever since, and the real kicker? Due to a writers strike in 1981 he would have actually have had plenty of time to film Raiders of the Lost Ark. As it turned out, Harrison Ford found fortune, glory and Tom Selleck found 3 Men and a Baby.
Verdict- Harrison Ford and the Case of the Dodged Bullet
Schindler's Missed (Opportunity)
Harrison Ford is involved again, only this time it's for a role he turned down. Spielberg had worked with Ford previously on the Indiana Jones trilogy and offered him the role of Oskar Schindler. Ford declined the part, suggesting that people would be unable to look past his starring presence at the importance of the film's subject matter. The gig went to Liam Neeson instead who delivered an Oscar-nominated performance, which set him on the path to Hollywood royalty and to eventually becoming a born-again action hero.
Verdict- When it came to playing Oskar Schindler, Neeson was the final solution
The Amazing Heath-Ledger
The late, great Aussie actor was the first choice to play Spider-Man in Sam Raimi's smash-hit superhero movie, but Ledger declined the role of Peter Parker because he thought he would be "taking away someone else's dream." Tobey Maguire landed the web-slinging gig instead and although I have no doubt that the incredibly talented Ledger would have killed it as Spider-Man, if he'd taken the role we would have never gotten his Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Verdict- Peter Parker Picked the Perfect Performer
The Lord of the Two Missed Opportunities
If at first you don't succeed, give in and star in an absolute turkey instead. This is motto that has been said by nobody ever, but it could definitely be used to describe a couple of Connery's past film choices. The legendary British actor turned down the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings because he didn't understand the script. Connery was reportedly offered a 15% stake in the film franchise, meaning he lost out on nearly $450 million. Ouch. It gets worse though. So much worse. Connery also admitted that he turned down the chance to get all existential for the role of the Architect in Matrix Reloaded because he again didn't understand the script. After it too smashed the box office to gold-plated pieces, Connery decided enough was enough and filled with regret and self-loathing (probably) he signed up for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, thus rounding off the worst career choices since Adolf Hitler decided there was no future in painting pictures.
Verdict- Sean Connery and the League of Extraordinarily Terrible Decisions
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does offer an insight into how different (and much richer Sean Connery would have been) if fortune had favored the brave. Use the comment section below to let me know whether you think the right choices were made and if Sean Connery needs to fire his agent.