So, in Part I on this continuing series on "Top B Casting Calls" I began with O.J. Simpson as the original choice to play The Terminator back in 1984. Although known by many a film buff, I could not ignore the obvious irony that had been attributed to the recasting...the producers of the film fearing that "The Juice" was "too nice to be taken seriously as a cold-blooded killer."
Meanwhile, the lead actor they went with, would end up amassing the largest on-screen body count in cinematic history before transitioning to politics and winning the hearts of voters to become Governor of California.
Final thought on Terminator... had O.J. been found guilty in his famous 1994 criminal trial, I'd expect that the very day Governor Schwarzenegger took the oath of office, he would have promptly pardoned the convicted murderer, par for the course... given the debt owed to Mr. Simpson for giving Arnold his Hollywood start.
Time to move on...
But we are staying in 1984 (at least for the moment)...
#2 BEVERLY HILLS COP
As already revealed in the poster included under the title of this post, Eddie Murphy was not the original choice to play Axel Foley.
On the DVD featurette, producer Jerry Bruckheimer stated that the role was first offered to Mickey Rourke, who signed a $400,000 holding contract to do the film. When revisions and other preparations took longer than expected, Rourke left the project after his contract expired to do another film (9½ Weeks co-starring a very sexy Kim Basinger).
The role was then offered to Sylvester Stallone who (not surprisingly) envisioned a "harder edged" screenplay and left the set a day before filming was scheduled to commence when his ideas were largely edited out of the first shooting script.
Ready for Eddie right?
Hold on there Quick Draw McGraw...
After Sly left the film (and brought his version of the script with him to create Cobra) the producers approached both Al Pacino and James Caan to play Detective Foley.
Pacino turned it down in favor of his own personal project, The Local Stigmatic, a 1969 off-broadway play which failed to premier when Uncle Al attempted to turn it into a movie.
As for Jimmy Caan, he was already in talks to star in The Holcroft Covenant. Side note...Caan ended up walking off the set of Holcroft due to his sister's death from leukemia, a growing problem with cocaine, and what he described as "Hollywood burnout," and did not act in any film from 1982-1987.
Next on the list was Richard Pryor.
Wait a tic... let's recap for those keeping score at home:
First Choice: Rourke
Third String: Pacino
Not Even in Medal Contention: Caan
Dissimilar in every way from the previous choices, Pryor was no different in his decision to ultimately pass on the project. What made the producers of the film decide to do a complete 180 in terms of the "look" and "feel" of Axel Foley will remain a mystery. But at some point instead of abandoning the project all together, Beverly Hills Cop transformed itself from a film staring a no nonsense detective hell bent on cold revenge to...well...something very different.
But, despite broadening the pool of potential suitors to the widest length and deepest depth in the history of Hollywood casting, like the ugly girl at the prom, Axel Foley still couldn't find a mate to date.
When word reached others involved (or considering to become involved) in the film of Pryor's rejection, it caused a ripple effect of doubt in the minds of all...from the high paid studio executive to the 21 year old kid holding the boom mic.
Even when asked by producers to direct the film, Martin Brest flipped a quarter to decide whether or not to undertake the endeavor...
...and around the very time that quarter landed on the right side, enter six times a charm Eddie Murphy who had been offered the role mistakenly (by an unknown member of the staff) before receiving Pryor's "no thank you." And Eddie shocked the whole cast and crew (or what remained of it) by saying "yes."
By 1984, Eddie Murphy was arguably the most famous comedian in America (if not the world).
He singlehandedly saved the Saturday Night Live franchise in the early 80s by carrying co-stars Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gail Matthius, Ann Risley and Yvonne Hudsonon on his shoulders; was hosting his own slate of blockbuster pay-per view comedy specials to sold-out audiences and winning critical acclaim for his performances in films like 48hrs and Trading Places.
When approached to play Axel Foley, Eddie was either unaware that he was the project's sixth choice or simply did not care.
The fact that most of the dialogue that appears in the final version of the film was actually improvised by Murphy and not part of anyone's script, helps answer a lot of questions about both the movie's success and its transformation from an action packed crime thriller starring John Rambo (fingers crossed) to a comedic masterpiece and one of the best movies of 1984.
During his tirade at the Beverly Palms Hotel, Axel pretends to be writing an article called "Michael Jackson: Sitting on Top of the World" for Rolling Stone magazine. In real life, Playboy ran an article called "Eddie Murphy: Sitting on Top of the World."
In her review of the film, Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote:
Beverly Hills Cop finds Eddie Murphy doing what he does best: playing the shrewdest, hippest, fastest-talking underdog in a rich man's world. Eddie Murphy knows exactly what he's doing, and he wins at every turn.
Anyone involved in the movie (and subsequent sequels) especially the casting department, should be thanking the gods of cinema every day of their collectively rich lives for having had the luck of getting turned down by 5 of the most talented performers of the twentieth century.
The only person to have publicly attributed Beverly Hills Cop's sensational reception to Murphy was director Martin Brest who framed the quarter he flipped and hung it on the wall of his mansion, where it still exists to this day.
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