Some parts are written for actors. These are the lucky ones. For the vast majority those trying to 'make it' in acting have to struggle against a swarming tide of competition. Thousands will apply for a single part. So how do they finally secure a role?
Casting directors are the gatekeepers of the movie realm. Though they don't have the final say on who gets the part — this is up to the actual director — they are the most influential people when honing in on the final group.
Directors may already have a list of people they'd like to consider for the leads, especially for blockbusters and even though the director does have the final say, they also must take into account the wishes of the rest of the team.
Here's Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction' wish list from the pre-production stages:
But the majority go through a more time-consuming process. The casting director may also have some actors in mind. Occasionally actors may get wind of the part and send their resume and reel, with casting directors receiving around 10 daily.
The man behind the cast of Doctor Who, Andy Pryor, told The Guardian some even send glitter bombs to get his attention — a resume in an envelope that showers the opener with glitter. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't help.
It usually takes an average of three months for Hollywood movies to cast for a part, less for smaller independent films or theatre. The casting director will send out a breakdown of the character to between 200 and 300 agencies.
Agents inspect their stock of actors to see who might be suitable for the role description. Factors considered will include items like sex, age, ethnicity, accent, experience, attractiveness, and how well they're known in certain countries. Non-white actors have complained before that they can be sidelined from Hollywood leads, because the criteria can imply white preference for certain roles.
The competition pours in. The casting director will receive up to 1,000 resumes including headshots and some videos. From this extensive list they select on instinct around 500 performers and invite them in for an audition.
The auditions will be in front the casting director and a few others. Applicants will probably read some lines in a scene from the movie, which they may or may not be given beforehand. Some will expect some improv through reaction to an unscripted situation.
The panel judge every aspect of the actor's being, from their slouch to their Italian American drawl to their drag on a cigarette (assuming this is a mobster movie). It may be filmed and last for several rounds. "Next!" "Next!" "Next!"
The casting director will whittle the hundreds down to around five for an audition in front of the director. In this grand finale the director will be thinking not just about the individual's talent, but about how they will fit into the cast as a whole. They must support his vision while contributing something unique.
Here's 15 huge actors who almost took on iconic roles:
15. Jar Jar Binks - Michael Jackson
This could have been very strange: the King of Pop as cinema's most annoying sci-fi character? MJ wanted the role but Lucas didn't agree to his terms of doing Binks in makeup and prosthetics like in his "Thriller" video.
14. Jane Smith - Nicole Kidman
The tabloids' dream celeb movie of Mr and Mrs Smith would have been very different if Kidman had not decided to pass on the role.
13. Bale's Batman - Josh Hartnett
Hartnett resisted donning the black cape because he was freaked out by his recently acquired fame. In an interview with Playboy he said:
"I felt I couldn’t trust any new person I met or their motives."
12. Wonder Woman - Sandra Bullock
Producer Joel Silver was planning a live-action Wonder Woman movie back in 1999, way before Gadot strode onto the scene, and was in talks with Bullock about starring as Diana Prince. Unfortunately it never took off.
11. Forrest Gump - John Travolta
"Life was like a box of chocolates" almost drawled John Travolta. He turned down the role but has since admitted in several interviews that he regrets not taking it on.
10. Juliet Capulet - Natalie Portman
Romeo and Juliet began shooting with Portman and a 22-year-old Leo, but as she was seven years his junior it looked like he was "molesting" her. They paused filming and found Clare Danes.
9. Anakin Skywalker - Leonardo DiCaprio
The Star Wars prequels could have been very different if George Lucas had gotten his way. Leo told Shortlist when he was offered Anakin he "just didn’t feel ready to take that dive. At that point."
8. Willy Wonka - Brad Pitt
Pitt was considered when the film was in its planning stages, before Hollywood settled on Tim Burton as director for the 2005 Wonka remake of Roald Dahl's classic.
7. Han Solo - Al Pacino
Pacino rejected the role in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope from 1977 because he "didn't understand the script"! However, he later recognized it as a "missed opportunity."
6. Rose DeWitt Bukater - Gwyneth Paltrow
Paltrow turned down the female lead in what became the highest-grossing film ever (until Avatar), leaving Kate Winslet to stand gloriously on the prow of Titanic.
5. Maximus Decimus Meridius - Mel Gibson
Mel passed on the lead as vengeful slave in Gladiator that Crowe went on to win an Oscar for. He believed he was too old and not physically fit enough to spar in the coliseum — he's nine years Russell's senior.
4. Morpheus - Russell Crowe
Every role accepted also comes a cost - Crowe's swallowing the red pill of Gladiator meant his schedule was too busy for the blue pill of The Matrix. He had to step aside for Laurence Fishburne.
3. Captain Jack Sparrow - Jim Carrey
The man with the most acrobatic face in Hollywood was Disney's first choice for the buccaneering Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Carrey just couldn't find the time because filming clashed with Bruce Almighty.
2. Gandalf - Sean Connery
What in the name of Frodo was Peter Jackson thinking when he badly wanted Connery as the wise wizard over Ian McKellen for the Lord of the Rings movies?! Fortunately the ex-Bond star turned it down because of concerns with the script.
1. Will Smith - Django
Smith didn't want to play the charismatic shooter in this gripping Western because he thought it wasn't a lead role and didn't like the "creative direction" of the Django Unchained story.