In some Hollywood movies, the actor seamlessly embodies their character, making it impossible to envision anyone else taking on the role with such impactful delivery. However, casting can be a challenging and unpredictable process. There are instances where an actor simply isn’t the best fit, while other times the studio may strongly advocate for an actor who ultimately declines due to various factors, such as conflicting schedules or concerns about being typecast.
How many famous actors turned down or couldn’t take on career-defining roles? Could you imagine Leonardo DiCaprio playing American Psycho? Or how about Johnny Depp playing Ferris Bueller? Or even Michelle Pfeiffer facing Hannibal Lecter? In most cases, we’re glad these actors who turned down huge roles decided to say “no” because the finished movie ended up pretty close to perfection without them.
Mel Gibson – ‘Gladiator’
Playing the unhinged Detective Riggs in Lethal Weapon, we should have seen the potential for a public meltdown that awaited us when Mel Gibson was ostracized from Hollywood after antisemitic and racist rants were made public. But before all that happened, Gibson was a top-billing Hollywood star, which is why we aren’t surprised he was offered the lead in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning drama Gladiator. Gibson was just in his early 40s at the time, but reportedly turned it down thinking he was too old for the battle sequences. The film won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Would Gibson have won?
Molly Ringwald – ‘Pretty Woman’
Molly Ringwald was quickly becoming America’s sweetheart in the late 1980s thanks to her iconic roles in a series of John Hughes films, but the actress didn’t seem long for the limelight of Hollywood and moved to France and eventually into obscurity. Julia Roberts became our Pretty Woman and earned an Oscar nomination and a massively successful Hollywood career to boot.
Tom Hanks – ‘Jerry Maguire’
In 1996, Tom Cruise was already a bankable film star, but one of his most memorable roles was almost never meant to be. Jerry Maguire writer and director Cameron Crowe has said that he wrote the role with Tom Hanks in mind, but Hanks was busy with his first directorial role on That Thing You Do and couldn’t fit the role into his schedule. Nobody seems too upset that Hanks couldn’t take the role, even Hanks himself. Hanks told Access Hollywood, “I think you look at it now and it couldn’t have been anybody other than Tom Cruise. It’s the way the movie’s operated. I don’t think anybody would look at that now and say, ‘That movie was not perfect.’”
Julia Roberts – ‘The Blind Side’
Molly Ringwald’s loss was Julia Roberts’ gain for Pretty Woman, but Roberts’ loss was Sandra Bullock’s gain when the former turned down the role of Leigh Anne Touhy in The Blind Side. Bullock went on to win her first and only Oscar (so far) for the role. The Blind Side wasn’t Roberts’ only big acting regret: She also reportedly turned down the lead female role in Sleepless in Seattle.
Thomas Jane – ‘Mad Men’
Jon Hamm’s star-making turn as Don Draper in AMC’s Mad Men is another one of those characters where it’s difficult to picture anybody else in the role, but Hamm wasn’t anywhere on the casting director’s radar in preproduction. They reportedly wanted Thomas Jane, who at the time was coming off some recent buzz with The Punisher and The Mist. Hamm told Marc Maron on a WTF podcast, “The casting directors didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t on anybody’s lists. The funny thing was, I think they went to Thomas Jane for it, and they were told that Thomas Jane does not do television. Now starring in [HBO’s] Hung, by the way.”