During a 2011 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Betty White said that she turned down a role in As Good As It Gets because of a scene involving the mistreatment of a dog.
White explained that in the offending scene, an “adorable dog” is thrown down a trash chute. While the dog “lands on some cushions” and isn’t hurt, White said that she “didn’t want to set that example.” She added, “Of course the film was a tremendous hit, but I didn’t regret turning it down.”
Ian McKellen didn’t want to take on the role of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films following original actor Richard Harris’s death because he knew Harris didn’t think much of him as a performer.
In an interview on BBC World News’ HARDtalk, McKellen explained that when he was contacted about the possibility of joining the Wizarding World, he decided, “I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.” The interviewer noted that Harris believed that McKellen (and some of his peers) were “technically brilliant, but passionless.” McKellen dismissed this as “nonsense.”
Passing on Dumbledore evidently wasn’t much of a loss, though: McKellan joked that it was he who “played the real wizard,” a reference to his performance as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings film series.
Michael Gambon took over Dumbledore duties for the remaining films in the franchise.
Will Ferrell decided against starring in a follow-up to the instant holiday classic, Elf, because he didn’t believe in its script and therefore couldn’t bring himself to enthusiastically promote the film.
Ferrell told The Hollywood Reporter, “I would have had to promote the movie from an honest place, which would’ve been, like, ‘Oh no, it’s not good. I just couldn’t turn down that much money.’ And I thought, ‘Can I actually say those words? I don’t think I can, so I guess I can’t do the movie.’”
“That much money” translates to, in this case, a cool $29 million.
In a 1996 New York Times interview, Bruce Willis said that he turned down the lead role in Ghost because he didn’t think its central romance made any sense.
Willis, who would’ve starred alongside his then-wife Demi Moore, said about his decision, “I just didn’t get it. I said, ‘Hey, the guy’s dead. How are you gonna have a romance?’ Famous last words.” He called himself a “knucklehead” for not taking the opportunity.
Instead, Patrick Swayze played Sam Wheat opposite Moore as Molly Jensen.
Leonardo DiCaprio told ShortList in a 2015 interview that even though he met with director George Lucas about it, he didn’t want to play Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels because he “just didn’t feel ready to take that dive.”
He felt the same way about playing Robin in Batman Forever. After confirming that he took a meeting to discuss the role with the director, DiCaprio explained, “Joel Schumacher is a very talented director but I don’t think I was ready for anything like that.”
The role of Anakin ultimately went to Hayden Christensen, while Robin was played by Chris O’Donnell.
Speaking of turning down Star Wars: Toshiro Mifune, an actor known for his performances in films directed by Akira Kurosawa, rejected offers to play both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, because of concerns over whether the quality of the special effects available at the time would be to the film’s detriment.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mifune’s daughter Mika talked about her father’s decision at a 2015 event to promote the first Tokyo Comic Con. She said, “I heard from my father that he was offered the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he was concerned about how the film would look and that it would cheapen the image of samurai, on which George Lucas had based a lot of the character and fighting style.”
Mifune went on, “At the time, sci-fi movies still looked quite cheap as the effects were not advanced and he had a lot of samurai pride. So then, there was talk about him taking the Darth Vader role as his face would be covered, but in the end he turned that down too.”
Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan Kenobi, while Darth Vader was played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones.
In a 2013 interview with Bullett, Jonah Hill said he was offered “any one of the three main parts in The Hangover” by the director, Todd Phillips. But he turned it down out of a fear of being “known as ‘The Guy from Superbad’ for the rest of my life.”
Hill explained, “I knew I could be a dramatic actor, but I also knew I couldn’t go from Superbad to Schindler’s List.”
The three core stars of The Hangover ended up being Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis.
Zac Efron decided not to take on the starring role of Ren McCormack in the 2011 remake of Footloose in order to challenge himself and grow as an actor.
In a 2009 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Efron said, “I’m sure Footloose would have been a huge challenge, but the actors that I love and the actors that work really hard in this industry are always shaking things up, trying new genres, acquiring new skill sets. That’s what’s always going to appeal to me: the unknown.” At the time, he was fresh off his work as Troy Bolton in the High School Musical trilogy, which concluded the year prior.
Ren McCormack was played by Kenny Wormald instead.
Zendaya left the lead role in TV movie Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B because she was concerned about the film’s production and her inability to receive the blessing of Aaliyah’s family.
In statements posted to Instagram, Zendaya said, “The main reasons were the production value wasn’t there. … There were complications with the music rights. And I just felt like it wasn’t being handled delicately considering the situation. And I tried my best to reach out to the family on my own and I wrote a letter, but I was unable to do so. Therefore I felt not really morally okay with moving forward with the project.”
Alexandra Shipp took over the role in Zendaya’s place.
In an interview with Vulture, Laurence Fishburne said that playing Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction “wasn’t for me,” despite the fact that Quentin Tarantino “wrote that part with me in mind.”
Fishburne took issue with the way drug use was depicted in the film. He said, “I just had a problem with the way the heroin use was dealt with. I just felt it was a little cavalier, and it was a little loose. I felt like it made heroin use attractive. For me, it’s not just my character. It’s, ‘What is the whole thing saying?'”
Ultimately, Samuel L. Jackson took on the role of Jules.
Christina Applegate decided not to play Elle Woods in Legally Blonde because she was afraid it was too similar to roles she’d played in the past, specifically Kelly Bundy on Married… with Children.
Applegate told ETonline, “The script came along my way and it was right after I had just finished, Married […with Children], and it was a blonde who in that first script didn’t win it but ends up going to Yale, or Harvard, I don’t remember. I got scared of kind of repeating myself.”
She added, “What a stupid move that was, right?”
Reese Witherspoon played Elle instead, and Applegate said she “did a much better job than I ever could” with the role.
Michelle Pfeiffer told the New Yorker that she decided not to play Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs because of the grim nature of the story and, in particular, its ending.
Pfeiffer said, “There was such evil in that film. The thing I most regret is missing the opportunity to do another film with Jonathan [Demme, the director].”
She went on, “It was that evil won in the end, that at the end of that film evil ruled out. I was uncomfortable with that ending. I didn’t want to put that out into the world.”
Jodie Foster was cast as Clarice instead, and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
During a 2019 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Eddie Murphy said that he turned down the role of Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit because he didn’t think that animation and live-action would work together.
Murphy said that at the time, he thought, “What? Animation and people, that sounds like bullshit to me.” But he called the movie the only one he “ever turned down that became a big hit,” and said that when he watches it now, he “feel[s] like an idiot.”
Bob Hoskins was cast as Eddie Valiant, instead.
In an excerpt from his memoir Putting the Rabbit in the Hat published in GQ, Succession star, Brian Cox, explained why he turned down two major roles: King Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones and the Governor in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Baratheon didn’t appeal to Cox for two simple reasons: It didn’t pay particularly well, and his character was going to die in Season 1, anyway. Cox wrote, “But when [the role] was originally offered the money was not all that great, shall we say. Plus I was going to be killed off fairly early on, so I wouldn’t have had any of the benefits of the long-term effects of a successful series where your wages go up with each passing season. So I passed on it, and Mark Addy was gored by the boar instead.”
As for Pirates, Cox called the Governor’s part “the most thankless” in the film, and noted that being stuck in a franchise would’ve meant passing on “all the other nice things” he’s worked on. And besides, he wasn’t all that excited about working with the film’s star, Johnny Depp.
Cox wrote, “Another thing with Pirates of the Caribbean is that it’s very much the ‘Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow’ show, and Depp, personable though I’m sure he is, is so overblown, so overrated. I mean, Edward Scissorhands. Let’s face it, if you come on with hands like that and pale, scarred-face make-up, you don’t have to do anything. And he didn’t. And subsequently, he’s done even less.”
The roles of King Baratheon and the Governor went to Mark Addy and Jonathan Pryce, respectively.
Denzel Washington told GQ that he regretted turning down a role in the 2007 film Michael Clayton over fears about director Tony Gilroy’s experience (or lack thereof).
Washington said, “With Clayton, it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong. It happens.”
In an interview with Wired, Will Smith said that he decided not to accept the role of Neo in The Matrix because he wasn’t convinced by the film’s pitch.
He said, “You know, The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu’s performance — and very rarely do I say this — but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be.”
Of course, Keanu Reeves is the actor who just let The Matrix be.
Nicolas Cage told People that he let roles in both The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix pass him by because he wanted to focus on his family.
While discussing his movie, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage said, “There’s no version of Nic Cage in reality that doesn’t want to spend time with his children. There’s no version of Nic Cage that didn’t put family first over career. I turned down Lord of the Rings and I turned down Matrix because I didn’t want to go to New Zealand for three years or Australia for three years because I needed to be home with my son Weston, that’s a fact.”
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