Top 10 Recasting Decisions
The casting process for any film or television project is a delicate process. Finding the perfect fit between an actor and a role is a full time job for many people and when a good role turns up there are often a number of talented actors vying for the part. Miscasting the part can make or break the entire film or show and even when a miscast occurs it’s very rare that a change would be made as the politics behind the studios and legal ramifications prevent it.
But sometimes a director will make a last minute decision that will save a film, or for unforeseen circumstances they’ll be forced to go with their second choice and it will turn out to be for the better. Let’s take a moment to appreciate those moments.
Bonus! Iron Man
This instance of miscasting didn’t quite qualify for the list because the intended movie was never green lit, but it’s such an oddity it’s worth noting. When the first trailer for Iron Man hit cinema screens it was clear to everyone that Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark. Every bit the party animal, every bit the eccentric and every bit the charmer…there is no-one else who could be considered for the part. Especially not…
…Tom Cruise. Who in their right mind thought that was a good idea? Well, Tom Cruise did. Prior to 2005 Cruise’s production company held the rights to the Iron Man movie and he intended to not only star but co-produce – giving him the control to turn it into a star vehicle. When the rights found their way back to Marvel they went to him with the script, but Cruise turned them down saying that the script was weak and if he did the part he’d want it to be “done right”. That script is the one they used with Robert Downey Jr. and the golden age of cinema superheroes began.
10. Marty McFly
When Michael J. Fox took the lead role in goofy sci-fi comedy Back to the Future, predicted by many to be a failure, he may not have expected the legacy that followed. The teen who sways between cool and awkward as he travels through the past, the future and a dark alternate timeline has become one of the most enduring icons of modern cinema. With Fox’s tragically young case of Parkinsons cutting his acting career short Marty McFly will ensure his name will be remembered for generations to come. Although Fox was the first choice for the part his commitment to sitcom Family Ties prevented it, so the part went to the next choice: Eric Stoltz.
Impressed with his performance in Mask, the producers went ahead and begun filming with Stoltz. It was a full month into filming that director Zemeckis and producer Spielberg came to the decision that the movie wasn’t going to work with Stoltz in the lead role. They praised the young performers talents saying that he had given a great dramatic performance, but that wasn’t all that the part called for. With an actor playing the part straight the narrative concerning the relationship between him and his mother would be…uncomfortable. Later in life Eric Stoltz would become best known as the lank haired drug dealer in Pulp Fiction.
9. Buffy Summers
It’s fair to say that Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t going to be escaping her typecasting as tough horror girl after playing Buffy the Vampire Slayer on television for seven years. Her only acting roles of note in recent years have been in horror films and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing the cult favourite demon hunter even though she wasn’t the first actress to take on the part (Kristy Swanson played the role in the movie), but it’s only the television series we’re talking about here. In that case the original Buffy Summers was to be:
Yep, Katie Holmes. Although these days her role in life is to be hounded by paparazzi and sneered at by gossip column writers and readers, Holmes has shown enough acting talent to carry a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and she certainly seems well suited to the part. Holmes instead elected to finish high school before accepting a role in Dawson’s Creek and getting a foot into the Hollywood door. Sarah Michelle Gellar was not left in the cold, having been cast as Cordelia Chase before the main role opened up. Also in the running for the part of Buffy Summers was Julie Benz (Darla in BtVS and later Rita in Dexter), Elizabeth Anne Allen (Amy the Witch), Julia Lee (Chanterelle/Lily Houston/Anne Steele across BtVS and Angel), Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) and Mercedes McNab (Harmony).
The casting across the X-Men movie franchise has been hit and miss. With characters like Toad and Silverfox there aren’t many fans who are going to be very invested in how well the character translates across to the big screen. Wolverine was a different matter. For decades he had been the favourite character, earning himself multiple spin-offs, and without a doubt the mutant most people wanted to see in action. Seeing Hugh Jackman in his opening scenes was like watching the Canuk walk off the page and into our world. But it almost wasn’t…
First up is Russell Crowe who, even without the career boost afforded by the brand name franchise, has done fairly well on his own and has since retired from acting in order to wander aimlessly around Ridley Scott’s film sets. He was director Bryan Singer’s first choice, no doubt hoping to harness the raw, animal power seen in films like Romper Stomper, but Crowe refused the part when they couldn’t meet his salary demands. The part went to second choice Dougray Scott, a rising star at the time. Scott was already busy shooting Mission Impossible II in which he played the villain. Although there wasn’t a clash at the time of casting John Woo’s action flick ran months over schedule and when, three weeks into filming, Bryan Singer decided that he couldn’t wait any longer for the actor he was forced to go with the unknown Hugh Jackman, who promptly became a high demand actor. Dougray Scott, on the other hand, has been working steadily but never got his second chance at cracking the A-List – but we will see him in the upcoming season of Doctor Who.
7. Patrick Bateman
Christian Bale has been working in Hollywood most of his life, making his mark in Spielberg’s Empire of the Son at a young age. For years he struggled to be taken seriously as an actor but that turned around when he scored the lead role in the highly controversial adaptation of the novel ‘American Psycho’. Cold and clinical, carefully sculptured and a deadly psychopath who embodied 1980s Wall Street excess, it was not only a star making turn but it became an instantly familiar character the world over. Director Mary Harron almost walked off the project when the studio balked at the casting of Bale, insisting on…
Young Leo. No doubt wanting to cash in by pairing the teen heart-throb, fresh off the success of Titanic, with the well known material the studio told Mary Harron that DiCaprio would be offered the lead, prompting her to walk off the project unless they hired Bale. Instead they hired Oliver Stone and Leo took the role. DiCaprio’s boyish looks did not suit the part in the slightest and although he has recently proven his acting chops at the time he was not as experienced. Commentators and Women’s Rights Groups freaked out that his army of young fan girls would be seeing the shocking American Psycho, and DiCaprio decided to pull out of the project. Harron returned with Bale in tow and the movie got made.
6. The Terminator
Imagine someone else playing the Terminator. It can’t be done, right? Even though you’ve actually seen other actors play the part you can’t summon anyone else in your imagination except for Arnold. He IS the Terminator. One could easily be convinced that he is in reality a robot and no acting was involved. In reality Schwarzenegger turned up in James Cameron’s office to audition for the part of Kyle Reese after the part of the Terminator had been cast. When Cameron heard some of Schwarzenegger’s ideas on the titular villain he rethought his casting, now convinced that he made his evil robot. It was a big decision to make, since the other actor hired for the part was part of the pitch that sold the film, arriving at the producer’s office by kicking down the door while in costume.
Lance Henrikson certainly doesn’t have the physical intimidation of Arnie, but his casting makes more sense when you look as Cameron’s original character concept. He intended the Terminator to be able to blend into a crowd instead of standing two feet above it. Also keep that in mind then Henrikson would be well suited to playing a mechanical being – something he did extremely well for James Cameron in Aliens.
‘Complexity’ is not a term that gets used often when discussing the characters of Lord of the Rings. Simple distinctions are made between good and evil with broad stereotypes ruling the day. Aragorn is the exception. Older and wiser than he appears outwardly, a king by heritage who lives off the land, a human living among the elves – there are many sides to the role. Classically trained actor Viggo Mortensen fit the bill, bringing the scruffy man of the wild and noble ruler of men to life across the trilogy. Mortensen was a late addition to the cast however, as he was the replacement for actor Stuart Townsend. Director Peter Jackson made the decision to cut Townsend a few weeks into the filming after finding that he didn’t suit the part. What would that have looked like?
Like that. Jackson made the right call, stating that Townsend look far to young for the character. Although it wasn’t said many people could also see that he didn’t carry the screen presence needed for the major role.
4. Morpheus and Neo
The Matrix was a gamble. Every studio the Wachowski Brothers (as they were known at the time) shopped the pitch around to knew that whoever bankrolled the ambitious project was taking a huge risk. A complex sci-fi/kung-fu/philosophy flick by a pair of upstart and unproven auters who had to hire a professional comic artist to storyboard the revolutionary and undeveloped special effects. Before Warner would set the two mavericks loose they had to prove themselves with the indie thriller Bound. With that success they started pre-production of The Matrix, but hit a problem with casting. The Wachowski’s wanted Keanu Reeves, but the surfer dude cum action star had become a joke in industry circles. Warners instead wanted to tap the up and coming talent of rap-star turned sitcom star Will Smith.
Big Willy Style turned the role down not due to the new-comer directors or the script, but his uncertainty about the bullet-time effects. When asked about turning down the iconic role (for Wild Wild West of all things) Will Smith has responded that in hindsight he wouldn’t have been mature enough for the part, and would’ve been too young looking. The studio then moved on to…Nicholas Cage. He cited family obligations and let’s never speak of it again. With the studio having exhausted their wish list they went ahead with the director’s choice of Reeves. When it came to Morpheus, the opposite problem occurred.
Both Val Kilmer and Sean Connery were among the Wachowski Brother’s choices to play Morpheus, with Val Kilmer rumoured to have been attached at one point whilst Connery turned it down outright. Again the third choice of Laurence Fishburne filled the part, and did a damn fine job.
3. Batman and Harvey Dent
In the modern superhero flick the casting is essential. Decades ago the only qualification was managing to fit into the costume, but these days we need something a little more interesting on our screens. Examining the psychology behind these unusual figures while physically managing to match up with the long standing depiction of the characters in comic form. Sometimes the casting can destroy a film series (I’m looking at you, three of the four Fantastic Four actors) and sometimes it can elevate it to the level of masterpiece. What I’m saying is that the casting in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is outstanding, and no doubt every actor in a major role feels very fortunate to have been involved. But there’s one poor guy who lost out on not one but two major parts…
Before they even began the audition process screenwriter David S. Goyer voiced his preference for the young actor based of the strength of his performance in Donnie Darko. Jake Gyllenhaal auditioned for the part of Batman alongside Christian Bale, Cillian Murphy, Joshua Jackson, Eoin Bailey, Hugh Dancy, Henry Cavill and Billy Crudup. Bale won the role as Nolan and Goyer felt he alone could portray both Bruce Wayne and Batman while other actors excelled at one but not the other. Cillian Murphy impressed Nolan enough to pick up the role of Jonathon Crane, but Gyllenhaal was sadly left out. He later auditioned for the role of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, loosing out to Aaron Eckhart who became the front runner after his performance in Thank You For Smoking. Maybe for the best, as if Gyllenhaal did get the part it wouldn’t made the scenes between him and Maggie Gyllenhaal REALLY awkward.
2. Capt. Mal Reynolds
If you know the name Nathan Fillion it’s probably not because of his time on 2 Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Fillion has become a household name (in cool households, anyway) after playing the lead role in the short lived but massively popular sci-fi western Firefly. Much of the popularity of the show came from the brilliant casting with Nathan Fillion leading the group as the conflicted, aggressive and gold-hearted space pirate. From the strength of his performance he’s had all manner of roles open up to him, including villain roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. Although Fillion had been on Joss Whedon’s landscape after auditioning for the part of Angel almost a decade earlier, he wasn’t even considered for Mal Reynold’s because the part was actually written for someone else.
Nicholas Brendon, best known as Xander Harris is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was getting ready for the last season of battling demons when Joss Whedon put pen to paper on his sci-fi spaghetti western. As he wrote the character of Mal Reynold’s he intended to offer the role to Brendon and wrote him accordingly. When the shooting schedules for BtVS and Firefly started to overlap Brendon had to decide between the two, and with a six year investment in BtVS already he elected to stay put. In the meanwhile Nathan Fillion campaigned heavily for the part, phoning the studio every day until he was made an offer. Now he’s remembered as the best smuggler with a spaceship ever seen on our screens (yes, I said it).
1. Indiana Jones
We’ve made plenty of mentions of ‘iconic’ characters in this article, but few characters fit the bill as well as the world’s most famous teacher. In the 30 years since his first adventure Indiana Jones has become the archetype adventurer. When people think of adventure it’s his fedora and whip that come to mind. There’s no doubt that a large part of the success of the character came from Harrison Ford’s easy charm. He comes across as down-to-Earth even when dabbling in the supernatural and performing death defying stunts. The character is a perfect combination of casting and writing. But it was almost this:
Whether Tom Selleck’s famous mustache was to be part of the role is unknown. What makes the story interesting is that director Steven Spielberg earmarked Harrison Ford for the fedora. Writer and producer George Lucas balked at the idea, having already worked with Ford in Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and American Graffiti. Lucas was concerned that he would develop the reputation for working with Ford in every film, showing early signs that he doesn’t know what makes good cinema. Lucas put his foot down and Spielberg relented (conversationally this is how aliens wound up in the fourth Indy outing) and cast Tom Selleck. When CBS refused to release Selleck from his contract on Magnum PI to make the movie they fell back on the original choice of Harrison Ford. History was made.