The casting process in Hollywood is a lengthy one. Directors, producers, and writers don’t settle until they find the actor that they think is perfect for a role. But sometimes the makers of a film already have the perfect actor or actress in mind before casting begins. This does not always work out though. Actors often turn down roles due to scheduling conflicts or simply because they did not like the script.
With this list, we discuss some actors and actresses who turned down roles that ended up being life-changing for the people who ultimately played them. When we say life-changing, we mean that the respective actor or actress gained immediate fame, their careers took off, or they gained iconic celebrity status!
It’s hard to imagine someone else in the roles we love (can you even imagine someone other than Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump?) but here’s a quick look at what could have been.
Christina Applegate – Elle Woods
When someone says Legally Blonde, the first image that comes to your mind is probably that of Reese Witherspoon in a pink suit being a total boss lady.
But did you know that the script was offered to Christina Applegate first?
The role of Elle Woods was offered to Applegate in 2000 before turning it down, because she had just finished filming the sitcom Married with Children, and her role in that seemed too similar to Elle Woods. She regretted her choice later, obviously.
“What a stupid move that was, right?” Applegate says. But this year on Andy Cohen’s show, the actress added that she doesn’t regret her choice anymore because of how good a job Reese Witherspoon did playing the character.
And it’s true, Witherspoon is the one who brought Elle Woods to life.
We find it hard to even think about Elle Woods without Witherspoon’s face popping into our heads!
Emily Blunt – Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow first made an appearance in 2010’s Iron Man 2 and was an immediate fan favorite. But this iconic role was first offered to Emily Blunt. At the time, Blunt turned the role down saying that her schedule wouldn’t allow it.
In fact, Blunt has turned down not one but two Marvel roles; the second being that of Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. When asked about this in multiple interviews, Blunt always claims that opportunities, simply, did not line up at the “right time”.
Blunt also feels uncomfortable discussing these roles because she feels it’s unfair to the actresses playing them now. Sounds like a valid reason to us.
There was some speculation last year about Blunt playing Captain Marvel, but the actress was busy with other projects.
Black Widow and Scarlett Johansson are synonymous now, but some other actresses considered for this role, besides Blunt were (fun fact) Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, and Jessica Biel.
Emma Watson – Mia
La La Land’s Mia is played by Emma Stone, but the musical role was also initially offered to another Emma: Emma Watson!
It was initially announced that Emma Watson was to play Mia before she had to withdraw from the project. Watson claims it was frustrating that her name got attached to the project so early when even she didn’t know if she was going to be in it.
When people were speculating Watson’s casting as Mia, she had already committed to the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, which meant (you’ve guessed it) scheduling conflicts.
Additionally, Watson had to put a lot of preparation into the role of Belle (singing and dancing lessons, horseback training, you name it) and she really couldn’t afford to slack.
We suppose in the end it’s better to do one film well than to do two bad ones at the same time (not that we believe Emma Watson could ever do a bad job).
La La Land went on to win several Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes.
Emma Stone won Best Actress in each of these.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Matthew McConaughey – Rose and Jack
The Titanic was single handedly one of the biggest films of the nineties and remains a classic to this very day. A modern-day take on Romeo and Juliet, set on a sinking ship based on a true story makes the movie a thrilling watch.
Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet did an amazing job, and their chemistry was undeniable, but would you believe that these two were not the original pick for the iconic couple?
Gwyneth Paltrow and Matthew McConaughey were offered the roles of Rose and Jack, respectively. Both of them were the top choices for casting.
In fact, Kate Winslet even auditioned with McConaughey! He was not as well-known back then, as he is now, but if had he taken this role it would have propelled his career the way it did for DiCaprio.
As for Paltrow, she was in the top two final choices for Rose (along with Winslet) but unfortunately, it did not “work out”.
Winslet would go on to win an Oscar nomination for the role.
Hugh Jackman – James Bond
Before Casino Royale started filming, Pierce Brosnan had been the current James Bond that, at some point, needed to be replaced.
Hugh Jackman was one of the top choices for the role (and we can see why, wink wink) but he, of course, turned it down.
For Jackman, the reasons stretched far beyond mere scheduling conflicts. When Jackman was filming X Men 2 and was offered the role, he was reluctant to take it because he felt he would be stuck doing action films and not be able to try other things.
“I always tried to do different things,” he added, saying he didn’t want people to start seeing him as a certain kind of action hero.
Jackman also claimed that the scripts for the Bond movies were getting crazier and more unrealistic, which is something even Brosnan admitted.
Daniel Craig eventually became Bond and went on to shoot a trilogy.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Alan Turing
The WWII picture The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who was a mathematician that helped the Allies win the war by cracking the codes on important messages.
The movie received wide critical acclaim. Turing was prosecuted for being a homosexual and eventually committed suicide, and Cumberbatch delivered a heart-touching performance.
Given a role like this, it’s no surprise that Leonardo DiCaprio was the first choice. It’s not quite certain why DiCaprio gave up this role (probably didn’t have time between shooting different movies).
What we can tell you is that things went down in a rather dramatic way. When DiCaprio pulled out, so did Warner Bros from the project, because it wasn’t good enough for them without DiCaprio!
Who knows, maybe DiCaprio could have won that Oscar early had he taken this role.
Matt Damon – Jake Sully
Jake Sully is the main protagonist of the box office film Avatar. Sam Worthington eventually played the character (and did a rather good job of it, too!), but Matt Damon was also offered the role before him.
While everyone knew that Damon turned the role down, no one really knew why at first. There were rumors of Damon bailing on the project despite loving it at first.
Damon clarified, “I joke that I bailed on Avatar, but in truth, it was a scheduling issue.” He went on to add that he had loved the script and was initially looking forward to working with James Cameron, but shooting The Bourne Ultimatum had made things too hectic.
We’re sure Damon regrets the whole thing even more now than he did back then, given Avatar’s success. For years, Avatar was number one at the box office, but it was only recently beaten by Avengers: Endgame’s re-release.
Jake Gyllenhaal was also offered the role of Jake Sully.
Reese Witherspoon – Sidney Prescott
Scream is not your average horror flick. It is an iconic, one-of-a-kind movie, made famous in pop culture references. No one knew, of course, that it would turn into such a huge deal, and especially not Reese Witherspoon, who was offered the role of Sidney Prescott.
Witherspoon rejected the role which then went to Neve Campbell. We wonder if Witherspoon regrets her decision now, seeing how Scream turned into a four-movie franchise that grossed more than 600 million dollars worldwide. But again, we suppose no one could have predicted this success while no one could have ever expected such big earnings.
Come to think of it though, Witherspoon probably doesn’t regret this decision too much, because she’s one of those people who always manage to shine no matter what!
Witherspoon still made quite a career for herself, winning both an Oscar and an Emmy.
Jennifer Lawrence – Bella Swan
Jennifer Lawrence once auditioned for the first Twilight movie, for the role of none other than Bella Swan herself. Lawrence eventually ended up not taking the role, because she didn’t really know what Twilight was (flimsy excuse, but very JLaw!).
In an interview with Howard Stern, the Hunger Games star said, “You just get like five pages [at the audition] and they’re like, ‘Act monkey.’” When Lawrence found out what the movie actually was, she was surprised but claims not to regret losing the role.
The role eventually went to Kristen Stewart, who ended up doing a fantastic job. The Twilight Saga franchise made around 2.5 billion dollars in the box office!
But we can see why Lawrence doesn’t regret her decision, because The Hunger Games has been just as (if not more at times) successful.
The first Hunger Games movie made about 300 million dollars more than the first Twilight movie did at the box office!
Will Smith – Neo
The Matrix is a pop culture darling, and the image of Keanu Reeves dressed in black with sunglasses is what everyone remembers as Neo. But as it turns out, Reeves wasn’t the first choice for the role.
Will Smith was the first choice to play Neo, but moviemakers just weren’t able to sell the role to him. And it makes sense; The Matrix was new and daring, and it can be difficult to sell something that hasn’t even been done before.
In a video on his YouTube channel, Smith explains that although he isn’t proud of having rejected such a life-changing role, he’s ultimately happy that he did it.
After Smith made Men in Black, he was pitched for the idea for The Matrix. Smith explains in his video how the pitch was a confusing one, and he decided to pass. “As it turns out, they’re geniuses! But there’s a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting.”
Julia Roberts – Viola
Shakespeare in Love won seven (!) Oscars the year it was released. One of these was for the lead actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays the Bard’s love interest, Viola. This makes us wonder if Roberts regrets having turned down the role of Viola, when she had the offer first.
That’s right, America’s Sweetheart Julia Roberts could have been the Viola to Joseph Fiennes’ William Shakespeare, since, for a long time, it was agreed that Roberts would play this role.
However, this was back when it was said that Daniel Day-Lewis would be playing Shakespeare and Roberts only agreed because she was looking forward to getting to know Lewis better (wow, you go girl!).
When Day-Lewis said he wasn’t interested, Roberts pulled out of the project as well and the whole thing fell apart in a few weeks.
It wasn’t until six years later that the new cast came together with a new director to make the film a (critically acclaimed) reality.
John Travolta – Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is, we dare to say it, a modern masterpiece. The overly sentimental story is pulled off well by the lead actor Tom Hanks, who happens to be one of the best actors out there. But Hanks almost wasn’t in Forrest Gump.
Grease hotshot John Travolta was initially offered the role after some other candidates. Travolta turned the role down because he wanted to be in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and there had been scheduling conflicts.
Winston Groom, who wrote the book, could never imagine Travolta in the role of Gump. And we agree on that! As terrific an actor, as Travolta is, we really can’t imagine anyone besides Hanks playing this part.
Ultimately, things worked out well. Pulp Fiction was a success, so we doubt Travolta regrets pulling out of this project.
Anne Hathaway – Tiffany
Silver Linings Playbook is, in one word, unforgettable. Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely brilliant as the quirky yet troubled Tiffany. We would even go so far as to say that she’s what makes the movie. And the Academy agrees as it awarded Lawrence her first Oscar for the role!
But before Lawrence was a part of the movie, Anne Hathaway was considered for the role of Tiffany, however, Hathaway only left the project over “creative differences” with the director.
Harvey Weinstein, who worked extensively on the movie, claimed he wanted Hathaway and Mark Wahlberg to be the stars at first. None of this worked out. Hathaway didn’t see “eye to eye” with the director, says Weinstein.
But he went on to say that he’s simply glad that things worked out in the end, and the movie became a success.
And we agree; Lawrence plays a wonderful counterpart to Bradley Cooper’s Pat.
Angelina Jolie – Alex Munday
Charlie’s Angels is a high gloss flick; at times it is completely over the top, but it still manages to pull it off. Part of the iconic trio is Alex Munday, played by Lucy Liu. You might not know, however, that the directors wanted Angelina Jolie to play the role at first.
Jolie has played in many similar, action-heavy films such as Tomb Raider and Mr and Mrs Smith, and she certainly has the sex appeal that was required to play Munday. But the actress claimed she simply wasn’t ready for it.
“The reasons to do it would be to play a tough girl, and I’ve already done that. Plus, I don’t wanna be that exposed by being in a really big movie,” Jolie told FilmInk. Amy Pascal, who worked on Charlie’s Angels said she “begged” Jolie to take the part, but Jolie was “no angel.” (Yikes, salty much?)
Ultimately, Jolie has done extremely well, both as an actress and a director, and her name and face are the most recognizable ones in Hollywood, so we don’t think this was much of a loss for her.
Michelle Pfeiffer – Clarice Starling
Jodie Foster was not the first choice for The Silence of the Lambs’ fiery Clarice, as hard as that might be to believe. Before Foster, the role was offered to a number of actresses (including Laura Dern), but the one person that the director’s really wanted was Michelle Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer was concerned that the film was too dark and violent, and was even “slightly offended” for being offered the role. Foster, on the other hand, had expressed a strong interest in the role.
Pfeiffer now claims that she regrets having turned down this part back then, and we don’t blame her. The Silence of the Lambs is an absolute cult classic now, and the root of many pop culture references.
Both Foster and Anthony Hopkins, who plays the serial killer/cannibal Hannibal Lecter, went on to win Oscars for their performances.