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Actors who ALMOST Played Famous Roles

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Sean Connery as Gandalf?


Tom Selleck was almost Indiana Jones


Could Gale Sondergaard have been the Witch of the West?


Some of the Iconic roles we know almost went to other actors

Did you ever see an actor/actress in a famous role and then hear later that they were not the first, or even the second choice to play the iconic part? Many of the legendary movie characters began as a vehicle for a different star than the one who we know-and-love in the part. Here are a few of the greatest examples of famous "Almosts'.

THE CAST OF THE WIZARD OF OZ: Imagine the Wizard of Oz with Shirley Temple as Dorothy; W.C. Fields as the Wizard,Buddy Ebsen as the Tinman and Gale Sondergaard as the Wicked Witch of the West? It almost happened! this was the original cast that MGM wanted for the movie. Little Shirley Temple was one of biggest box-office draws of her day and MGM tried to make arrangements to borrow her on loan from the studio which had her under contract, but negotiations fell through, and Judy Garland stepped into movie legend. (No way Shirley could have sung "Over the Rainbow" as well as Judy.) WC Fields turned down the role of the Wizard when they wouldn't meet his price and therefore was replaced by Frank Morgan. Buddy Ebsen had a nearly fatal allergic reaction to the make-up they covered his face with to play the Tinman part, and so had to pull out of the project, which gave Jack Haley the chance to portray his most famous role. Gale Sondergaard was replaced because she was considered too refined and classy to be the ugly old witch; thus hatchet-faced Margaret Hamilton got the role of a lifetime. Who else could have played the Wicked Witch better than her?

JAMES CAGNEY AS ROBIN HOOD: This seems like a very strange notion now, but you have to take into account Cagney's drawing power in the 1930s. Cagney was one of the biggest stars in the world and the studio felt he would bring in the crowds to see The Adventures of Robin Hood. Director Michael Curtiz decided to pass on Cagney because he was short and looked too small compared to the villain (played by 6-foot-4 Basil Rathbone). Curtiz choose dashing Errol Flynn, who was perfect for the role.

RONALD REAGAN AS RICK IN CASABLANCA: Can anyone really picture future President Reagan filling the iconic role of Rick Blane and romancing Ingrid Bergman in the timeless classic Casablanca? I can't! Apparently, neither did the studio, because Reagan's famous connection to Casablanca was merely as a 'place-holder'; used as an interim actor to promote the production until the actual casting was done. He was quickly kicked out in place of Humphrey Bogart.

CARY GRANT AS JAMES BOND: When the 007 series was first brought to the screen with Dr. No, the studio execs wanted suave film superstar Cary Grant to take on the role, but Grant didn't want to be tied down to a continuing franchise. Bond creator Ian Flemming wanted actor David Niven instead, but the studio felt Niven was too old by that point. This left the door open for lucky young Sean Connery to begin his long, successful career.

VITO CORLEONE IN THE GODFATHER: Although director Francis Ford Coppella wanted Marlon Brando from the beginning, the studio felt that his reputation for being a hard-to-work-with primadonna was a red flag and so they auditioned several other big name stars including Lawrence Olivier, Rod Steiger and Orsen Wells. Ultimately, Coppella's insistance and Brando's excellent screen-test won over the execs and Brando got to win his oscar as Don Vito.

ROBERT REDFORD AS SUPERMAN: When Richard Donner's big-budget film Superman: the Movie was in the planning stages, the studio wanted a big name in the role and were considering Robert Redford as the Man of Steel. However, Donner convinced the studio to go with an unknown, as so Christopher Reeve got to play his most famous role. (Similarly, when the later sequel Superman Returns was announced, Nicholas Cage was announced as the Man from Krypton but the part went to another unknown, named Brandon Routh.)

HAN SOLO: Geroge Lucas apparently had a very hard time casting Han Solo in Star Wars. His leading contenders at one point were Christopher Walken and Nick Nolte. However, a chance meeting with Harrison Ford (Who was working as a carpenter at the time) inspired Lucas to cast Ford in the part.

TOM SELLECK AS INDIANA JONES: Another role that Harrison Ford almost didn't get was that of Dr. Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tom Selleck was the lead contender for the role in the beginning but Lucas had Harrison Ford in mind and pushed until the execs bent. Ford was perfect for the role and I doubt Selleck could have done any better.

BILL MURRAY AS BATMAN: Before Tim Burton pursuaded the studio to make a grim-and-gritty version of Batman, the execs wanted to make a campy "Pow! Zowie!" version, similar to the comical 1960s Adam West series. Bill Murray was the executive's top pick for the role, until Burton got the studio to pay attention to the very dark interpretation of Batman that had been popularized by Frank Miller's best-selling "Dark Knight" graphic novel. They decided to listen to Burton's idea of a grimmer portrayal of the Caped Crusader. Murray was out and Michael Keaton, who'd recently proved his acting chops in Clean & Sober, was in.

WILL SMITH AS NEO IN THE MATRIX: Can you picture Will Smith as Neo? It certainly would have been a very different interpretation. Keannu Reeves was so deadpan and dispassionate as Neo. Will Smith is a very lively actor who tends to throw a lot of comedy into his characters. How would he have portrayed Neo? We'll never know since negotiations fell through before filming began.

SEAN CONNERY AS GANDALF. The creative minds behind the wildly successful Lord of the Rings series wanted oscar-winning screen legend Sean Connery as the wise wizard Gandalf, but Connery turned them down. His career was winding down and he didn't want to get caugt up in another major franchise. He would retire soon after. Ian McKellan stepped into the role and got an oscar nomination for his work.

IAN MCKELLAN AS DUMBLEDORE: Richard Harris played Professor Dumbledore in the first two entries in the incredibly popular "Harry Potter" franchise, but after his untimely death, the crucial role of the Hogwart's headmaster had to be recast. For a time, Ian McKellan was on top of the list but his schedule of film commitments caused him to have to pass on the role and therefore Michael Gambon got the part.

There are many more examples of this. But these are some of the major examples.


Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on November 19, 2011:

Thanks for reading, Jeanine.


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jeanine on November 19, 2011:

enjoyed it....

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 07, 2011:

Thanks again for the additional information.


MystMoonstruck from Illinois on July 07, 2011:

From IMDb:

1) Steven Spielberg wanted Sterling Hayden for the role of Quint. However, Hayden was in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid tax. All Hayden's income from acting was subject to a levy by the IRS, so there was an attempt to circumvent that: Hayden was also a writer, so one idea was to pay him union scale for his acting, and buy a story from him (his literary income wasn't subject to levy) for a large sum. It was concluded that the IRS would see through this scheme, so Robert Shaw was cast instead.

2) Charlton Heston was considered for the role of Chief Brody, as was Lee Marvin, despite Spielberg's reservations about using big-name actors. Marvin thanked him but replied that he'd rather go fishing. Also, in a biography, Spielberg revealed how Robert Duvall helped to encourage him to make the movie. In return, he offered the role of Brody to Duvall, but he turned it down, fearing that it may make him too famous as a result. (MY NOTE: Of course, fame definitely found Duvall, who had been nominated for an Oscar in 1973 and would be nominated five more times, winning in 1984.)

3) Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Jon Voight and Jan-Michael Vincent were considered for the role of Hooper.

4) Victoria Principal was considered for the role of Ellen Brody.

5) Spielberg originally wanted Joe Spinell and Frank Pesce to be the two guys on the dock fishing for the shark at night~Pesce as the guy who falls in the water and Spinell shouting to him. Unfortunately, Pesce couldn't make it to Martha's Vineyard.

Author Peter Benchley's choices were Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen! {MY NOTE: Oh dear... I find that very hard to envision, but they might have surprised us. Still, it just wouldn't be the "Jaws" that has captivated so many for decades.)

Richard Dreyfuss originally turned down the role of Hooper but had worries after the initial screening of "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" (1974) and asked for his part back. When turning it down, he explained that it was a film he'd love to watch but not to make.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 04, 2011:

Thanks for the additional info.


MystMoonstruck from Illinois on July 04, 2011:

In "Dirty Dancing":

Val Kilmer was offered the lead but declined.

Billy Zane also was considered for Johnny but wasn't a good enough dancer.

From IMDb: Lynn Lipton, the actress originally cast as Marjorie Houseman, Baby's mother, was replaced early in the filming with Kelly Bishop, who had originally been cast as Vivian Pressman, the "Bungalow Bunny". Left without an actress to play Vivian, the producers cast Miranda Garrison, the film's assistant choreographer, in that role.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 04, 2011:

Hi R.T.; I agree with you about Keanu Reeves.

Thanks for reading;


RandomThoughts... from Washington on July 04, 2011:

I have heard of a few of these and most seem so unlikely now...However, I think someone other than Keanu Reeves might have added more depth to the character. I loved the concept of that movie. I love all things movies and I enjoyed your hub. Awesome

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 04, 2011:

Hi namiller; I'd never heard that one either. I wonder if Willis was joking.

thanks for the info;



Hi Seth; I appreciate the kind compliment. I actually enjoy doing research.

Thanks for reading and commenting;


Seth Barnet on July 04, 2011:

Awesome and outstanding piece of writing and research work, everybody tells us we are great writers but I take it just as flatterring when someone compliments me on the leg work. Research is 90% of our content. without it the hub/article/blog becomes a mere opinion piece. Awesome work my friend from Bradford on July 04, 2011:

Hi, Clint Eastwood as John McClane, Never heard about this before. But that's what Bruce Willis claims in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 03, 2011:

Hi ruffridyer; A lot of people believe that Selleck would have been a good Indy. I guess we'll never know. As for the comedy Batman, Murray probably would have been hilarious.

Thanks for stopping by;


ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on July 03, 2011:

I think Tom Sellack could have been a good Indiana jones But not better than Harrison Ford, I would love to see Bill Murrey in a campy version of Batman it would make a great comedy.

Chris Walkins as Han Solo? He would have stolen every scene, not in a good way either.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 02, 2011:

Thanks again for more great information. You saved me some work.


MystMoonstruck from Illinois on July 02, 2011:

With a bit of help from IMDb for supporting details:

1) Annie Get Your Gun (1950) ~ Judy Garland, who was originally cast as Annie Oakley, became ill during filming. Production was halted until Betty Hutton finished "Let's Dance" and could replace Garland. Also, Judy Garland and Frank Morgan, who co-star in "The Wizard of Oz", were scheduled to reappear together in this film. However, Frank Morgan died shortly after filming began, and Garland's illness took her out of the picture. Louis Calhern took over the role of Buffalo Bill.

2) Death has changed the cast of other films, including "Solomon and Sheba" (1959). Co-producer/star Tyrone Power, then 44 years old, had completed shooting more than half of the film in which he plays King Solomon, when he collapsed from a heart attack during a duelling scene with George Sanders; he died on the way to the hospital. Power was replaced by Yul Brynner, who refilmed all of the scenes. However, Power can be seen in some distant shots. // Ironically, Power's father also died of a sudden heart attack while working on a movie. He arrived home one night after working on "The Miracle Man" (released in 1931); he collapsed and died in the arms of his 17-year-old son.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on July 02, 2011:

Hi; Thanks for that. Another good bit of trivia. I'll definitely add that in when I do Part Two.

MystMoonstruck from Illinois on July 02, 2011:

"Back to the Future" began filming with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly because Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were unable to get Michael J. Fox due to scheduling conflicts. After filming for six weeks, Stoltz was let go from the film because they felt he was "too intense" for the character. // I recall reading that Stoltz even had a driver's license made for Marty and asked everyone to address him by that name at all times.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 30, 2011:

Hi. Glad you liked it. I'm planning to make a follow-up with more of these "almost" situations.


Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on June 30, 2011:

Oh, this is soooo much fun. I enjoyed reading your hub. I can't even imagine Reagan as Rick in Casablanca. In fact it's hard to imagine any other actor other than Bogart. A fascinating read. I could take more of this! Rated up, useful, awesome.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 25, 2011:

Thanks Greensleeves. I appreciate the comments,


Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on June 25, 2011:

Nice hub and good pics of Sean Connery and Tomm Selleck in their 'could have been' roles.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 15, 2011:

George Raft did OK for himself. (It's rumored he had underworld ties who opened doors for him.) I like Fred MacMurry in those oily, unscrupulous roles, such as the "Caine Mutiny".

Thanks again for visiting my hub.


MystMoonstruck from Illinois on June 15, 2011:

I enjoy this sort of thing. I've been a film buff for most of my nearly six decades of life, thanks to my father who was trained in the ways of filmdom by his mother. I'm a latecomer to HubPages and am just now venturing out from working on my own two pages.

George Raft could have had a greater career, or perhaps these films wouldn't have made quite the splash had he played the lead. He turned down "High Sierra" (1941) (went to Bogart), "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) (went to Bogart), "Casablanca" (1942) (ditto!), and "Double Indemnity" (1944) (Fred MacMurray). Actually, I can see him in place of MacMurray, who always seems sort of "iffy" in the role; perhaps that's just me. Of course, Raft might have had too dangerous an edge for an insurance salesman.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 15, 2011:

Thanks for that bit of trivia on "the Graduate". I couldn't imagine Redford in that role. He's probably never struck out with a woman.

Thanks for reading;


MystMoonstruck from Illinois on June 15, 2011:


Burt Ward had to turn down the role of Benjamin Braddock due to his commitment as Dick Grayson/Robin in "Batman" (1966); 20th Century Fox wouldn't lend him.

Charles Grodin was cast as Benjamin, but the deal fell apart following a disagreement over salary. Mike Nichols still offered him a part in "Catch-22" (1970), which he was already scheduled to direct.

Patty Duke was offered the part of Elaine Robinson, but turned it down because she did not want to work at the time.

Robert Redford screen-tested with Candice Bergen for the part of Benjamin Braddock but was finally rejected by director Mike Nichols because Nichols did not believe Redford could persuasively project the underdog qualities necessary to the role. When he told this to Redford, the actor asked Nichols what he meant. "Well, let's put it this way," said Nichols, "Have you ever struck out with a girl?" "What do you mean?" asked Redford. "That's precisely my point," said Nichols.

Courtesy of IMDb:

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 14, 2011:

Hi Marlin; I think the final choices were definitely improvements, no doubt. (I love Cagney--but as Robin Hood??) The Bill Murray idea does seem far fetched, even though they were planning to make it campy like the 60s series. I can't picture it!

Always a pleasure to hear from you,




Hi CJC; I appreciate the nice words.


Chelsea Carter-Kern from Florida on June 14, 2011:

Super interesting! Great article.

Marlin 55 from USA on June 14, 2011:

That was an exciting read. And of course I cannot imagine any of those actors playing in those roles. Bill Murry as Batman???? Come on. Thanks again Rob.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 14, 2011:

Hello Mathlizard; I can't picture Redford in the Superman outfit either. I'm glad they didn't go that route. Many people think Selleck would have made a good Indy but I have trouble thinking of anyone other than Harrison Ford in the fedora. As for David Niven, Ian Flemming thought he'd make a good Bond, but I kind of agree with you that he doesn't have that tough edge.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


MathLizard from Reading PA on June 14, 2011:

Robert Redford as Superman? Seriously? I really can't picture that. As for Selleck, I can picture him as Indiana Jones. The handsome, adventurous type certainly works in his favor. Cary Grant would have made an excellent James Bond, although David Niven doesn't come across as tough enough to be that type of field agent.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 14, 2011:

Hi again Trish. That would have been a funny coincidence, but I'm glad it didn't happen.



Hi HH; Good to know people find my hubs interesting. Thanks.


Hello, hello, from London, UK on June 14, 2011:

Wow, that was an eye opener and interesting. Thank you.

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on June 14, 2011:

Robwrite, I hadn't noticed the 'Casablanca' coincidence!

But, you are correct, I think ~ Reagan in Casablanca probably wouldn't have worked :)

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 12, 2011:

Hi Greg; I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed "Casablanca" with Reagan in it. (Doesn't Casablanca mean White House? That's ironic!) Thanks for sharing this on facebook. I'm always glad to find new readers.



greg g zaino from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida on June 12, 2011:

Alright Rob- cool topic- i knew Buddy Ebson's story, but that was the only one i knew. really enjoyed this Rob...

I couldn't imagine Dorothy played by Shirley. the only problem as i recall about Judy Garland was the age factor, but that was handled easily in my estimation.

Will Smith as Neal might have been alright- he's proven to be a versatile actor- played the Omega Man well.

I'm sure i wouldn't have watched Casablanca twice with Reagan- thank the cosmos!

Peace Rob- shared on facebook- and 'UP'

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 11, 2011:

Hi Cogerson; The Murphy/Stallone "Beverly Hills Cop" was another big one. There are so many. I may have to make a part two to this one.


UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on June 11, 2011:

Excellent hub Robwrite, I think Sean Connery would have been great in the Lord of the Rings movies. Not on your list but another classic one....Sylvester Stallone was originally going to play Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop...the part went to Eddie Murphy. I think the biggest game changer would have been Selleck playing Indy...who knows what that would have done for Selleck and Ford's career....voted up and awesome

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 11, 2011:

Thanks alocsin; I appreciate the comments.


Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on June 11, 2011:

Interesting topics -- never knew that about the stars. Voting this up.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 11, 2011:

Hi Trish; I agree that either Grant or Niven could have been good as James Bond, although Connery was perfect. I'm not sold on the idea ofSelleck, though. Maybe he would have surprised me.

Thanks for commenting;



Hi Hawkdad. Thanks for the link.


hawkdad73 from Riverside, Iowa on June 11, 2011:

I love posts like these! Have you ever been to ?

Good post!

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on June 11, 2011:

Hi :)

Fascinating stuff!

I loved the Indiana Jones series, and Harrison Ford was brilliant in the part ~ but I think that I would have been equally happy with Tom Selleck.

Both Cary Grant and David Niven could have been perfect for James Bond, in their day.

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 11, 2011:

Glad you liked it, Mary Ann. Thanks for reading.


THAT Mary Ann on June 11, 2011:

This is wonderful for us movie buffs...thanks

Rob (author) from Oviedo, FL on June 11, 2011:

Yes, I've heard that. Wayne didn't want to do a TV series. He did do a promo introducing the first episode of the show.

Thanks for the comment;


Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on June 11, 2011:

Good movie history. I always though it interesting that they wanted John Wayne for Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke.

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