Thank you, but no thank you!

Stars who missed the role call

By The Daily Telegraph
  • Published 31.07.18

With Miles Teller and Emma Watson having turned down La La Land and Gus Van Sant revealing that Brad Pitt was one of many A-list actors who passed up the chance to star in Brokeback Mountain, it’s never been a better time to take a look into the cinematic Twilight Zone, where up is down, down is up. Here are 13 iconic movies turned down by presumably regretful actors.

Miles Teller and Emma Watson in La La Land 

As has been widely reported, the musical juggernaut that is La La Land, which can’t seem to take a breath without one awards body or another throwing a golden gong at it, originally had two very different stars. Miles Teller and Emma Watson were initially cast as Sebastian and Mia, but both bailed during negotiation stages, allowing Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to take over. 

While Watson’s demands were more understandable (she reportedly balked at the time required for rehearsals), Teller apparently wanted more money than the $4 million paycheck offered his way. While Gosling and Stone have rode the wave of acclaim to the 2017 Oscars, Teller’s own awards-season play, the boxing drama Bleed for This, floundered. As for Watson, you’ll hear her sing in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, so all is not lost for those of you who felt Harry Potter sorely lacked in warbling.

Will Smith in Django Unchained 

Will Smith has something of a reputation for demanding creative control of his movie projects, evident in his recent, more questionable career decisions. But while Sony were happy to cast Smith’s son Jaden in After Earth at his request, and Warner Bros obliged to ‘humanise’ Smith’s Deadpool character by giving him a cute kid as motivation for his misdeeds in Suicide Squad, one person unwilling to alter their vision for Smith was Quentin Tarantino. 

Smith was widely courted for the lead role in Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but Smith felt it just wasn’t big enough. “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. [Christoph Waltz] was the lead!” he said in 2013. But he seemed to change his tune when asked about it again in 2015, citing he wanted to make a different kind of script change. “I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story,” he said. “We can’t look at what happens in Paris [the terrorist attacks] and want to f*** somebody up for that. Violence begets violence. I just couldn’t connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer.” 

The Jamie Foxx-starring Django Unchained won two Oscars and became Tarantino’s highest-grossing movie ever. Will Smith made Collateral Beauty.

Angelina Jolie in Gravity 

When she’s not embarking on humanitarian crusades, Angelina Jolie is notoriously not starring in movies. Not just content with backing out of the role of Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook (which went on to win Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar), Jolie was heavily courted not once but twice to take the lead in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Warner Bros reportedly backed up a truck full of money to woo the star, but while she was intrigued by Cuaron’s vision, she eventually turned it down. 

In need of a major female star to anchor the project, Warner Bros considered Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, until finally choosing Sandra Bullock for the part. It went on to win Bullock an Oscar nomination and the film itself grossed $700 million worldwide. Coincidentally, Jolie would go on to present Alfonso Cuaron with his Best Director Oscar for the film in 2014.

Mark Wahlberg, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Brokeback Mountain 

Noted Catholic and Boston good ol’ boy Mark Wahlberg has played porn stars and hitmen and science teachers pestered by killer trees, but if there’s one thing he can’t do... it’s play gay. In 2010, the Ted star revealed he turned down Brokeback Mountain. “I met with [director] Ang Lee on that movie. I read 15 pages of the script and got a little creeped out,” he said. “It was very graphic, descriptive — the spitting on the hand, getting ready to do the thing. “I told Ang Lee, ‘I like you, you’re a talented guy, if you want to talk about it more.…’ Thankfully, he didn’t... I didn’t rush to see Brokeback, it’s just not my deal...” The National Enquirer later reported Wahlberg turned down the film on advice from his priest. 

More recently, the film’s original director Gus Van Sant revealed that he offered the film to “the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no.” Both of Brokeback’s eventual stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, scored Oscar nods for their performances.

Al Pacino in Star Wars 

A star with Han Solo regrets is Al Pacino. Coming off the back of The Godfather, Pacino was offered every major role going, but he has admitted that turning down Star Wars was probably a mistake. His reasons? He just couldn’t get to grips with George Lucas’s words. 

“Star Wars was mine for the taking,” he has said. “But I didn’t understand the script. I was in The Godfather. They didn’t care if I was right or wrong for the role, if I could act or not act. [But it was] another missed opportunity.”

Matthew McConaughey in Titanic 

While it seems bizarre to imagine anyone else but Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of doomed Jack in James Cameron’s Titanic, it was nearly Matthew McConaughey freezing to death in the ocean. According to Kate Winslet, it was only after Cameron intervened in casting that DiCaprio was hired. “I auditioned with Matthew, isn’t that weird?” Winslet told Stephen Colbert during an appearance on his talk show. “Never said that in public before. I auditioned with Matthew, which was completely fantastic.… But it just wouldn’t have been the whole ‘Jack and Rose/Kate and Leo’ thing.”

Sean Connery in The Lord of the Rings 

Sean Connery reportedly cost himself £283million when he turned down the chance to play Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The former James Bond actor was offered £19m to play the wizard in the fantasy films directed by Peter Jackson and Warner Bros also offered him 15 per cent of the franchise’s box office takings. Connery allegedly turned down the role because of his concerns over the script and it eventually fell to Sir Ian McKellen. 

“I got offered The Lord of the Rings, and I turned it down because I didn’t understand it,” he said. “I was offered The Matrix twice, and I turned it down because I didn’t understand it. I don’t understand this movie (2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn it down.” 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was an enormous financial flop, killed the career of director Stephen Norrington, and was reportedly such a nightmare to shoot that Connery vowed to never step foot on a film set again. As of 2017, it stands as his final live-action movie.

Will Smith in The Matrix 

Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in the Matrix films. He said later: “The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu Reeves’ 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. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don’t try and perform every moment!”

Kevin Costner in The Shawshank Redemption 

Kevin Costner was offered the part of the main character Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption. He wanted to work on Waterworld — a hugely expensive movie, and a critical flop — and Costner has since said that he strongly regrets letting Tim Robbins take the role.

Julia Roberts in Shakespeare in Love 

Long before every facet of celebrity turmoil was splattered across the Internet, Julia Roberts had her own early-Nineties meltdown, one that saw her upset Spielberg, get hospitalised, and leave Kiefer Sutherland at the altar. Things got so bad that, in amongst denials of drug use and alcohol dependency, she bailed on Shakespeare in Love weeks into production, leading to an 18-month sabbatical from the big screen. 

Sets were being built and costumes were being fitted, but once Roberts discovered her would-be co-star Daniel Day-Lewis had opted to do The Crucible instead, she abruptly fled the set. She reportedly only wanted to do the film in order to work with the esteemed method actor. The entire film was subsequently scrapped until it was resurrected several years later. 

While Gwyneth Paltrow would win an Oscar for what would have been her role, things ultimately worked out fine for Roberts. She won her own Best Actress Oscar two years after Paltrow, and also got to air out her wonky British accent in Mary Reilly instead.

Molly Ringwald in Pretty Woman 

Pretty Woman was the film that ‘made’ Julia Roberts but the role of high-class call girl Vivian Ward in the 1990 movie with Richard Gere was first offered to Molly Ringwald, the star of The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. She later said: “I think I saw an early draft and it was called ‘$3,000’. I don’t specifically remember turning it down. The script was okay but I gotta say, Julia Roberts is what makes that movie. It was her part. Every actor hopes for a part that lets them shine like that.”


Cary Grant in Dr No 

English-born actor Cary Grant was urged to take the role of James Bond (007) by his close friend Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. Grant (who became a US citizen in 1942) had been best man at the Bond producer’s wedding. Sean Connery took his place as the first Hollywood Bond.

John Travolta in Forrest Gump 

John Travolta admitted passing on Forrest Gump was a mistake. The lead role in the 1994 comedy went to Tom Hanks, who won Best Actor at the Oscars, one of six the film won including Best Picture.