10 Actors Who Turned Down Great Roles

    June 20, 2011 at 6:00 am

    tom selleckImagine Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones. It almost happened back in 1980 when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas approached the mustachioed actor to star in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I was offered [the role],” Selleck admits. “I did a screen test, but at the time I had already done a pilot for Magnum P.I.. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas held out the offer for about a month because they really wanted me, and I was very flattered. And then CBS said, ‘We won’t let him do it,’ because they had first call on me. It’s an old story.” And surprisingly, it’s not an entirely uncommon one. Hollywood is full of similar tales in which famous actors rejected parts in blockbuster films. Come along as we examine 10 actors who turned down great roles.

    James Caan

    Turned down Kramer vs. Kramer

    james caanNo one can deny the fact that James Caan has had a spectacular run, but how much greater would his resume be if he had accepted some of the roles producers begged him to play in the late 1970s? Among the parts he turned down was the lead role in Kramer vs. Kramer, a movie he firmly believed was too dull to engage audiences. “I looked at [the script] and I said, ‘This is middle-class, bourgeois horse crap! This is crap! Cut to a kid crying all the time.’ I’m a genius.” Caan also turned down the lead role in Apocalypse Now.  “It was going to be 16 weeks and we wanted money,” he explains. “And then Francis Ford Coppola said, ‘Listen Jimmy, I’ll tell you what, we’ll live in Manila and we’ll fly by helicopter (to the set).’ I said, ‘That’s two things I hate – height and tse-tse flies… I can’t do this.” The film went onto generate $78 million and won two Oscars and 14 more major awards.

    Sean Connery

    Turned down Gandalf in Lord of the Rings

    Sean ConnerySean Connery has made a lot of money over the course of his 50-year career, but he missed out on a tremendous payday in 2001 when he turned down the role of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The part would have earned him a cool $400 million, but Sir Sean didn’t want to spend 18 months filming in New Zealand and couldn’t make heads or tails of the multilayered script. “I had never read [J.R.R. Tolkien], and I didn’t understand the script when they sent it to me,” he says. “Bobbits? Hobbits?”

    Will Smith

    Turned down Neo in The Matrix

    will smithNo one will ever accuse Keanu Reeves of being a genius, but he was smart enough to see the potential in The Matrix long after Will Smith had turned down the lead role of Neo. “You know, The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch,” Smith says. “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. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don’t try and perform every moment.” Smith has since redeemed himself by wisely agreeing to star in the critically-acclaimed dramas The Pursuit of Happiness and Seven Pounds.

    Burt Reynolds

    Turned down James Bond

    burt reynoldsAlthough Reynolds has starred in over 90 films, he’s also turned down lead roles in several Hollywood blockbusters like M*A*S*H, Terms of Endearment, Soapdish and Die Hard. Of all the roles he regrets rejecting, the part of James Bond is still tops on his list. “Sean Connery had said he wanted more money and left and [producer] Albert R. Broccoli came to visit me and said, ‘We want you to play James Bond,’” Reynolds recalls. “And I said, in my infinite wisdom, ‘An American can’t play James Bond. It just can’t be done.’ Now, in the middle of the night, you hear me wake up in this cold sweat going, ‘Bond, James Bond!’”

    John Travolta

    Also turned down James Bond

    john travoltaJohn Travolta has made plenty of blunders during his roller coaster career, but his biggest regret is turning down the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago. “I wasn’t all that into the stage show,” he explains. “It was a lot of women who hated men and I like women who like men.  The stage show was kind of vicious but the movie had a heart.” Chicago isn’t the only film Travolta took a pass on. “I probably should have said yes to Green Mile to and An Officer and a Gentleman,” he admits. “But I gave Richard Gere and Tom Hanks a career! What you turn down can be a gift to someone else. There is enough to go around.” Like Burt Reynolds before him, Travolta also turned declined an invitation to play James Bond when he was offered the starring role of Agent 007 in Casino Royale. “Bond is one of the most dynamic roles in history, one of the most extreme and career defining commitments an actor can make,” he says. “After careful consideration I feel it might not be best for me at this point.”

    Alec Baldwin

    Turned down The Fugitive

    alec baldwinAlec Baldwin has plenty to be proud of in his career, but he admits he’s still haunted to this day by his decision to turn down the role of Dr. Richard Kimball in The Fugitive. The role eventually went to Harrison Ford, who guided the film to a $353 windfall at the box office. “I wish I could play the lead role in one movie, one great movie,” Baldwin says, “but I don’t think I really have a talent for movie acting.”

    Jack Nicholson

    Turned down The Sting

    young jack nicholsonJack Nicholson had already been nominated for a pair of Oscars by 1972 when he was offered the now iconic role of Johnny Hooker in The Sting. “I liked the period, the whole project and I knew it would be commercial,” he recalls. “But at the time, I needed to put my energies into a movie that really needed them. I needed to take a risk.” It proved to be a lucky break for Robert Redford, who used the role to help cement his status as America’s newest heartthrob.

    Mark Wahlberg

    Turned down Brokeback Mountain

    mark-wahlbergMark Wahlberg could have won the first Oscar of his career in 2006 if he was a little more comfortable with his sexuality. The Boston-born star reportedly declined the opportunity to star in Brokeback Mountain because he was “a little creeped out” by the film’s suggestive sex scenes. The movie went onto generate more than $180 million worldwide while garnering Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal a pair of well-earned Oscar nominations.

    Gene Hackman

    Turned down Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs

    young gene hackmanWhere would Anthony Hopkins be today if he had never played the defining role of Hannibal Lecter? He nearly missed out on his chance in the early 1980s when two-time Academy Award-winner Gene Hackman bought the rights to The Silence of the Lambs with the intention of writing the screenplay, directing the film and playing the movie’s central villain. Alas, Hackman had difficulty crafting the script and eventually gave up on the project. “I optioned the novel and tried to do a screenplay on it, which was great fun, but I was too respectful,” he explains. “I was only 100 pages into the novel and I had about 90 pages of movie script going. I realized I had a lot to learn. I got busy with another film and gave the rights back to—Orion, I think it was. Kind of a dumb move as it turned out.”


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