10 Iconic Film Performances That Almost Never Happened


“Always listen to your mother,” is a saying that has been ingrained in most people, and in the case of Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, the adage proved to be crucial for her career. The actress recently chatted with press at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she admitted that she almost turned down the part of the fearless film heroine Katniss Everdeen — a role that has since skyrocketed her career. Up until this year’s Hunger Games, Lawrence was puting her focus on independent films, such as Like Crazy and Winter’s Bone. The prospect of a Hollywood blockbuster was a bit intimidating for the young star.

“Just saying yes to this one thing could completely change my life, and I don’t know if it’s going to be for the better,” she told USA Today . Lawrence’s mother stepped in to support her daughter and give her the patented mom wake-up call. “She was like, ‘You’re being a hypocrite, because you always say you don’t care about the size of the movies.’ Because when I was doing indies, everybody was always like, ‘Why don’t you ever do a studio?’ I’d say, ‘Because I don’t care about the size of the movie. I care about the story,'” Lawrence said. “And my mom was like, ‘Now you have a story you like, and you’re not going to do it because of the size.'” So, thanks mama Lawrence for convincing the soon-to-be Catching Fire star to lead the kick-ass role with gusto.

Lawrence’s story reminded us of the many major movie roles that actors almost said no to. It’s hard to imagine film classics like The Godfather or Back to the Future without the cast members that captivated audiences with their memorable performances. Find out what stars almost turned down iconic film roles past the break, and feel free to partake in a collective sigh of relief in the comments below.

Daniel Radcliffe almost passed on Harry Potter

Being a kid actor must be a tough gig. Your bank account grows substantially before you’re old enough to truly enjoy spending it, and in many cases stars have little to no control over what parts they accept. That was almost the case with young English hopeful Daniel Radcliffe whose parents were reluctant to sign on the dotted line with director Chris Columbus for the first J. K. Rowling adaptation. The actor was about 11 years old at the time, and the future boy wizard wasn’t even aware that his mum and dad were declining an offer from the anxious filmmaker. Columbus had fallen in love with Radcliffe on BBC’s David Copperfield, and pursued him relentlessly. “They went to my parents, and, at the time, the deal was to sign on for — I think — six films, all to be done in L.A., and my mum and dad simply said, ‘That’s too much disruption to his life. That’s not gonna happen,'” Radcliffe told the Telegraph last year. “I didn’t know any of that had gone on. And then, maybe three, four months down the line, the deal had changed, and it was gonna be to shoot two films, and they’d both be done in England, and so they said, ‘Okay, we’ll let him audition,'” he revealed. “And then it all went from there, really.” Thankfully they said yes, otherwise we wouldn’t have this adorable screen test to coo over.

Ian McKellen almost passed on Gandalf

The shooting schedule for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings — and most recently, The Hobbit — sounds like a bloody nightmare to coordinate. Although both series have seen their share of setbacks, the New Zealand director must have a major in with the calendar gods in order to successfully juggle his overloaded timetable. Actors face the same issues, though, particularly when working for a filmmaker like Jackson who requires a good chunk of time in order to finish his elaborate shoots. This almost prevented Sir Ian McKellen from accepting the part of wizardy badass extraordinaire Gandalf the Great. “At the time I was about to play Magneto in the X-Men film in Toronto. I was already committed to that… and it meant I couldn’t get to New Zealand in time. So I had to tell [writer-director-producer] Peter [Jackson] I could no longer do Gandalf,” the distinguished actor told the New Zealand Herald. After relating his scheduling conflict to New Line Cinema exec Bob Shaye, his problem was solved. “That was the best thing he ever did for me, because they worked out they could do without me for the first three months… that is what I remember of the beginning of it — how I very nearly didn’t play Gandalf!”

Marlon Brando almost passed on Don Vito Corleone

It’s incredibly hard to imagine the part of Vito Corleone going to anyone other than Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s crime drama, The Godfather. Several other actors were considered, including Laurence Olivier and Ernest Borgnine, and the part of the Mafia Don wasn’t the only role that almost got the switcheroo. Brando, however, initially refused to accept the part, because he didn’t want to pay homage to the Mob. The Academy Award-winning star apparently refused to read Mario Puzo’s book the movie was adapted from, “and violently threw it back in an assistant’s face when he was handed it for research. As he tossed the text away, Brando is alleged to have said: ‘It’s about the Mafia. I won’t glorify the Mafia.'” Several “tense meetings” later, Brando was persuaded to accept the part — something his personal assistant and most trusted friend Alice Marchak says she convinced him to do by inciting jealousy in the actor. Her memoir Marlon and Me explained her approach:

“In frustration, I remarked casually that Laurence Olivier was auditioning for the part. ‘Laurence Olivier!’ he sneered. ‘He can’t play a Mafia Don.’ I had finally caught his attention. A little later, Marlon came into my office asking if there was any black shoe polish in the house. After a few minutes, he summoned me to his room. He had darkened his eyebrows and lined his eyes, and the polish glistened on his slicked-back hair. I wasn’t sure whether he was meant to look like Rudolph Valentino or a gigolo. Nevertheless, he went to audition for the role of Don Corleone and the rest is history.”

Christian Bale almost passed on Bruce Wayne/Batman

Fans wept as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy came to an end earlier this year. Since then, it’s been hard to picture another actor in Bale’s batsuit taking the reins, but we suppose we should count our lucky stars that the talented star even took the part in the first place. Bale was apparently so claustrophobic in his superhero get-up for Batman Begins that he almost called it quits on the spot. “I felt like they should recast. I really did because it was so claustrophobic that I didn’t feel like I could breathe. I felt, ‘They’ve made a mistake and I can’t do this,'” he told press this summer. “I was standing on the back lot where they were creating the suit, and I had a few minutes to myself, staring up close in the mirror, just thinking, ‘This isn’t going to work. I’m claustrophobic, I can’t breathe, I’m getting a headache already, and this is all going to go very badly,” he elaborated. Eventually he calmed himself down and shamed himself into slipping into the skintight costume. “I just said to myself, ‘Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Try this out. Don’t run around yelling and making an ass of yourself trying to pull the whole thing off. I wasn’t going to get it off by myself. It takes three people. I just had flashes of what an asshole I would feel like saying, ‘Well, I wasn’t able to play that character, because I panicked every time I got in the suit.'” Bale never seemed to learn his lesson about yelling. At least he can credit the uncomfortable batsuit for his character’s awesome grimace and brooding malaise.

Audrey Hepburn almost passed on Holly Golightly

Audrey Hepburn’s legendary role in the adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s is pure Hollywood magic. Everyone’s favorite quirky café society girl almost never was, though — and not just because producers wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part. The filmmaking team initially approached Hepburn, but she was pregnant at the time and being quietly convinced by her reportedly controlling husband that playing a woman of “questionable virtue” could be a career ruiner. “I can’t play a hooker,” the actress told the filmmaking team. Eventually her agent convinced her to take the part, but Hepburn took the opportunity to gain some leverage by demanding a different director, which is how Blake Edwards ended up with the gig. Egos flared on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and filming proved to be a stressful experience for all involved, but thankfully Hepburn never bowed out of the project.

Michael J. Fox almost passed on Marty McFly

We can blame Family Ties and, surprisingly, his agent for almost taking Michael J. Fox away from the part of Marty McFly in the iconic 1980’s sci-fi adventure Back to the Future. The worst part about the near casting blunder is that Fox’s agent never filled him in on the potential role of a time-traveling teen who meets a much younger version of his parents. Writer and producer Bob Gale explained the crazy backstory on premiere fan site, BTTF:

“Michael was ALWAYS our first choice to play Marty, but we knew he was committed to his TV show Family Ties. In late summer 1984, we approached Gary David Goldberg, the show’s producer, and inquired about Michael’s availability. Gary read the script but told us he simply couldn’t let Michael out of Family Ties to do it. Meredith Baxter Birney (who played the mom on the show) was pregnant at the time, and Michael was going to be having a bigger role to ease her work schedule. (Gary also told us he wasn’t even going to let Michael read the script because he was afraid Michael would hate him for not allowing him to do it!) When we decided to recast Marty in January 1985, we went back to Gary in desperation. By then Meredith had had her baby, and Gary was amenable to accommodating us, with the understanding that we would have to adjust our schedule around Michael’s television schedule. Michael read the script, said yes immediately, and the rest is history.”

Before Fox signed on, Mask actor Eric Stoltz was hired to play Marty, but it was eventually determined he was entirely miscast. Fox wasn’t the only actor who almost didn’t make it to the big screen. Christopher Lloyd initially turned down the role of absent-minded inventor Doc Brown, but quickly changed his mind after reading the script.

Leonardo DiCaprio almost passed on Jack Dawson

Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t afraid to admit that he almost passed up the role of a lifetime while he was busy vying for a lead in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. “Titanic? I would love to say I predicted it would be one of the biggest hits in film history. I didn’t — and wondered whether I should do it at all,” the star told The Sun. “I resisted it for a long time because I had been offered the film Boogie Nights (about the 1970s porn industry, a role finally taken by Mark Wahlberg).” DiCaprio credits his young Titanic co-star with inspiring him to play Jack Dawson — the boy from the wrong side of the tracks that falls for Winslet’s troubled socialite, Rose. “The fact that Kate Winslet said ‘yes’ was the final decider. She was awesome. We were definitely shoulders for each other to lean on. We had to be partners on the film. All the complaining in the world was done between us two, so we did not have to vent it on anyone else.” The actor has no regrets about passing up Boogie Nights. “I am so glad to be part of that movie. Years from now, people will still be watching that film. I am part of something historical, in a lot of ways. It gave me so many opportunities, as an actor, to steer the course of my own destiny. I was able to take both my mother and grandmother to the world premiere of Titanic in London — one of my proudest moments.”

Rob Pattinson almost passed on Edward Cullen

“I didn’t want to be involved in a teen thing,” Twilight heartthrob Rob Pattinson admitted to press in 2008. An audition with co-star Kristen Stewart changed his mind, although the English actor, who started his career with a part in Harry Potter 4, had doubts over something else. “After that audition with Kristen, I went back and looked at the material, and I saw a lot more in it. Mainly, I had turned it down because I was just scared about the physical aspect of it. Because he had a six-pack and I didn’t,” he told Ireland’s Herald somewhat jokingly. Pattinson dedicated himself to toning his physique and readying for the part whole-heartedly. “I guess the only way of dealing with that is really commit to whatever your idea is. How do I not look like an idiot? And so, I tried to do everything that I could.”

Mia Farrow almost passed on Rosemary Woodhouse

Classic horror favorite Rosemary’s Baby is a frighteningly spellbinding tale, in part thanks to a wide-eyed Mia Farrow, who portrays a perfect mix of melancholic vulnerability and shrewd resourcefulness. Director Roman Polanski wanted to cast his wife, actress Sharon Tate, in the part of the weary housewife who believes her eccentric neighbors are making black magic deals with the devil. Tuesday Weld was also considered for the role, but Polanski aimed for bigger names and latched onto Peyton Place actress Farrow, who had recently married singer Frank Sinatra. (Yeah, it still seems like a total mismatch to us, too.) She happily accepted the role, but hubby Frank was apparently furious and served her with divorce papers while she was in the middle of working on the project. Farrow desperately wanted to save her marriage and tried to convince Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans to release her from her contract, but he convinced her to stick around, enticing her with awards talk. She divorced Sinatra, won the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year, and watched her career soar after the satanic chiller made her a star.

Tom Hanks almost passed on Forrest Gump

The lovable and seemingly dim-witted Forrest Gump traipses through some of the most important events in history without even realizing it — and in many cases actually influences them. Historical accuracy was of the utmost importance to star Tom Hanks who actually refused to take the part of the Alabamian unless filmmakers promised to follow textbook timelines to a T. Hanks was also not the first choice to play Gump. The part was originally written for John Travolta (so weird!), and Bill Murray was even considered. The star also reminds us in this interview that he had just come off an Academy Award-winning performance in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. While he was grateful for Gump, he didn’t necessarily need the role, especially since it could have typecast him for life.