23 Actors Who Weren’t The First Choice For Their Role

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Without Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious wouldn’t be the same!

Sometimes, when you don’t get what you want, the thing you actually get instead actually ends up being so much better. This certainly rings true in casting.

Often, directors or studio execs go into a project knowing exactly which actor they want for a role. However, if that actor decides to turn their offer down, then they’re forced to move onto the next candidate — who might actually be a better fit for the role.

Here are 23 actors who weren’t the first choice for a role but absolutely nailed it anyway:

1.

Rachel McAdams was the studio’s first choice to play Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada, but she turned them down three times.


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She turned it down because she wanted to veer away from mainstream movies.

Eventually, the part went to Anne Hathaway — the studio’s ninth choice.


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When she went into a meeting with the studio’s then–executive vice president Carla Hacken, Hathaway sublty wrote “hire me” in the sand of her desktop zen garden.

2.

Universal Pictures only agreed to greenlight The Fast and the Furious if Timothy Olyphant was cast as Dom Toretto.


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However, after Olyphant passed, producer Neil H. Moritz suggested Vin Diesel.


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“He wasn’t a star yet, but the great thing about Vin is he always believed he was a star. … And I was going in there to think he’s coming to me to want the role and I’m the one there now having to convince him to do the role! Lucky for both of us that happened,” Moritz told The Bill Simmons Podcast.

3.

Sister Act was created with Bette Midler in mind to play Terri Van Cartier, but she backed out because she thought, “My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.”


Mark Sagliocco / WireImage / Via Getty

However, after screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s initial contract with Disney expired, Whoopi Goldberg expressed her interest in the role and suggested changing the character’s name from Terri to Deloris.


Buena Vista Pictures / ©Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

The screenplay also went through a ton of rewrites, taking a different direction than Rudnick’s original vision.

4.

Reba McEntire took on the role of “Unsinkable” Molly Brown in Titanic, but she had to back out due to her touring schedule.


Mike Coppola / Getty Images

“We were on tour and I had a lot of people on the payroll and we had these three months to do the movie. And then they got behind on scheduling and said, ‘No, we’re going to have to move it in this time.’ So we couldn’t reschedule all the arenas and everything,” she told Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.

So, the role went to Kathy Bates, and the movie went on to become way more successful than anyone involved in it expected it to.


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5.

HBO first offered Dana Delany the role of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, but she turned it down for fear of being pigeonholed because she “had done a movie called Live Nude Girls with Kim Cattrall that was somewhat similar.”


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She told the LA Times, “It was very much in the early stages, and I had just done Nude Girls and Exit to Eden and I just said to Darren [Starr], ‘I cannot do a show with ‘sex’ in the title.'”

Then the studio had a contract with Lisa Edelstein.


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However, they dropped her when Sarah Jessica Parker signed on.


Hbo / Everett Collection / Everett Collection

6.

Initially, Courteney Cox auditioned for and got the part of Rachel Green in Friends.


Kevin Winter / Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood

However, realizing she wasn’t right for the role, she convinced NBC to let her play Monica Gellar instead, and Jennifer Aniston took over as Rachel.


Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection

7.

Russell Crowe was offered the role of Wolverine in X-Men, but he turned it down and suggested Hugh Jackman for the role instead.


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However, Dougray Scott was cast, but he had to back out due to scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible II.


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Scott told the Daily Telegraph, “Tom Cruise didn’t let me do it. We were doing Mission: Impossible and he was like, ‘You’ve got to stay and finish the film’ and I said ‘I will, but I’ll go and do that as well.’ For whatever reason, he said I couldn’t.”

About a week into filming, they still didn’t have their Logan. However, Jackman was in Los Angeles to do his son’s adoption paperwork, so his agent arranged the screen test that landed him the role.


Joe Pugliese / TV Guide / TM & Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.

Right before Jackman was set to film X-Men 2, he was offered the role of James Bond in Casino Royale, but he declined because he was told he wouldn’t have any say in the script.


Noam Galai / WireImage / Via Getty

“I just felt at the time that the scripts had become so unbelievable and…they needed to become grittier and real,” he told Variety. “I was also worried that between Bond and X-Men, I’d never have time to do different things.”

However, when Daniel Craig accepted the role afterward, the producers agreed to let him “try and reinvent” Bond.


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Then, despite the brutal criticism that followed his initial casting, Casino Royale broke records for the highest-grossing Bond movie and earned him a BAFTA nomination. 

He went on to play 007 longer than any of his predecessors and broke his own highest-grossing record with Skyfall, which earned more than $1 billion.

9.

Craig was also offered the lead role in Thor, but he turned it down in order to devote himself to the Bond franchise.


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Chris Hemsworth read for the part, but he was removed from the running without a screen test. His younger brother, Liam, actually got a screen test.


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After Marvel decided not to cast Liam, Chris’s agent convinced Kevin Feige to let his client audition one more time. He booked the role, and he’s been playing Thor for more than 10 years.


Paramount / ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

10.

When ABC picked up Scandal, creator Shonda Rhimes got a call that “it would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.”


Amy Sussman / Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood

However, Rhimes responded, “It would be, except Olivia Pope is Black.”

All of the network’s top choices were white, but Rhimes wanted to cast a Black lead to honor crisis manager Judy Smith, who inspired her to create the show.


Amy Graves / WireImage / Via Getty

So, finally, the role went to Kerry Washington — making her the first Black woman to lead a drama series in 37 years.


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Casting director Linda Lowy told the Hollywood Reporter, “We tested Kerry, Jill Scott, and Anika Noni Rose. It was Kerry from the moment I took her to meet Shonda.”

11.

Initially, George Clooney was supposed to play Noah Calhoun in The Notebook.


Karwai Tang / WireImage / Via Getty

Paul Newman was going to play the older version of Noah. Clooney was excited at first, but after watching a few of Newman’s movies, he felt too intimidated to play the younger version of him. 

He told Deadline, “He’s one of the handsomest guys you’ve ever seen. We met up [again] and I said, ‘I can’t play you. I don’t look anything like you.’ … We just wanted to do it because we wanted to work together, [but] it ended up being not the right thing for us to do.”

The studio struggled to find other actors who were interested in the role because Noah didn’t have much of a character arc. However, director Nick Cassavetes offered Ryan Gosling the role because he thought he was “not like the other young actors out there in Hollywood” and not “handsome” or “cool.”


New Line Cinema / ©New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett / Everett Collection

James Garner took over Newman’s role as the older Noah.

12.

Emily Blunt was offered the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, but she was forced to decline in order to fulfill her contractual obligations for a different movie she “didn’t want to do.


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She played Princess Mary in Gulliver’s Travels to fulfill the optional picture deal she’d made with 20th Century Fox. 

“It was a bit of a heartbreaker for me. I take such pride in the decisions that I make, and they mean so much to me, the films that I do,” she told The Howard Stern Show.

When Scarlett Johansson — who was “pretty bummed” she didn’t get the part — got that fateful call from Jon Favreau, she agreed to meet up, then told him she was “extremely available still.”


Paramount / ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

She told BBC Radio 1, “If anybody ever asks me about what advice I have to other actors who are trying to make it, I say, ‘Every opportunity is an opportunity to work, and you’ll never get a better call than when you thought you lost a job then got it.’ I was so excited to have a second chance at it.”

13.

Jack Nicholson was interested in The Godfather because he dreamed of working with Marlon Brando, but he decided to turn down the role of Michael Corleone for two reasons: He thought the part should be played by an Italian actor, and the script revealed that he wouldn’t have any scenes with Brando.


Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

A few years later, Nicholson got his wish when he costarred with Brando in The Missouri Breaks.

Paramount wanted to cast Ryan O’Neal or Robert Redford, but director Francis Ford Coppola championed Al Pacino.


Paramount Pictures courtesy Everett Collection

Pacino told the Washington Post that there “was a movement not to have [him] in the part” and they “tried to fire [him] three times.”

14.

George Lucas offered Pacino the role of Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope, but he declined because he “didn’t understand the script.”


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After the success of Star Wars, he said it was a “missed opportunity.”

However, casting director Fred Roos convinced Lucas to cast his friend, Harrison Ford.


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At first, Lucas was hesitant because he didn’t want to reuse an actor from a previous project, and he’d already worked with Ford in American Graffiti

So, Roos hired Ford — who also worked as a carpenter — to build a door in the office where the casting call was being held. 

“Harrison had done a lot of carpentry for me. He needed money, he had kids, he wasn’t a big movie star yet. The day he was doing it, George happened to be there. It was serendipitous,” Roos said in an interview for How Star Wars Conquered the Universe.

15.

Six big names in Hollywood turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix. First, Will Smith decided to do Wild, Wild West instead.


Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Then, Brad Pitt accepted the role, but he withdrew due to the exhaustion he experienced after making Seven Years in Tibet.


TriStar Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

Next, Leonardo DiCaprio — who was fresh from Titanic —considered taking it, but he decided he didn’t want to star in another effects-heavy film so soon.


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Val Kilmer declined to play both Neo and Morpheus, accepting a role in At First Sight instead.


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Then, the Wachowskis and Warner Bros. sent Sandra Bullock the script, but she didn’t think she suited the role.


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Nicolas Cage also threw his hat in the ring, but he ended up declining because he “didn’t want to go to New Zealand for three years or Australia for three years” and “needed to be home with [his] son, Weston.”


Randy Holmes / ABC via Getty Images

Finally, the Wachowskis requested a meeting with Keanu Reeves. After the meeting, the trio hung out in the parking lot — and the directors offered him the role on the spot.


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In a Reddit AMA, Reeves said, “I went in to meet with them, and they showed me some artwork, of their vision, and an early version of ‘bullet time,’ and it was very exciting and inspiring…they told me they wanted me to train for four months prior to filming, and I got a big grin on my face and said: ‘Yes.'”

16.

After a successful screen test, Tom Selleck “earned” the part of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but because he’d already done the Magnum, P.I. pilot, CBS told him he couldn’t do both.


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So, Ford was cast instead, and he’s set to reprise the role in an upcoming untitled fifth Indiana Jones movie.


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17.

Emma Watson was reportedly cast as Mia in La La Land, but she hadn’t actually committed at the time of the announcement. She ended up choosing Beauty and the Beast instead.


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“It’s one of these frustrating things where names get attached to projects very early on as a way to kind of build anticipation or excitement for something that’s coming before anything is really actually agreed or set in stone,” she told SiriusXM’s Town Hall.

Then director Damien Chazelle saw Emma Stone in Cabaret — her “unofficial audition for La La Land, without knowing it.”


Lions Gate / ©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

She told W Magazine, “Then we met at a diner and had chicken pot pies and he explained La La Land to me. I hadn’t read the script yet, but he wanted to kind of walk me through what he was thinking. And then I read it and then he came and hung out in my dressing room and showed me some of the visuals and played some of the score for me. It was pretty special from the very beginning.”

Ironically, Watson later got the part intended for Stone in Little Women.

18.

The CW originally pitched Gossip Girl with Ashley Olsen in mind for Blair Waldorf.


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However, the role went to Leighton Meester after she dyed her naturally blonde hair.


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“She was professional and she did the job and played the role well, and what I liked about her is that she owned who she was. She wasn’t going to kiss everyone’s ass and that was very Blair,” casting director David Rapaport told BuzzFeed.

19.

Initially, Helen McCrory was cast as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but she withdrew from the movie because of her pregnancy.


Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

However, she was later cast as Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix’s sister, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

So, Warner Bros. approached Helena Bonham Carter, who “was all too happy to play a witch.”


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She told Entertainment Weekly that “there wasn’t a huge amount on the page originally,” but she came up with some of Bellatrix’s most defining characteristics, including her rotten teeth, her corset, and her messy hair.

20.

Rob Lowe was offered the role of Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy, but he decided to pass.


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“If it’d been me, [the fans] wouldn’t have called me ‘McDreamy,’ they would have called me Rob Lowe,” he told Variety.

During his audition, Patrick Dempsey was “convinced” Shonda Rhimes didn’t like him, but she “was figuring out how to put [him] in the show.”


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21.

Tamzin Merchant played Daenerys Targaryen in the unaired Game of Thrones pilot.


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However, HBO wasn’t pleased with the pilot and had creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss completely reshoot it and recast certain roles, which is how Emilia Clarke booked the part.

22.

John Travolta declined the titular role in Forrest Gump in favor of Pulp Fiction.


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The part went to Tom Hanks, who then beat Travolta for Best Actor at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes in 1995.


Paramount / ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

23.

And finally, the Coen brothers were very interested in casting Holly Hunter as Abby in Blood Simple, but she had scheduling conflicts with a play she was already committed to.


Amy Graves / Getty Images for LOVE IS LOVE IS LOVE Premiere Screening, Q&A and Reception

So, Hunter advised her roommate, Frances McDormand, to audition. However, McDormand pushed back her audition so she could watch her then-boyfriend in a soap opera. The fact that “she didn’t seem like she needed it” led the Coens to offer her the role.


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A few years down the road, the Coen brothers wrote Raising Arizona for Hunter to star in.

This led to a long-term working partnership between McDormand and the Coens. She also married Joel Coen the same year Blood Simple came out, and they’ve been together ever since.


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