In Hollywood, there are bad movies, and there are good movies. What often separates the two—besides a stellar script or incredible visuals—is how perfectly a film's leads fit the roles. Many of our favorite movies are what they are because the actors cast are seemingly born for the part. But sometimes, those celebrities just barely get the call. From Reese Witherspoon to Leonardo DiCaprio, click through to find out which Hollywood A-listers almost missed out on the roles that made them household names.
Keanu Reeves has been in a number of major films, but The Matrix trilogy is undoubtedly what made this hottie a household name. However, we were *this* close to having someone else take on the role of Neo—Will Smith!
On his YouTube channel, the mega star revealed that he did in fact turn down the lead role of the science fiction film. Though The Matrix ended up a wild success (enough to spawn two sequels), the plot that The Wachowskis pitched to Smith was just a little too...weird. "As it turns out, [The Wachowskis] are geniuses!" he explained to his six million subscribers. "But there's a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced." Smith just couldn't get jiggy with (I had to!) the concept of the film and chose to star in the steampunk western Wild, Wild West instead. What a sacrifice.
Speaking of Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor was also almost cast to star in Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti western Django Unchained. With triple threat Jaime Foxx (he's an actor, comedian, and a singer, in case you've been under a rock) as its leading man, the film won two Oscars in 2012, stunning audiences everywhere with its irreverent yet powerful imagining of the antebellum south.
Had Smith actually taken on the role, Django would have played out very, very differently—he wanted it to be a love story, not a tale of revenge. He opened up about the decision in The Hollywood Reporter's 2015 Actors Roundtable. "To me, [Django is] as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect," Smith told his peers. "I just couldn't connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer."
Every true fan of the romantic comedy genre knows that the chemistry between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle is the stuff that dreams are made of—just ask Julia Roberts, who was up for Ryan's role in the '90s classic.
"[Meg Ryan] and Tom Hanks are just such a jewel of a fit in that," Roberts said in her 2014 InStyle Magazine cover story. "I guess what they did for that moment in time is sort of what Richard [Gere] and I were doing across town (in the 1990 film Pretty Woman), you know?" The actress may have bowed out of the audition process for Sleepless in Seattle, but she had plenty of other big projects lined up: My Best Friend's Wedding, Stepmom, and Notting Hill were all released just a few years later.
You've probably watched Fifty Shades of Grey a few more times than you'd like to admit. We get it...it was a sexy film! A little too sexy for Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale, who auditioned for the lead role of mousy personal assistant-turned-sex kitten Anastasia Steele.
"Mainly, I was just interested in doing something risky and doing something a little different than my character on Pretty Little Liars so it took me out of my comfort zone," Hale told MTV in 2014. Despite knowing that the movie would be based on the erotic series of the same name, the actress was still somewhat surprised by the sultriness of her audition. "[It was] something I don't want my grandmother watching."
You know who didn't mind? Dakota Johnson—she went on to star in all three Fifty Shades films alongside Jamie Dornan's Christian Grey.
If someone asked you to name Leonardo DiCaprio's most iconic role to date, you'd probably have a hard time choosing just one, and understandably so. He's been in a lot of great movies: The Great Gatsby. Inception. What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The Departed.
However, Titanic, the film that still brings us to tears to this day (there was definitely room for two on that damn plank, Rose!), is quintessential Leo...and would you believe that he almost didn't get the gig? On a visit to Bravo's Watch What Happens Live clubhouse, fellow actor Matthew McConaughey shared that he, too, auditioned for the character of Jack, and he was pretty sure that he nailed it. "The audition went really well," McConaughey told host Andy Cohen. "Well enough that you get outside and call your agent and go, I nailed it."
Unfortunately for him, DiCaprio's audition also left a real impression on director James Cameron. "Leo came in for an interview...I looked around the room and every woman in the building was in the meeting. The accountant was there and the female security guard, so I thought, Maybe I better cast this guy."
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio became best friends after playing star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose in the romantic drama, but if the universe had other plans in mind for the lead roles of Titanic, the most precious besties in Hollywood might never have crossed paths. The Rose to Leo's Jack was almost played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who shared with Howard Stern that she was very close to taking on the role that earned Winslet a nomination for a Best Actress Academy Award in 1998. "I know that the story is that I turned it down,” Paltrow said about the part. “I think I was really in contention for it—I was one of the last two.”
Just one year after missing the boat with Titanic, Gwyneth Paltrow took the lead in the romantic period piece Shakespeare in Love as Rosaline, the fictional muse of William Shakespeare in 16th century England who dresses as a man in order to perform on the stage. The emotional portrayal won Paltrow the 1999 Oscar for Best Actress, and the film won six other Oscars that year, sweeping the awards.
Based on the success of the movie, one would never guess that Paltrow wasn't the first pick for the role. According to Simon Callow, who played Tilney in the film, Julia Roberts had already signed on to play Viola—under the impression that Daniel Day Lewis would be her Bard. "But it was not to be. Daniel wasn’t interested, so Julia withdrew, and the whole thing fell through just six weeks before filming was due to begin. All the sets had been built, armies of craftsmen stood by, costumes were made, a great deal of money expended…but it was all over."
Fortunately, Paltrow was available, and Joseph Fiennes signed on to be her leading man. The rest is history.
In 2009, Lee Daniels broke our heart with Precious, a devastating movie that followed the trials and triumphs of a 17-year-old in Harlem. Gabourey Sidibe starred in the film and received critical acclaim for her portrayal, but she could've missed out on the life-changing role. The part initially went to actress and singer Jennifer Hudson.
A few years removed from her Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls, Hudson signed on to star in the drama but bowed out when she got a better look at the script. She got candid about her change of heart in her book I Got This: How I Changed My Ways And Lost What Weighed Me Down: "I just felt the character was doing things, at least in my script that I got, that were places I did not want to go and not where I needed to go.”
To the displeasure of 007 fanboys, theatre-trained Daniel Craig made history as the first blond James Bond in the franchise, when he made his debut as Bond in 2005's Casino Royale. But before Bond was blond with blue eyes, he was almost a mutant with adamantium claws. Well, sort of; the iconic role almost went to Hugh Jackman, star of 20th Century Fox's iteration of the X-Men series.
Jackman was fresh out of filming the first X-Men film in 2000 when his agent reached out to him about the part, but he turned it down because he wanted to diversify his resume as an actor. "I just felt at the time that the scripts had become so unbelievable and crazy, and I felt like they needed to become grittier and real, " Jackman told Variety in 2017. "I was also worried that between Bond and X-Men, I’d never have time to do different things."
It ended up being the right move for both actors. Jackman played Wolverine in nine X-Men films spanning seven years, and Craig did so well as Bond that he went on to play the MI6 agent in three more films in the series: Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre. He will reprise his role as 007 one last time in Bond 25, set for release in 2020.
Can you imagine a world where Indiana Jones was not played by Hollywood's beloved resident grump, Harrison Ford? Well, that was almost a reality, because the epic tale of the archaeologist was initially set to star Tom Selleck. Complications with negotiations led to Ford getting the part instead. During a 2014 appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman, Selleck set the record straight on just barely missing the opportunity of a lifetime. "They held the offer [for the role] out about a month. And the more they held out the offer and talked to the network, the more the network said no."
Man, it seems like everyone wanted a piece of Harrison Ford's acting reel. Though the Hollywood legend hasn't always looked fondly on his role as intergalactic hero Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy—he once literally referred to the character as "Ham Yoyo"—Ford knows that Star Wars was his big break. The role was eyed, however, by another Tinseltown giant, Al Pacino, who eventually turned down the part because he didn't really get the concept of the space battle. "It was mine for the taking," Pacino shared at a 2013 speaking event. "But I didn’t understand the script."
When Friends was still in development, the producers' dream cast for the NBC television sitcom looked significantly different from how it actually turned out to be. And thank heavens the producers didn't get there way—could you imagine anyone else in the tight knit group? Then-newbie Jennifer Aniston played the reckless yet lovable Rachel Green, but had she decided take up Saturday Night Live's offer to be a fixed member of their cast (seriously), the part could have gone to her real life bestie Courteney Cox, who starred on the series as Monica Gellar.
Saved by the Bell's Tiffani Thiessen also chased Aniston's part, but at 20 years old, she was just a little too young to have the appropriate chemistry with the rest of the cast; Aniston was the youngest amongst her co-workers, and she was 25 years old.
While the showrunners may have thought that Courteney Cox was perfect for the role of Rachel, the actress identified more with resident neat-freak Monica Gellar. When she auditioned for the part, Cox knocked it out of the park, but as it turns out, the role was originally written for actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo. "When we originally wrote the role, we had Janeane’s voice in our head. Darker and edgier and snarkier,” Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman told Vanity Fair. However, Cox impressed them with her interpretation of the character believed to be the glue of the group. "Courteney brought a whole bunch of other colors to it. We decided that, week after week, that would be a lovelier place to go to.”
It's impossible to imagine the Marvel Cinematic Universe's god of thunder (and our hearts) being played by anyone but Chris Hemsworth, but the Australian actor's younger brother Liam nearly beat him out for the role. Despite being a perfect physical match for the character of Thor, the older Hemsworth initially found himself on the outs with MCU's casting team because of a bad audition tape.
"Months went by and then my brother, my little brother, Liam, was in Australia and sent a tape across and he got a call back, then another call back and then was down to the last kind of four or five people for it," Hemsworth revealed in an interview with W Magazine. "I came in kind of with a little, I guess, motivation and maybe frustration that my little brother had gotten further than me. It's a little family, sibling rivalry sort of kicked up in me."
From her classic lip quiver to her signature power-walk through the halls of the White House, Scandal's Olivia Pope was one of the most recognizable characters on television during the ABC series' six-year run. Played by Kerry Washington, Pope was a powerful but perplexing protagonist, exasperating viewers almost as much as she enthralled them with her often problematic actions (having an affair with the President you helped steal an election for—who does that??).
Shockingly, D.C.'s fixer almost had a totally different energy about her. In her "Actors on Actors" conversation with Ryan Reynolds, Taraji P. Henson revealed that she had also thrown her (white) hat in the ring. Obviously, the audition didn't go the way that she'd hoped, but the Oscar-winning actress is more than thankful for the turn of events; she later booked a major role in FOX's musical drama Empire as Cookie Lyon.
Having been personally inspired by the wordsmithery of Shondaland's captain Shonda Rhimes, Gabrielle Union also auditioned for the character of Olivia Pope on Scandal. She may have lost out to Washington, but Union says that just being able to read for the role motivated her as a Black actress in the industry. "The words that we were auditioning with [for Scandal] were so amazing that all of us were like, even if we don’t get this job...it was so good to practice with good material," she mused in a conversation with The Root. "It’s making me better just auditioning.... We all kind of fell in love with this idea of playing in a world that a black woman had created.”
Casting Henry Cavill as Superman was probably the easiest decision ever; he's six foot one with a ridiculously broad chest, perfectly coiffed dark hair, and dreamy blue eyes—there couldn't have been a better Clark Kent. Yet, the British heartthrob somehow was not the original choice for the DC Extended Universe's Man of Steel. As it turns out, Magic Mike star Matt Bomer was originally at the top of the shortlist to play the superhero.
Bomer opened up about his casting on popular film podcast Happy Sad Confused. "Brett [Ratner] chose me for the project and then it all fell apart," Bomer explained. "It was a month of, 'Okay, looks like this is going to happen'. And then it slowly fell apart." Before everything changed, Bomer even participated in a screen test with Amy Adams, who would go on to play Cavill's leading lady Lois Lane.
Now that Cavill's future as the protector of Metropolis is up in the air (reportedly, there are no plans for Superman to re-enter the DCEU anytime soon), fans are rooting for Bomer to take on the iconic cape and tights, and honestly? We could totally see it.
Henry Cavill may not have been the first pick for Superman (HOW?), but to Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, he was the perfect man to play the broody thousand-year-old vampire Edward Cullen in the film adaptations. Like the rest of the world, Meyer was absolutely obsessed with Cavill's stunning good looks and was convinced that he was the only actor appropriate for the role. "Indisputably the most difficult character to cast, Edward is also the one that I'm most passionately decided upon," she mused about her dream casting in the film's early days. "The only actor I've ever seen who I think could come close to pulling off Edward Cullen is Henry Cavill. Henry was Albert, the young son in The Count of Monte Cristo. Can you see it? I know I can!"
However, upon realizing that Cavill was too old and far too sexy to pass as a high schooler and sweep Bella off of her feet, Meyer acquiesced, and Robert Pattinson was chosen for the part instead.
As a teenager, Lily Collins felt one of her first heartbreaks after losing the coveted part of Jenny Humphrey on The CW's Gossip Girl to fellow newbie actress Taylor Momsen. For Collins, the Gossip Girl audition was actually her first ever TV studio screen-test experience, and she was beyond stoked to just be able to have the opportunity. "Whether or not I got it, I knew I could say I screen tested on the lot and one day I want to work at one of these [studios]," Collins reminisced in a 2016 interview with Glamour.
Maya Rudolph has often been hailed one of the funniest women in Hollywood, and, in addition to her time as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, her role in the laugh-out-loud comedy Bridesmaids made it official. Alongside the comedic genius of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, Rudolph's Lillian had audiences in stitches (can we please talk about that hilarious engagement party toast?!).
When asked by Bravo's Andy Cohen whether there was a role she really regretted not taking, fellow comedic actress Mindy Kaling revealed that she had just missed out on the part of Lillian: "Actually, you know what it was—Bridesmaids, which I loved. They called me in for Maya Rudolph’s part, and I practiced it so much and I was so into it, and I love that whole cast. That one was a heartbreaker.”
Before she was covering up murders with Nicole Kidman and throwing ice cream cones at Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies, Reese Witherspoon was the smartest and best dressed lawyer on campus as Elle Woods in the cult classic Legally Blonde. The film became such a pop culture staple that it spawned several sequels and a Broadway musical (with an amazing soundtrack), but did you know that it was almost Christina Applegate teaching us how to bend and snap?
For Applegate, the role of the ditzy law student was hitting a little too close to home. "At that time, I had just gotten off of Married with Children," the Dead to Me actress explained on an episode of Watch What Happens Live. "I felt like it was too close to what I had just been doing and I was very interested in removing myself from that.”
Ask television fans what their favorite shows are, and it's very likely that they'll make mention of The Office. The hilarious single-camera mockumentary, an adaptation of the British original starring Ricky Gervais, explores the daily happenings of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company and its quirky employees. The quirkiest of those employees? One Dwight Schrute. Played by Rainn Wilson, Dwight is socially awkward and easy to prank, easily making him one of the most entertaining characters on the sitcom.
The line to play Dunder Mifflin's resident suck-up was a long one, and Wilson's competition was stiff, to say the least. Early audition tapes revealed a group of talented A-list comedy actors vying for the part, including Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), and John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle)!
When Halle Berry won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Actress for her emotionally-loaded work in Monster's Ball, her tearful acceptance speech was considered one of the most heartfelt in the history of the Academy—she was the first Black actress to win an Oscar in that category. But the role (and possibly the Oscar) could have gone to another beauty: Vanessa Williams.
Williams, a singer, actress, and former Miss America, received the script for Monster's Ball in its beginning stages and, despite seeing the potential of the story, couldn't go through with it. "I just had a baby," she told Oprah Winfrey on an episode of Oprah's Master Class. "And I was like, ‘I am not getting naked in front of a crew of people at this time!’”
Angela Bassett was also up for the emotionally taxing role of Leticia Musgrove, but the What's Love Got to Do With It actress turned it down because of her own concerns with the morality (or lack thereof) of the character. "I couldn’t do [the film] because it’s such a stereotype about black women and sexuality," Bassett clarified. "Film is forever. It’s about putting something out there you can be proud of 10 years later."
Despite her personal misgivings about Monster's Ball, Bassett doesn't judge Halle Berry for taking the role. ”I can’t and don’t begrudge Halle her success,” Bassett said. ”It wasn’t the role for me, but I told her she’d win, and I told her to go get what was hers. Of course I want one, too. I would love to have an Oscar. But it has to be for something I can sleep with at night.”
No one could very well blame Cady Heron for falling for Aaron Samuels in their math class. Those strong brows! That classic 2004 floppy hair! Those puppy dog brown eyes! According to Mean Girls actor Daniel Franzese, however, Jonathan Bennet was actually the second option to play the undisputed man crush of North Shore High School.
He spilled the tea to Cosmopolitan: "There was another actor who was playing Aaron Samuels at the dinner. Now, the next day at the table read, this other actor hadn’t shaved and he didn’t take his hat off; he was playing it really cool. People kept coming over to him like, 'You know, you should really take your hat off.' And then, right after the table read, he got fired, and they called Jonathan Bennett, who I guess was their second choice."
Franzese never disclosed who the mystery actor was—"I don’t want to embarrass him, I’m afraid. He has worked consistently, he’s a good guy...but, yeah he is somebody who you would’ve known"—but in the same interview, Franzese dropped another major bombshell about Aaron Samuels: James Franco was also considered for the part. So fetch!
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams's onscreen chemistry in The Notebook was so intense that it translated into a real life love story, which, according to Gosling, was "a hell of a lot more romantic" than whatever Noah and Allie had going on; the couple dated for two years after the film premiered.
One can't help but to wonder how different things would be for the actor exes if Jessica Biel had gotten the part of Allie instead. "That’s one that I wanted so badly,” the 7th Heaven actress said in 2011. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood. [Director] Nick Cassavetes put me through the wringer in an interesting, excitingly creative way. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”
If Biel had played Allie, would she have dated Gosling? Would she have ended up with Justin Timberlake?! We'll never know.
Ben Affleck may have hit our radar after starring in films like Dazed and Confused and Good Will Hunting, but Pearl Harbor is considered the film that really rocketed him into early 2000s heartthrob status. In the period drama, Affleck and Josh Hartnett play childhood friends turned war comrades right in the throes of World War II.
The role almost went to another actor by the name of Michael Fassbender—ever heard of him? (Of course you have; he's starred in major Hollywood blockbusters like 300, Steve Jobs, 12 Years a Slave, and in the latest X-Men movies)The Irishman revealed in his 2013 GQ cover story that his early attempts at acting included a less than stellar audition for Affleck's part in Pearl Harbor.
American director, producer, screenwriter Cameron Crowe had a different Tom in mind when he was writing the script for his first major film, Jerry Maguire. The role of the cocky sports agent who decides to open up his own boutique agency was initially intended for Tom Hanks.
"It was originally written for Tom Hanks,” said Crowe in 1997. “I took so long doing the script that Hanks was no longer a 35-year-old man. By the time he got it, he was almost 40 and had two Academy Awards and wanted to direct.” Fortunately, Tom Cruise was young enough for the part and had the enthusiasm to bring Jerry Maguire to life.
Renée Zellweger's breakout role in Jerry Maguire as Tom Cruise's love interest put her on the map, undoubtedly setting her up for a long and illustrious career as an actress. To this day, there have never been more romantic words spoken on the silver screen than "You complete me."
While that moment may have cemented Jerry Maguire's place on our list of best rom-coms of all time, it almost didn't happen...not with Zellweger, at least. Connie Britton killed her audition for the role of Dorothy Boyd and was sure she had the part in the bag, but a last minute audition from Zellweger changed the game. Don't feel too bad for Britton, though; she went on to play Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights and country icon Reyna James in the ABC musical drama Nashville.
Did you know that Renée Zellweger's initial casting as the hopeless (and hapless) romantic Bridget Jones was quite controversial at the time? Fans of Helen Fielding's 1996 novel were furious that the 30-something British working girl would be played by an American actress in the film adaptation. Though Zellweger was far from a no-name (by that time, she had already starred in Jerry Maguire, Me, Myself, and Irene, and The Bachelor), many Bridget Jones purists felt that there were other working actresses who could better bring the character to life because they were actually British. Some of the names in the running included Kate Winslet and Helena Bonham Carter.
Fortunately, Zellweger had her British cast mates to back her up. Hugh Grant, who starred in the film(s) as the womanizing Daniel Cleaver, fully endorsed the American actress: "I’ve met Renée a couple of times, and she is bang-on. She’s very funny, and she’s been living in England a long time now, mastering the accent. It’ll be a triumph. I know it will.” And what do you know—he was right!