What Could Have Been: Meet the Actors Who Almost Played These Iconic Roles


| LAST UPDATE 03/06/2022

By Kayla Black

Imagine watching Titanic, but instead of seeing Leo and Kate falling madly in love, it's actually Leo pursuing Claire Danes or Gwyneth Paltrow? Things could have been very different. Take a look at the celebs who missed out on iconic roles. Ready to have your mind blown?

Russel Crowe: Aragorn, Lord of the Rings

Trust Howard Stern to get a usually private Russel Crowe- to open up about whether he regretted saying "no" to Aragorn's role. Stern joked, "They offered you 10 percent of the gross of the movie – I did the math for you…I think you would have gotten $100 million."

Lord of the Rings Iconic Roles Lord of the Rings Iconic Roles
El Pics via Getty Images/ Aragon in Lord of the Rings (2001)

In a typical Crowe fashion, he replied, "I didn't think Peter Jackson actually wanted me on the film. I think he was forced into talking to me, because there was a moment in time when everybody wanted me in everything…my instinct was that he had somebody else in mind…and he should be able to hire the actor that he wants."

Emilia Clarke: Anastasia Steele, Fifty Shades of Grey

Emilia didn't hold back during The Hollywood Reporter's Drama Actress Roundtable. She explained that she turned down the role of Anastasia Steele because "The last time I was naked on camera was a long time ago, and yet it is the only question that I ever get asked because I am a woman."

Fifty Shades of Grey Iconic Roles Fifty Shades of Grey Iconic Roles
Samir Hussein via Getty Images/ ullstein bild / Contributor via Getty Images

She went on to say, "I did a minimal amount [of nudity], and I'm pigeonholed for life, so me saying yes to that, where the entire thing is about sensuality and sex and being naked and all of that stuff. I'd like to not do one of those for a minute." We can definitely respect that.

Chris Hemsworth: Duke, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

Before the chiseled abs and fame of Thor, Chris Hemsworth was a struggling actor who dropped out of high school and had no money to support his family. He told Variety, "I almost put too much pressure on myself," explaining how the stress of family responsibilities meant him missing out on roles.

G.I. Joe Iconic Roles G.I. Joe Iconic Roles
Jun Sato via Getty Images/ Ian West - PA Images / Contributor via Getty Images

According to Hemsworth, he "got very close to G.I. Joe" and was upset at the time after losing out to Channing Tatum. His finances didn't exactly help ease the blow as he was "running out of money." When reflecting on this time, he said, "if I played either of those characters, I wouldn't have been able to play Thor."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Justin Timberlake: Elton John, Rocketman

Did you know that Elton John, at one stage, felt that Justin Timberlake could best portray him in Rocketman? The singer and actor piqued the interest of David Furnish - Sir Elton's husband and Rocketman producer. This was after he saw JT's portrayal of Elton in the "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" music video in 2001.

Rocketman Iconic RolesRocketman Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Frazer Harrison / Shutterstock via David Appleby/ Paramount/ Kobal

However, according to Furnish, the couple "never formally approached Justin because we weren't ever at a stage where it was the right time to approach him. But he did an amazing job in the video, he put on a prosthetic nose, and it turned out to have been some really interesting acting as well."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Meryl Streep: Patsy Cline, Sweet Dreams

One would think that with 19 Oscar nominations to her name, Meryl Streep wouldn't miss out on any role. Yet she didn't get the part of playing Patsy Cline in the 1985 film, Sweet Dreams – and it was even directed by her friend Karel Reisz.

Sweet Dreams Iconic RolesSweet Dreams Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Jason Merritt/ TERM / Shutterstock via Silver Screen/ HBO/ Tri Star

"Karel was a friend of mine who I adored, and he was making a film about Patsy Cline, who is a singer I adored." While Streep wasn't cast, she did stay at Karel's home in England while shooting another film; apparently, she told him, "'Well the least you can do is let me stay at your house while I am there.'"

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Joe Alwyn: Sam, Love Actually

You may recognize him from Mary Queen of Scots, but this star was close to landing Liam Neeson's son's role in the Box Office hit, Love Actually. Taylor Swift's bae of two years revealed on Live with Kelly and Ryan that he almost got the part of playing the adorable and lovesick Sam.

Love Actually Iconic RolesLove Actually Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Kevin Winter / Shutterstock via MOVIESTORE/ REX

He recalls how he got "time off school to go to this audition" which followed with a "whole series of workshops. I didn't get it in the end, but I do remember meeting Hugh Grant and [screenwriter] Richard Curtis and sitting around reading some stuff." In the end, the role went to Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Alden Ehrenreich: Dan Humphrey, Gossip Girl

Penn Badgley shot to superstardom when he first appeared in the hit 2007 series, Gossip Girl. Yet he wasn't the only actor lined up to play the coveted role of Dan Humphrey. Casting director, David Rapaport, told Entertainment Weekly that Alden was initially his favorite for the part.

Gossip Girl Iconic RoleGossip Girl Iconic Role
Getty Images via Todd Williamson / Getty Images via Marcel Thomas

David went on to say, "Before Penn was involved, I desperately wanted Alden Ehrenreich to play Dan." However, at the end of the day, height mattered, as Alden lost out on the role because the producers felt that he was too short compared to his co-star and love interest, Blake Lively.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Julianne Moore: Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

We wonder if Nicole Holofcener, the original director behind Can You Ever Forgive Me? has asked for forgiveness herself from Julianne Moore? According to the 58-year-old actress, she was fired from Melissa McCarthy's Oscar-nominated role – any possible thoughts on why?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Iconic RolesCan You Ever Forgive Me? Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Pascal Le Segretain / WireImage via Mary Cybulski/ FOX/ Searchlight

Julianne made the shocking confession during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen after a caller asked the award-winning actress why she left Can You Ever Forgive Me? as had been reported in the news. "I didn't leave that movie, I was fired. Yeah, Yeah, Nicole fired me. So yeah, that's the truth." – Ouch.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Kate Winslet: Viola, Shakespeare In Love

Paltrow and Winslet have been on the top of many directors casting lists – clearly – as Kate may have won Titanic. Still, Paltrow balanced it all out when she got the role of Viola de Lesseps after Kate turned down the 1998 Shakespeare In Love film.

Shakespeare In Love Iconic RolesShakespeare In Love Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Vera Anderson / Getty Images via Miramax/ Everett

According to multiple reports, Kate rejected the part because she wanted to shift her focus and concentrate on producing independent films. However, this was a role that she missed out on potentially being awarded an Oscar after Gwyneth won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the classic film.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Julia Roberts: Viola, Shakespeare In Love

Yet another Hollywood royalty who missed out on playing the role of Viola de Lesseps – Julia Roberts. In interviews, Gwyneth spoke about how Julia apparently first agreed to make Shakespeare In Love. Luckily for Paltrow, it was third time lucky as she beat both of these powerhouse women to land the role.

Shakespeare In Love Iconic RolesShakespeare In Love Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Hulton Archive / Shutterstock via Moviestore/ REX

Paltrow explained to Variety that "the movie had many iterations. Julia Roberts was going to do it for a long time, and then that version fell apart. It ended up in Miramax, and I was the first person they offered it to." Things always seem to work out in the end.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Jack Nicholson: Michael Corleone, The Godfather

One of the most iconic films of all time would have to be the 1972's hit, The Godfather. Many have said that it had to do with Al Pacino's portrayal of the mob boss, Michael Corleone. With this in mind, one can't help but wonder if Nicholson isn't kicking himself for turning down the role?

The Godfather Iconic RolesThe Godfather Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Evening Standard / WireImage via Everett

Jack stated that he didn't feel like the right fit. "Back then, I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians." Instead, the actor went on to play hitman Charley Partanna in Prizzi's Honor (1985). He told MovieLine, "There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

John Travolta: Forrest, Forrest Gump

You know the cliché of "life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get"? Well, that's exactly what happened in the case of Forrest Gump in the 1994 comedy-drama. Tom Hanks ended up playing the iconic role, and it became one of his most prolific parts to date.

Forrest Gump Iconic RolesForrest Gump Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Stephen Lovekin/ Getty Images via Paramount/ Everett

John was apparently in the running to play the role, but instead, he passed on the chance. In previous interviews, he reportedly reflected on how this was a "big mistake." Luckily for John, he still made a good decision starring in Pulp Fiction, even competing against Tom for the Best Actor Oscar that year. However, Hank took home the gold.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Lindsay Lohan: Jade, The Hangover

Back in 2009, Lindsay Lohan had built up quite a reputation thanks to her partying ways and allegedly being challenging to work with. Yet you'd be surprised as to why the then-20-year-old Lohan wasn't chosen for the role of Jade in the hit film, The Hangover - and it's definitely what you would immediately think.

The Hangover Iconic RolesThe Hangover Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Tristan Fewings / Getty Images via Warner Brothers/ Everett

Director Todd Phillips explained, "Honestly, it felt like she ended up being too young for what we were talking about. People love to attack her for everything, like: 'Ha, she didn't see how great The Hangover was going to be. She turned it down.' She didn't turn it down. She loved the script, actually. It really was an age thing."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Johnny Depp: Ferris, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Even in 2020, people are still talking about Matthew Broderick's incredible debut performance in the 1986 film, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The man is synonymous with playing the character of pro hooky player Ferris Bueller - but things could have turned out very differently.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off Iconic RolesFerris Bueller's Day Off Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Tristan Fewings/ Stringer / WireImage via Paramount/ Everett

Believe it or not, but there was talk that Johnny Depp would play the role. The future 21 Jump Street actor was John Hughes' initial choice for the coveted role, but Depp turned it down due to conflicts with his schedule. During an Inside the Actors Studio interview, Depp conceded that Broderick did a "great job" in the movie.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Al Pacino: Han Solo, Star Wars

Can you imagine Han Solo played by Al Pacino? Well, it very nearly happened. In 1977 the actor was offered the role of Han Solo in Star Wars but passed on the opportunity after saying that he felt it was simply too "out there," and not right for him.

Star Wars Iconic RolesStar Wars Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Stefania M. D'Alessandro / Getty Images via Sunset Boulevard

This could also be because he remarked that he "didn't understand the script." The part ended up being played by a young Harrison Ford. However, the likes of Jack Nicholson, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray were all also considered for the role. Harrison went on to gain international stardom for his role in the epic space opera film.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Anne Hathaway: Tiffany, Silver Linings Playbook

There's no denying the on-screen chemistry Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have; therefore, it's no surprise that these two have starred in numerous films together. Yet, the 2012 hit film, Silver Linings Playbook's main female lead, Tiffany, almost went to Hollywood favorite Anne Hathaway.

Silver Linings Playbook Iconic RolesSilver Linings Playbook Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Dimitrios Kambouris / WireImage via Weinstein Company via Everett

In a 2019 interview, Anne revealed that she turned down the role due to "creative differences" she had at the time with director David O. Russell. Jennifer and Anne both went on to win Oscars that year, with Anne winning Best Supporting Actress in Les Miserables and Jennifer Best Actress for her portrayal of Tiffany.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Molly Ringwald: Vivian, Pretty Woman

If you were a teen in the '80s, you'd definitely know who Molly Ringwald is. The famous actress used to play those coming-of-age, high school movies everyone loved at a time. She was also given the opportunity to break free from her casting 'mold' after being handed a script for $3,000.

Pretty Woman Iconic RolesPretty Woman Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Dia Dipasupil / buena Vista Pictures/ Everett

That particular script wasn't just any script; it would later become known as the script for Pretty Woman. Molly recalled, "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."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Sandra Bullock: Maggie, Million Dollar Baby

Contrary to popular belief Sandra Bullock or shall we say, PEOPLE's World's Most Beautiful, did not turn down the role of Maggie in Clint Eastwood's 2004 popular film. In the end, Hilary Swank ended up taking home an Academy Award for her role as Maggie.

Iconic Roles Iconic Roles
Steve Granitz / Contributor via Getty Images/ Rachel Luna / Stringer via Getty Images

Sandra Bullock shared the deets on what really went down. "I couldn't get it made. We tried and tried and tried." By the time Million Dollar Baby got off the ground, Sandra was already filming Miss Congeniality 2. However, the actress has shared her wisdom, saying, "when things like that happen, that's the way they are supposed to be."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Miles Teller: Sebastian, La La Land

Miles has often spoken about his missed chance at starring in the movie-musical, La La Land, made famous by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. He told Esquire magazine that he was on the verge of giving up filming War Dogs alongside Jonah Hill due to scheduling issues with La La Land.

Iconic Roles Iconic Roles
Ray Tamarra / Contributor via Getty Images/ Rodin Eckenroth / Stringer via Getty Images

That was until he got a call from his agent, saying, "'Hey, I just got a call from Lionsgate. Damien told them that he no longer thinks you're creatively right for the project. He's moving on without you.'" Despite this, Miles told Vanity Fair that he's a "pretty strong believer that everything happens for a reason."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Emma Watson: Mia, La La Land

Just as Ryan Gosling wasn't the first option when it came to La La Land, so too was Emma Stone. Emma Watson was initially the favorite to play the leading female role of Mia. Watson ended up playing the leading role in Disney's live-action film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

Ironic Roles Ironic Roles
Dia Dipasupil / Staff via Getty Images/ RB/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor via Getty Images

During an interview with Uproxx, La La Land director, Damien Chazelle, "The casting of this movie during the six years it took to get made went through lots of permutations, and it's true there was a moment when Emma Watson and Miles Teller were doing it." Just goes to show how much can change over time.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Henry Cavill: Edward Cullen, Twilight

Shut the front door. Imagine if Edward Cullen was played by someone else, and not just anyone else, but the Justice League star, Henry Cavill? The actor auditioned for the role of Edward Cullen and was apparently the favorite of the book's author, Stephenie Meyer.

Iconic Roles Iconic Roles
Karwai Tang / Contributor via Getty Images/ Ian Gavan / Stringer via Getty Images

During an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Cavill opened up, saying, "I think the writer of the books when the movie came around, I think I was her first choice. That's the rumor I heard. And she wanted me to play the role, but it wasn't up to her. And instead, a very talented actor played him instead."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Connie Britton: Olivia Pope, Scandal

Scandal's casting director, Linda Lowy, recently revealed that the top network executives originally envisioned the show's D.C. crisis manager, Olivia Pope, as a white woman. Luckily, they didn't as Kerry Washington was ultimately cast. This made her the first black woman to topline a drama in 37 years.

Iconic Roles Iconic Roles
Larry Busacca / Staff via Getty Images/ George Pimentel / Contributor via Getty Images

Linda Lowy spoke about how "the network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie [Britton] and all white women. I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, 'We're going to have to redo this list.'" Kerry has gone on to win numerous awards for her performance in the drama series.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Christina Applegate: Elle Woods, Legally Blonde

We were shook (in a good way) when we found out that the 2001 script about a sorority girl who turned lawyer, Elle Woods, initially landed up on Christina Applegate's desk. Opening up to ETOnline, Christina said that she was hesitant about taking on another 'dumb blonde' role since starring in the series Married...with Children.

Legally Blonde Iconic RolesLegally Blonde Iconic Roles
Getty Images via J. Vespa / Shutterstock via MGM/ Everett/ REX

She went on to say, "I got scared of kind of repeating myself. What a stupid move that was, right?" Still, Christina is at peace and happy with how things turned out – especially for Reese, adding that she "deserved that. She did a much better job than I ever could, and so that's her life. That's her path." How sweet?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Leonardo DiCaprio & Brad Pitt: Jack Twist & Ennis Del Mar, Brokeback Mountain

Two of Hollywood's hottest actors almost landed the roles that saw Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal score Academy-Award nominations for their performances as forbidden lovers in Ang Lee's 2005, Brokeback Mountain. The gay romance could have Leo and Brad as lovers if Gus Van Sant directed the film.

Brokeback Mountain Iconic RolesBrokeback Mountain Iconic Roles
Kevin Winter / Staff via Getty Images/ Kevin Winter / Staff via Getty Images

Gus chatted to Indiewire, revealing that he'd been asked to direct the film before Lee. "I was working on it, and I felt like we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn't working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no. Nobody wanted to do it."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tiffani Thiessen: Rachel Green, Friends

During a quick pop in at Nikki Glaser's SiriusXM Show, Saved by the Bell actress and 90s' it-girl' Tiffani Thiessen, revealed that she auditioned for the role of Rachel Green on Friends. There's no doubt that she had the talent, but sadly for her, the part ended up going to Jennifer Aniston.

Friends Iconic RolesFriends Iconic Roles
Leon Bennett / Stringer via Getty Images/ Getty Images / Handout

Tiffany explained that "I was just a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them." She was just 20 years old when Friends first aired in 1994, while Jennifer was five years older - and still the youngest cast member. The actress hasn't had any sleepless nights over missing out, calling Jennifer's performance, "very, very funny."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Claire Danes: Rose Dawson, Titanic

As we've just said, Claire was initially meant to act alongside Leo in the box office hit, Titanic, pretty soon after starring alongside him in Shakespeare In Love. She recently opened up to Dax Shepard on his podcast called Armchair Expert, where she said that she has "zero regret" about turning down the role.

Titanic Iconic RolesTitanic Iconic Roles
Ron Galella via Getty Images/ Archive Photos / Stringer via Getty Images

According to Claire, there was "strong interest" in her playing Rose. "But honestly, I'd just made this romantic epic with Leo in Mexico City [Romeo & Juliet], which is where they were going to shoot Titanic, and I just didn't have it in me…I was just really clear about it. I wasn't conflicted. I wasn't."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Reba McEntire: 'Unsinkable' Molly Brown, Titanic

Scheduling conflicts are the worst – especially when you're Reba McEntire, who had to turn down the role of the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown in the 1995 blockbuster, Titanic, due to her busy work schedule. On an appearance during Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Reba admitted that the movie's success "absolutely" killed her a bit.

Titanic Iconic RolesTitanic Iconic Roles
Getty Images via John Shearer / Shutterstock via 20th Century Fox/ Paramount

"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 areas and everything." Eleven Oscars later - it definitely hurt.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Matthew McConaughey: Jack Dawson, Titanic

Some things are hard to let go of - just ask Matthew McConaughey. The actor spilled the tea on The Hollywood Reporter's "Awards Chatter" podcast, saying that he "had a good audition" for the role of Jack. Adding, "I wanted that. I auditioned with Kate Winslet. Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it."

Iconic Roles Iconic Roles
Mark Sagliocco / Stringer via Getty Images/ Brenda Chase / Stringer via Getty Images

"I never got offered that." Leo got Jack, and Matthew hopes that it wasn't because his agent never got back to him. "As I've said before, not even half-jokingly if it's true, if that was an offer and it didn't come to me, I've got to go back and go, 'I've got to meet in an alley with that agent.'"

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Gwyneth Paltrow: Rose, Titanic

Yep, another contender for a role in Titanic - Gwyneth came close to being cast as the sophisticated Rose on the tragic voyage. Even more tragic is that she lost out on starring in a film that made $2 billion. Gwyneth told Howard Stern, "I know that the story is that I turned it down."

Titanic Iconic RolesTitanic Iconic Roles
Getty Images via Vince Bucci/ Pinterest via @dudadmarques

"I think I was really in contention for it – I was one of the last two. I look back at the choices I've made and think, 'Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?' And you look at the big picture and think: There's a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?"

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Rumer Willis: Serena van der Woodsen, Gossip Girl

Before blonde bombshell Blake Lively made her way onto our screens, CW's casting director, David Rapaport, revealed that the network had Rumer Willis on the top of their list to play the star of the show and Manhattan it-girl, Serena van der Woodsen.

Gossip Girl Iconic RolesGossip Girl Iconic Roles
Steve Granitz / Contributor via Getty Images/ Marcel Thomas / Contributor via Getty Images

Now that we all have watched the series - some more than others, and we're not judging - we can't possibly imagine anyone else playing golden girl, Serena. Speaking out about the eventual decision to cast Blake Lively, Rapaport fondly says, "These lesser-known girls really captured the essence of the show and carried it for six years."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below