30 Big-Name Stars That Were Almost Cast To Play Iconic Roles In TV and Movies

There’s no question that the right casting choice can make or break a movie. Deciding which actor or actress is going to take on the leading role is a huge decision that can sometimes take months of auditions to decide on. Oftentimes, several big-name stars end up being considered for the same role, and an actor that appears born to play a certain character might not have even been the director’s first choice.

Take a look at who was in the running for some of the biggest movies and shows to hit our screens. Whether these stars auditioned and didn’t land the role or they were offered the job but decided to turn it down, these actors and actresses could have completely changed the course of these now-iconic roles.

Emilia Clarke Turned Down the Role of Anastasia Steele in 50 Shades of Grey

Anastasia Steele, the female lead in the erotic drama film 50 Shades of Grey, was portrayed by actress Dakota Johnson, ultimately making it one of her most notable roles to date. As it turns out, Johnson has one person, in particular, to thank for that. Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke was initially offered the role but decided to turn it down.

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When asked about this decision Clarke admitted that while she loves the director of the film, she wasn’t comfortable with doing so many nude scenes. “The last time that I was naked on camera on [Game of Thrones] was a long time ago, and yet it is the only question that I ever get asked,” Clarke shared. “And it’s annoying as hell and I’m sick and tired of it” she continued.

Russel Crowe Was Offered the Role of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Before the role of Aragorn went to Viggo Mortensen, Gladiator star Russel Crowe was initially approached for the role. He was asked about this during an interview with Howard Stern, who had no problem pointing out the fact that the role could have earned Crow $100 million.

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In response, Crowe shared that he didn’t believe that he was the first choice for director Peter Jackson. “I think he was forced into talking to me because there was a moment in time when everybody wanted me in everything,” Crowe explained. “My instinct was that he had somebody else in mind … and he should be able to hire the actor that he wants.”

Christina Applegate Was Considered for the Role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

There were several stars considered for the role of Elle Woods before it ultimately went to Reese Witherspoon. In fact, big names like Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone, and Christina Applegate were all sent scripts for the role. However, according to Applegate, she was not that interested in pursuing it further.

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“I had just gotten off of Married with Children and I felt like it was too close to what I had just been doing and I was very interested in removing myself from that,” she shared. “I don’t regret it because Reese Witherspoon did a much better job than I ever could.”

Tim Roth Turned Down the Role of Severus Snape in Harry Potter

As we know, the late Alan Rickman was responsible for bringing Severus Snape to life on our screens for all eight of the Harry Potter films. Before Rickman landed the role, however, producers did have someone else in mind to portray the cold and cynical potions master. Actor Tim Roth, known for films such as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, was actually already set to take on the role of Snape before a scheduling conflict got in the way.

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Roth had also committed to starring in the upcoming Planet of The Apes film and the overlapping filming schedules became too much to handle for the star. According to J.K Rowling, who wrote the books on which the Harry Potter movies were based, she had always had envisioned Rickman portraying Snape so was pleased when he ended up taking on the role.

Ryan Gosling Was Considered for the Title Role in Doctor Strange

By now, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Benedict Cumberbatch taking on the role of the powerful sorcerer Doctor Strange. Before Cumberbatch was named for the role, however, Marvel went through quite a long search to find the right man for the job.

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Among those considered was Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling. When Gosling visited Marvel studios to discuss the role back in 2014, he was also reportedly on the shortlist for Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad. In the end, however, Gosling decided to stray away from both projects since they would potentially involve numerous sequels.

Jim Carrey Was Considered to Play the Title Role in Edward Scissorhands

One of Johnny Depp’s most iconic roles Edward Scissorhands was almost played by someone else entirely. On the list of actors considered to play Edward was Jim Carey. Carey had already gained the reputation as a goofy, comedic actor, which would soon bring him to star in films such as The Mask and Ace Ventura.

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It’s this reputation however that caused Tim Burton to go a different direction for the role of Scissorhands. At the time Carey had little experience as a dramatic actor and Burton feared the role would become too comedic with him as the star. As we know today though, Carey is more than equipped to excel in more serious roles.

Claire Danes Almost Played Rose in Titanic

Before Kate Winslet was cast as Rose in James Cameron’s record-breaking masterpiece, Titanic, Cameron did have someone else in mind for the role. Actress Claire Danes was originally approached to share the screen with Leo as Jack however she decided to turn down the opportunity.

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“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,” she said in an interview with Dax Shepard. Danes added that she has no regrets about her decision.

Justin Timberlake Was In The Running To Play Elton John in Rocketman

While we can all agree that Taron Egerton did a phenomenal job at portraying Elton John in the biopic Rocketman, you might be interested to find out who else they had in mind for the job. Elton himself was initially interested in approaching pop star Justin Timberlake for the role.

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Timberlake first caught the attention of the musical icon back in 2001 when he starred in the music video for Elton’s song “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.” In the video, Timberlake portrays a young Elton and he definitely made an impression. “He did an amazing job in the video,” praised Jon. “He put on a prosthetic nose, and it turned out to have been some really interesting acting as well.”

Johnny Depp Was the First Choice to Play Ferris in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Before casting Matthew Broderick to play the rebellious Ferris Bueller in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, director John Hughes actually had his eye on Johnny Depp for the role. And this was long before Depp became the Hollywood powerhouse that he is today.

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Fortunately for Broderick, Depp had to turn down the role due to scheduling conflicts. When asked about this missed opportunity Depp said that he felt Broderick did “a great job” with the role. Considering where his career has brought him today, we doubt he has any regrets about his choice.

Bette Midler Turned Down the Role of Sister Mary Clarence in Sister Act

When screenwriter, Paul Rudnick first pitched Sister Act to producer Scott Rudin he didn’t initially have Whoopie Goldberg in mind for the lead. Actually, Rudnick had envisioned actress Bette Midler taking on the role of Deloris Van Cartier aka Sister Mary Clarence.

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Midler decided to turn down the offer because she did not think her fans would like to see her as a nun. While, like all her roles, we are sure the Hocus Pocus star would have done a phenomenal job, it is still pretty hard to picture anyone else but Goldberg as the disguised choir director that we all know and love.

Sean Connery Turned Down the Chance to Play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings

James Bond legend, the late Sean Connery was director Peter Jackson’s first choice to play Gandalf in his Lord of The Rings trilogy. The producers of the film series wanted him for the role so bad they were even prepared to offer upwards of $30 million, plus 15 percent of the box-office takings. Despite this, Connery still decided to turn down the opportunity.

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He later gave an explanation for this decision saying, he simply didn’t understand the role. “I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it,” Connery admitted. As we know, the role then went to Ian McKellen whom Connery had praised for being “marvelous.”

Charlize Theron Almost Played Roxie Hart in Chicago

For actress Charlize Theron, losing the role of Roxie Hart in the hit musical, Chicago was a huge bummer that she is still not over. According to Theron, she was initially cast to take on the role of Hart but after the film changed directors, she ultimately got “kicked off” the project.

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Theron admits to being “envious” of Renée Zellweger who replaced her in the role but also adds that she did an “amazing job.” “I’ve seen that movie a lot. I really like the movie, I think everybody’s great in that film. I fantasize to be in that movie. I think it just would have been different,” Theron shared about the missed opportunity in an interview with Howard Stern.

Matt Leblanc Was Offered the Role of Phil Dunphy in Modern Family

Before casting the hilarious Ty Burrell to master the role of the quirky and lovable Phil Dunphy, show-runners had someone else in mind to play one of television’s most beloved dads. They initially offered the part to Friends star Matt LeBlanc.

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“I remember reading it thinking, this is a really good script, but I’m not the guy for this,” LeBlanc shared in an interview with USA Today. “I’d be doing the project an injustice to take this. I know what I can do, I know what I can’t do. Plus, I’m having too much fun laying on the couch.”

Emily Blunt Was the First Choice to Play Black Widow in Iron Man 2

Before the role of Black Widow went to the stunning Scarlett Johansson, whose name is more or less synonymous with the role at this point, Jon Favreau had someone else in mind. He originally had his eyes set on actress Emily Blunt to take on the role in the 2010 film Iron Man 2.

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Blunt had to give up on the opportunity due to several scheduling conflicts. When asked about the missed opportunity, Blunt said she would be happy to take on a different comic-book movie in the future. As we now know, Johansson would go on to portray the role of Black Widow for several films.

Henry Cavill Auditioned to Play Edward Cullen in Twilight

According to Justice League star Henry Cavill, he had auditioned to play the role of Edward Cullen in the Twilight film series before the role eventually went to Robert Pattinson. Not only that, but he was also the first choice for Stephenie Meyer, who was the author that wrote the books on which the movies were based.

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“I think the writer of the books when the movie came around, I think I was her first choice,” Cavill shared while on The Graham Norton Show. “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.”

Connie Britton Was in the Running to Play Olivia Pope in Scandal

While the award-winning drama series, Scandal is often celebrated for its leading lady Kerry Washington, she wasn’t the first choice for the role. The casting director for the hit series, created by Shonda Rhimes, revealed that at one point Connie Britton was on top of the list.

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However, the casting team ultimately decided to reassess their options and Kerry Washinton became the top choice. Through her role as Olivia Pope, Washington became the first black woman to topline a drama in 37 years and the show ran for seven successful seasons.

Tom Cruise Was Interested in the Role of Tony Stark in Iron Man

Action star Tom Cruise says he expressed interest in playing Tony Stark aka Iron Man in the Marvel universe films however he admitted that he was not in the running for long. “If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work,” Cruise explained.

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He also went on to praise Robert Downey Jr who ended up taking on the role. “I love Robert Downey Jr. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role and I think it’s perfect for him,” he said. And we couldn’t agree more. Apparently, Cruise also expressed interest in producing the first Iron Man film however that did not pan out either.

Tiffani Thiessen Auditioned for the Role of Rachel Green in Friends

Before Jennifer Aniston was cast in her career-changing role as Rachel Green in the hit sitcom, Friends, Tiffani Thiessen was also hoping to nab the opportunity. You might recognize Thiessen from her days starring as Kelly Kapowski in the quintessential 90s sitcom, Saved by The Bell.

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Although Thiessen was interested in the role of Rachel, the actress was unfortunately deemed too young to join the cast. She was only 20 years old at the time, while Aniston, as the youngest cast member, was already 25. The actress had no hard feelings and said she found Green’s performance to be “very, very funny.”

Eddie Redmayne Auditioned for the Part of Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy

While Chris Pratt seems made for the role of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord in Marvel’s Guardians of The Galaxy, he wasn’t the only one being considered. Eddie Redmayne was a runner-up for the role, and we can all agree that the casting choice would have made for a very different movie.

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Redmayne, best known for starring in the Fantastic Beasts film series, has had his eye on landing a comic-book movie for quite some time now. He also auditioned for the roles of Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Doctor Doom in Fant4stic.

Molly Ringwald Was Asked to Play Vivian in Pretty Woman

Known for her coming-of-age films such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, Molly Ringwald truly taught us what it meant to grow up in the 80s. She made such an impression, that she was given the opportunity to take on the starring role in the 1990 film, Pretty Woman. The job ended up going to Julia Roberts and it’s truly hard to picture anyone else shining as bright as she did as Vivian.

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Ringwald was asked about the missed opportunity in a Reddit AMA back in 2013. She responded to the inquiry saying, “I think I saw an early draft and it was called $3,000. 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.”

Thomas Brodie-Sangster Was Almost Cast for the Role of Ron Weasley in Harry Potter

With his red mane and fun-loving personality, Rupert Grint really does seem like he was born to play Ron Weasley. So it only makes sense that he landed the role in the eight-part film series based on the Harry Potter novels. That being said, there was another rising young star that had his eyes on the role.

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Thomas Brodie-Sangster, popularly known as the adorable kid from Love Actually, also auditioned to play Ron. And apparently, he was pretty saddened by the fact that he did not land the role. “It was my first experience of rejection and hit me quite hard. I had feelings of anger and frustration, but I couldn’t really put the blame on anyone for not giving me the role,” he said.

Julia Roberts Almost Played Viola in Shakespeare in Love

It’s safe to say that landing the role of Viola de Lesseps in the 1998 film Shakespeare In Love, completely changed Gwenyth Paltrow’s life. The opportunity landed Paltrow an Oscar for best actress and set the course for the rest of her career.

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According to Paltrow however, the role almost went to fellow actress Julia Roberts instead. “The movie had many iterations. Julia Roberts was going to do it for a long time, and then that version fell apart,” Paltrow shared in an interview with Variety. “It ended up in Miramax, and I was the first person they offered it to.”

Will Smith Turned Down the Role of Neo in The Matrix

It’s hard to talk about Keanu Reeves without mention of The Matrix. This is the film that truly put him on the map as one of Hollywood’s heavy hitters. However, years after the film’s 1999 release, it was revealed that the role almost went to fellow actor and musician Will Smith. At the time Smith was already well known for films like Men In Black and Independence Day and of course from his time starring in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

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Smith has since admitted that he regrets turning down the role saying that he wasn’t proud of it. Especially since he went on to star in Wild Wild West that same year, which was one of the biggest flops in his career. When explaining his reasoning for turning down the offer, Smith said that the way The Matrix was pitched to him was extremely confusing. He does think that it was for the best and applauds Keanu Reeve for his performance.

Emma Watson Almost Played Mia in La La Land

Ah, the age-old question. Stone or Watson? Which Emma is your favorite? A question that some find impossible to answer and clearly the casting directors of La La Land also had a hard time with. According to director Damien Chazelle, the film came very close to casting Harry Potter star Emma Watson as the female lead before they ended up landing on Emma Stone instead.

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“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 where Emma Watson and Miles Teller were doing it,” Chazelle shared. In the end, this battle of the Emmas ended with a win-win as Watson went on to star in Disney’s live-action Beauty and The Beast instead.

Matthew Mcconaughey Auditioned for the Role of Jack Dawson in Titanic

After nailing his audition, rom-com extraordinaire, Matthew McConaughey was fairly certain he landed the role of Jack Dawson in the 1997 film Titanic. As we know the role instead went to Leonardo DiCaprio and McConaughey is admittedly not entirely over it.

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“I wanted that. I auditioned with Kate Winslet. Had a good audition. Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it. I didn’t get it. I never got offered that,” the actor shared on The Hollywood Reporter’s “Awards Chatter” podcast. He went on to say that if the rumor is true that he was actually offered the part then he would have a few words to exchange with his agent. “I’ve got to meet in an alley with that agent,” he joked.

Paul Giamatt Turned Down the Role of Michael Scott in The Office

Before Steve Carrell got cast as Michael Scott in the American remake of The Office, show-runners had a list of over 30 candidates that they were considering for the role. And according to producer Ben Silverman and casting director Allison Jones, they had two names in particular on the top of that list.

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The role of Michael Scott was first offered to big-name stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, however, both actors declined the role. It was then down to two candidates, Steve Carell and Bob Odenkirk, who today is known for his role as Saul on Breaking Bad. Carrell’s portrayal of Scott’s character, in the end, came out on top. Luckily Odenkirk did later make an appearance on The Office when he made a cameo in the show’s final season.

Tamzin Merchant Was Originally Cast as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones

Tamzin Merchant was originally cast as Daenerys Targaryen in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones and she even played the Mother of Dragons in the show’s pilot episode. The pilot was not received well however which prompted show-runners to recast many of the roles, including recasting Emilia Clark as Daenerys. “Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson,” Merchant said in a recent interview.

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“It was an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them, because I tried to back out of that situation and, during the contract process, I did back out. I was talked back into it by some persuasive people.” She then goes on to praise Clarke for making the role so iconic. “She [Clarke] was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent. But for me, it wasn’t in my heart to tell it.”

Al Pacino Was Offered the Role of Han Solo in Star Wars

As Hollywood’s go-to Italian gangster, it’s kind of hard to imagine Al Pacino in the Star Wars universe. But that was very close to being the case back in 1977. Pacino was offered the role of Han Solo back before the film series had made its first monumental debut.

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The star said that although the role was his “for the taking” he decided to turn down the offer because he “didn’t understand the script.” Despite the film’s iconic success, Pacino says he has no regrets and even goes as far as to say that his decision is ultimately what led to Harrison Ford having a career in Hollywood.

Robin Williams Wanted To Play Rubeus Hagrid In Harry Potter

Once the late and beloved comedian Robin Williams heard that a Harry Potter movie franchise was in the making, he was eager to be included in the cast. The actor expressed interest in a number of roles including that of the friendly half-giant, Rubeus Hagrid. Robins reached out in order to be considered but unfortunately, the franchise had a strict “brits only” rule that they weren’t willing to break even for a comedic legend like Williams.

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“He really wanted to be in the movie, but it was a British-only edict,” said casting director Janet Hershenson. “And once [director, Chris Columbus] said no to Robin, he wasn’t going to say yes to anybody else, that’s for sure. It couldn’t be.” As we now know, the role of Hagrid went to Robbie Coltrane who happened to be author J.K. Rowling’s first choice for the character.