Could you imagine John Travolta playing Forrest Gump? What about Will Smith as Neo?
In an alternative universe, this could have been reality, with both of the legendary actors having previously admitted they turned down the now-iconic roles.
And while in retrospect their decisions might seem like mistakes, they’re not alone, with dozens of A-list actors having owned up to turning down parts in films that went on to be career-defining for the actor who actually took them on.
For example, he might have grown so disillusioned with the part that he asked to be killed off in The Force Awakens (sorry, spoilers,) but – with the notable exception of the Solo origin story – could you really ever imagine anyone else playing Han Solo than Harrison Ford?
As it turns out, the film’s producers originally had some very different ideas for the role, offering the part to two already well-known actors, before settling on then-rookie actor Ford.
Hollywood legend Al Pacino reportedly turned down the chance to play the beloved renegade pilot, and Burt Reynolds also said no, with the Hollywood legend telling Insider before his death that he ‘just didn’t want to play that kind of role at the time’.
While she’d go on to win an Oscar for her role in Shakespeare in Love only a few years later, Gwyneth Paltrow missed out on a chance to be a part of the world’s first billion dollar film, turning down the role of Rose in Titanic. Instead, Kate Winslet got the part, and the rest is history.
That being said, Paltrow herself reportedly only scored her role in Shakespeare in Love after Julia Roberts dropped out at the ‘eleventh hour’, with the Notting Hill star leaving the production after Daniel Day Lewis decided against taking on the role of Shakespeare himself.
Other actors who’ve ‘fessed up to passing on big roles include Liam Neeson, whose wife talked him out of becoming James Bond, and Kevin Hart who said he chose not to appear as Alpa Chino in Tropic Thunder because he was uncomfortable with the idea of playing a gay man.
Hart’s not the only actor to have been put off a major role because of the character’s sexuality, with several Hollywood megastars understood to have said no to starring in Brokeback Mountain, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. The film’s original director Gus Van Sant recalled that before Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger signed up for the film ‘nobody wanted to do it’.
Will Smith has since acknowledged he might have made a mistake in letting the starring role in The Matrix pass him by, but also admitted he thinks he might have ‘messed it up’ if he had taken the part.
Things did work out slightly better for Travolta, who passed on Forrest Gump to star in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which has since gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.
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