The Could’ve Beens: 10 Recast Roles (That Were Re-cast While The Film Was In Production)
July 28, 2008 Leave a comment
The Onion A.V. Club recently did a few round-ups of famous parts from moves and T.V. shows that were played by more than one actor over the years – The Darrin Effect: 20 Jaring Cases Of Recast Roles (July 14th, 2008). The article/list and its sequel (What About Seinfeld’s Dad?), both entertaining reads, made me think about the roles that were recast before the character was finalized – the ones that a drastic change of the leading part seemed to make all the difference in the world. An alternate history of modern cinema can be glimpsed when we consider:
The Could Have Beens: 10 Crucial Recast Roles (That Were Recast When The Film Was In Production)
1. Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – This a mother of a ‘could have been’. Selleck was cast by Spielberg and Lucas for the iconic adventurer but he was under contract at Universal and had a commitment to star in the TV series Magnum P.I. Even with the video of Selleck’s screen tests (with Sean Young and Debra Winger reading for Marion!) that are featured on a “Making Of” doc on the Indiana Jones DVD boxset, it’s hard to imagine him in the part that is so defined by Harrison Ford. Incidentally Tim Matheson (ANIMAL HOUSE, FLETCH, The West Wing) read for Indy too.
2. Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in BACK TO THE FUTURE – This is another doozy – almost half the movie was shot with Stoltz in the role but director Robert Zemeckis and producer Spielberg thought that his performance simply wasn’t working. Screenwriter Bob Gale said of Stoltz: “He is intense, and he’s more of the method school of acting, and he’s a very internal actor, as opposed to a guy who has a lot of physicality to him.” So they fired Stoltz and replaced him with who was actually their first choice but tied to Family Ties – Michael J. Fox. They worked out a scheduling deal with Fox and the rest is history. The approximately 40 minutes of footage of Stoltz as McFly has never surfaced but there are quite a few stills floating around (see above) on the internets to give us some idea of what it would have looked like at least.
3. Michael Keaton as Tom Baxter/Gil Shepherd in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO – Another case of the actor in the lead not jelling with the material according to the director. Woody Allen thought Keaton was too “contemporary” saying in a later interview with Eric Lax: “You got no sense of a 1930s movie star from him; he was just too hip.” After replacing him with Jeff Daniels, Allen promised Keaton that he would work with him again on a more appropriate project but that has so far not materialized. Seems like these days Keaton wouldn’t come off as too hip so maybe they can still get it together.
4. Frank Sinatra as DIRTY HARRY -In the November 9th, 1970 issue of Box Office magazine this trade ad appeared promoting the then ‘in prodcution’ Warner Bros. release of DIRTY HARRY. Sinatra had to pass on the part of the uncompromising cop Harry Callahan because of a hand injury and after several re-writes and Paul Newman flirting with the role, Clint Eastwood took it on. Eastwood more than made the role his own in 4 more movies, each getting bloodier and more extreme than the last, which is unimaginable had the ole blue-eyed crooner kept the part.
5. Harvey Keitel as Captain Willard in APOCALYPSE NOW – This one is harder to figure out. After 2 weeks of shooting, Keitel was replaced by Martin Sheen. No photos or footage can be found of his work, just random reports that he and Coppola were clashing on the set. Keitel reportedely was dispondent over being fired and considered leaving the business but biographer Marshall Fine wrote that he experienced a spiritual epiphany listening to a lounge singer’s rendition of the Sinatra standard “My Way” in a bar in the Phillipines that somehow got him back on his feet.
6. Sylvester Stallone as Axel Foley in BEVERLY HILLS COP – Stallone himself puts it best: “When I read the script for BEVERLY HILLS COP, I thought they’d sent it to the wrong house. Somehow, me trying to comically terrorize Beverly Hills is not the stuff that great yuk-festivals are made from. So I re-wrote the script to suit what I do best, and by the time I was done, it looked like the opening scene from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy. Needless to say, they dropkicked me and my script out of the office, and the rest is history.” (from an interview with Ain’t It Cool News) Stallone went on to use his script ideas in COBRA and Eddie Murphy went to be one of the biggest box office stars in the world and then on to crap like NORBIT and MEET DAVE. There are rumors of Murphy resurrecting Axel Foley but I doubt INDIANA JONES or RAMBO kind of numbers are in the cards for that.
7. Eddie Murphy as Winston Zeddemore in GHOSTBUSTERS – The role of the black Ghostbuster (Ernie Hudson) always felt unneccessary, tagged on as a token but it was originally written for Murphy which would’ve given it more clout. Murphy declined the part to take BEVERLY HILLS COP and the part was reduced considerably. In an interview with Kotaku Australia Hudson revealed: “I was the guy who got slimed in the hotel, but I guess the studio felt they wanted more stuff for Bill Murray”. Seems like he’s lucky the part wasn’t dropped completely.
8. River Phoenix as interviewer Daniel Malloy in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE – Phoenix was signed for this part but sadly died of an overdose before shooting began. He was replaced by Christian Slater and the film appeared with this dedication: “In memory of River Phoenix, 1970-1993”.
9. Dustin Hoffman as POPEYE – This is also perplexing and hard to imagine. The story goes that Hoffman was unhappy with the screenplay by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and left the project. Gilda Radner and Lily Tomlin were also considered for Olive Oil but director Robert Altman wanted his reporatory regular Shelly Duvall in the part. Glad he held out – Duvall is the spitting image of Olive. Robin Williams, definitely a better choice physically for Popeye got the role and 10 years later duked it out with Hoffman in HOOK. Bet plenty of POPEYE jokes were cracked on that set.
10. Chris Farley as SHREK – Another role unrealized because of an untimely tragic death. Farley recorded much of the dialogue but it was scratched when he died in 1997 ostensibly because the studio smelled a franchise. Mike Myers took the part but according to the IMDb: “A remnant of Farley remains when Shrek uses ‘finger quotes’ – a trademark of Farley’s character Bennett Brower.”
Okay! 10 recast roles. There are other great ones – Steve Martin in EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick was a big fan of THE JERK) and Steve McQueen in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND both almost made this list. If you have any overlooked recastings or comments you know where you can put them.