12 Actors Talk About What It Was Like To Take Over Iconic Movie Roles

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Vote up the interesting takes about taking over hugely popular characters.

It's tough to be the first actor through the door playing an iconic character. But, if that first actor is any good, it's even tougher being the second.

Today, we take a look at several performers' firsthand quotes and anecdotes concerning their feelings when it came time to assume the mantle of already established starring franchise roles. You'll find a great number of actors who made the most of their opportunity to take their famous characters in new directions.

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  • One of the all-time great Batman/Bruce Wayne performances came when the character had appeared to be played out, following a big-screen wipeout in Batman and Robin (1997), a movie so loathed both its director Joel Schumacher and star George Clooney have since apologized for it. Christian Bale knew his on-screen Batman would take the character back to his darker side.

    "We knew we had to reinvent it," Bale said in a Toronto Star interview (as recapped in Mashable) of his plan with Christopher Nolan to tweak the cinematic incarnation of the character. He added:

    I literally had people laugh at me when I told them we were doing a new kind of Batman. I think that the reason it worked was first and foremost Chris’s take on it. But also we never were arrogant to assume that we had an opportunity beyond one film at a time. That’s something that Chris always would talk about. He’d say, "This is it. We’re making one film. That’s all we’ve got."

    Bale and Nolan collaborated for two excellent Batman efforts in their so-called Dark Knight trilogy: Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). Bale said: 

    Then when [Warner Bros.] came and said, "You want to go make another?" 

    It was fantastic, but we still said, "This is it. We will not get another opportunity."

    Then they came and they said, "Okay, let’s do a third one."

    Chris had always said to me that if we were fortunate to be able to make three we would stop. "Let’s walk away after that," he said.

    Then when they inevitably came to us and said, "How about a No. 4?"

    I said, "No. We have to stick to Chris’s dream, which was always to, hopefully, do a trilogy. Let’s not stretch too far and become overindulgent and go for a fourth." That’s why we, well Chris, stepped away. After that I was informed my services were no longer required.

    In terms of the nuances of capturing the character physically, Bale noted the biggest challenge was actually a key part of Batman's wardrobe. “Let me say whichever superhero first came up with the idea of wearing a cape, he wasn’t really onto anything good," Bale told the Chicago Tribune. "The number of times I’m treading on that damn thing... or I throw a punch and it ends up covering my whole head. It’s really not practical [for a superhero]. I wouldn’t do it myself. I’m wearing a cape every damn day... I personally wouldn’t choose to don that.”

    72 votes
  • For his own trilogy of The Hobbit films (2012-14), Martin Freeman did not feel particularly constricted by what had come before, specifically Sir Ian Holm's take on an elderly version of the character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), also helmed by Hobbit director Peter Jackson.

    "I knew it, and I've watched the films again, obviously, in more detail before I came to this," Freeman revealed in an on-set interview with Collider. "I looked at Ian's more when I needed to... Again, I don't really know how much I should say, but there were points where it was relevant for me to look very closely at Ian's performance. But generally, no." Beyond the fact the two bear something of a physical resemblance (especially in those wigs), their vocal stylings are strikingly similar, so this is a bit surprising to hear.

    Freeman addressed this, too, saying:

    I know why I'm cast, do you know what I mean? 'Cause I think we're not that dissimilar, physically, or whatever else. I think if I was, I don't know, Jeff Goldblum or someone, then I might be thinking, "Right, hang on, if he's the older me, I'd better attend more to something else maybe." And there's only so much you can run with someone else's thing. It's very helpful, in the way that it's brilliant as he is always brilliant, and it's a beautiful establisher of that character, and a very loved one, for obvious reasons.

    But it can also hamper you if you're thinking, like in the barrels, if there's even part of me thinking, "How would Ian have done this?" then I'm f*cked. So I've got to let that go. I've always been mindful of it, 'cause I'm familiar with it. But I think the work for that connection was done in the casting of me, rather than what I'm then going to do on top of it.

    42 votes
  • During an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ewan McGregor discussed just how deep of an impact Sir Alec Guinness had on him as he approached the role of Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi starting with Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), a much greener version of the character than the one Guinness portrayed in the original Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983). 

    “The fun thing about doing them in the first place, when I was much younger [age 26], was trying to imagine Alec Guinness - how would he play these scenes as a younger guy," McGregor told Norton. "And it led me to watch a lot of his early work, which I hadn’t seen before. Brilliant movies, wonderful films that he’d been in... and I just had such a great time sort of studying him in those movies."

    McGregor is reprising the role for a Disney+ streaming series, which operates as something of a bridge, chronologically, between the events of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005), McGregor's last Star Wars movie, and Guinness's first, Star Wars (1977), later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. Guinness was 52 during the making of A New Hope. As of March 2022, McGregor is 50.

    “I love Alec Guinness, I never got to meet him, but I love him through his work and it’s a great honor to sort of try and pretend to be him," McGregor said.

    71 votes
  • Following a successful run as James Bond-esque superspy Simon Templar in the hit TV series The Saint (1962-1969), Roger Moore became the third man to put on that infamous tux in the string of blockbuster EON Productions movies, starting with Live And Let Die (1973) and concluding with A View to a Kill (1985). He made sure to do what he could to differentiate himself from his most famous predecessor, his friend Sean Connery.

    Moore told Entertainment Weekly in 2008:

    I tried to find out what Bond was all about, but you can't tell much from the [Ian Fleming] books. There's the line that says, "He didn't take pleasure in killing, but took pride in doing it well." So that's what I did. But the other side of me was saying, This is a famous spy - everyone knows his name, and every bartender in the world knows he likes martinis shaken, not stirred. Come on, it's all a big joke! So most of the time I played it tongue-in-cheek.

    Moore wanted to treat the character with more levity than Connery or one-time Bond George Lazenby did. Live and Let Die director Guy Hamilton cooked up some other ways of distinguishing Moore's Bond from Connery's. "He said we will avoid things like 'Shaken, not stirred,' anything that Sean did," Moore said to Dick Cavett.

    57 votes
  • Recent James Bond Daniel Craig addressed how his take on the role has grown and changed throughout his very successful five-movie franchise run in a 2021 James Corden interview. Craig said:

    He felt so complicated and you know, [had] lots of problems... We had this sort of great story at the beginning of Casino Royale because he falls madly in love with somebody and is betrayed. And that sort of, every time we came to make another movie, sometimes we said, "Let’s make a standalone. Let’s just make a standalone, just a Bond movie." And we never could leave that story alone, it always came into the plot. So somehow, we’ve had this narrative all the way through. That feels very unique, and I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we’ve done that. But it really feels like it’s tied them all together.

    Craig mentioned he consulted with the Bond he'd be replacing upon booking the role, Pierce Brosnan. "He was brilliant," Craig recalled. "He just said, 'Just enjoy the ride, just enjoy it.' I just started enjoying it a year ago [after No Time to Die completed filming], it's funny."

    The Craig Bond has received wide acclaim from fans and critics alike. Casino Royale, in particular, is arguably one of the best Bond movies ever.

    79 votes
  • The third 21st century cinematic Spider-Man (no need to discuss this 20th century TV movie edition), Tom Holland, found out he was going to be the current edition of the Manhattanite web-slinger the way most of us get our news: on Instagram. In an extensive conversation on Rotten Tomatoes, Holland detailed the process:

    I was in my bed, in Kingston... I had played golf with my dad, I'd lost. I went upstairs, I was very upset, 'cause I had lost. I was obviously at the time very nervous to find out and anxious to find out if I was going to be Spider-Man or not. So I was scrolling through Instagram constantly refreshing the feeds, [trying to] find information or inside information.

    He added:

    But Marvel had posted a photo of Spider-Man and they essentially said, "Go to our website to find out who the next Spider-Man is." So I'm like actually really disappointed though, because... I didn't get a call so I assumed that I hadn't got the job. 

    I went to the website and I just was like, "I'm gonna just check, just in case." And I was really upset about it obviously. I opened the thing and it said, "We are proud to announce that our new Spider-Man is from Southwest London, it's Tom Holland."... I slam the computer down, I'm freaking out, I'm running around the house, and I'm screaming, my brothers [are] losing their mind. 

    And [my brother] Harry rightly so said, "Bro, they've probably been hacked because there's no way they wouldn't call you." So I called my agents, this was very early in LA, like it was in the morning.

    They were up, they were like, "We've heard the news, we're trying to figure out if it's true or not." And then I was in my garden, pacing back and forth... And then I got a phone call from a plus-one number, 310. [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige called me and he told that I was going to be Spider-Man, and it was crazy.

    Holland's interpretation of the character made his first MCU appearance in Captain America: Civil War (2016). His first experience with the signature Spider-Man suit proved not to be without some hiccups of its own. "I was flown to Atlanta to shoot for Captain America: Civil War with the Russo brothers," Holland explained during the aforementioned Rotten Tomatoes video. He recalled:

    My first scene was a fight scene with Captain America himself, so as you can imagine as a young fan that was kind of crazy. But the thing is they'd already been shooting with my stunt double. Marvin [Ross] had been shooting for like six or seven weeks before I'd even been cast. And he was much bigger than me. And you guys know how long it takes to make the suits, it takes up to 14 weeks to make a single suit. So rather than making me my own one, they just said they were gonna tailor Marvin's to me. Now Marvin is like 6-foot-1, he's big. And I am not 6-foot-1, and I'm not very big.

    So when I went into the room I saw the suit hanging there on the hanger. I asked them if they could close all the mirrors so that when I put it on I could see it for the first time when it was on. So I'm there, I'm putting the muscle suit on, I'm putting the helmet on... It looked like a scrotum. It was like a saggy, gross foreskin Spider-Man suit, 'cause it wasn't tight at all, it was loose. So that's what it was like, and it was very disappointing.

    So far Holland has played the part to rave reviews across seven Marvel movies, including three of his own Spider-Man flicks.

    61 votes