Sometimes, history is made up of close calls and near misses, and film history is no different. The list of best movie characters and best television characters are lengthy and diverse, but a surprising amount of these iconic roles were played by actors who were second choice for a role, or actors with little to no experience. Despite not getting their first choice, these directors and producers ended up being praised for these incredible "second string" casting choices.
The world will never know how different entertainment history would be if some of these casting close calls had come to pass. In most cases, the actors originally slated to take the parts were certainly talented in their own right, and there’s a good chance they, too, would have nailed the roles. However, some of these characters are so iconic, it’s practically impossible to imagine anyone else portraying them.
Harrison Ford had a habit of nearly missing out on career-defining roles. Although it’s hard to mentally separate the character of Indiana Jones from Ford’s portrayal, it was veteran actor Tom Selleck that was originally cast in the role. Ultimately, Selleck had to drop out due to a conflict with his Magnum P.I. contract, leading George Lucas to go back to the man he made Han Solo. While nobody was disappointed with Ford’s performance as Indy, the test footage of Selleck as the adventuring archaeologist is also pretty darn good, making this an intriguing case of “what if.”
Harrison Ford took another role meant for a more well-known actor before this. The world almost ended up with a very, very different take on Han Solo. While Harrison Ford embodied the character’s space cowboy attitude, he apparently wasn’t the first actor given a shot at the role. According to Al Pacino, he was offered the part of Solo, but turned it down when he found the script to be too confusing. Other actors like Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Burt Reynolds, and James Caan were also looked at, before Ford, a practical unknown, nailed the audition.
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Few actors have truly mastered a fictional character as well as Tom Hanks did in his Oscar-winning turn as Forrest Gump. However, the job almost went to another veteran actor with an extremely different filmography than Hanks - John Travolta. There’s no doubt that Travolta would have taken the character in a vastly different direction, and he considers turning down the part to be a “stupid decision.” The world can only speculate as to just how Travolta would have delivered iconic lines like “Stupid is as stupid does.”
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The role of Marty McFly in Back to the Future and its sequels made Michael J. Fox’s career, but he was actually a last-minute replacement who was brought in after filming had already started. At first, Eric Stoltz was cast, but the director and writer of the comedy film realized after only a few days of shooting that Stoltz just didn’t have the comedy chops to bring their script to life. Fox was brought in to reshoot everything and finish the film, and the rest is future-history.
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Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is a character that is burned into the brains of most fans of fantasy, and that’s largely due to the masterful portrayal of Viggo Mortensen, who seemed to embody everything that Aragorn stood for. Amazingly, another, much younger actor, Stuart Townsend, was cast and had begun shooting when director Peter Jackson realized he’d made a mistake. Townsend, Jackson reasoned, was too young to pull off the gravitas required for Aragorn’s portrayal, and so he replaced the actor with Mortensen.
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