Worlds, stories, and characters are conceived on the page. Whether it be in a novel, comic book, or script, an infinite number of idiosyncratic features have been overcome by actors that redefined their characters. Sometimes roles are written for specific actors, but most of the time, filmmakers search the globe for that special someone. Most characters in entertainment transform to some degree once actors bring them to life (or impose their large personalities upon them). Great performers are respected for redefining characters.
Some roles are rewritten when the actor is cast or changed throughout filming, with the actor taking it in a different direction than anticipated. The role doesn't become fully realized until experimentation and improvisation take hold. This isn't just a matter of changing a few lines here and there; it's a holistic change to the entire vision or persona. Think of the infamous behind-the-scenes confusion when Johnny Depp unveiled his take on Jack Sparrow, or Robin Williams making Aladdin’s genie inseparable from his talent. These are some of the best movie characters that completely changed when a specific actor was cast to play them. Remember to vote up your favorites.
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
It’s almost impossible to separate Eddie Murphy from displaced Detroit detective Axel Foley. Before Murphy was cast in Beverly Hills Cop, it was originally supposed to be a Sylvester Stallone vehicle. Stallone’s agent thought it would be a good idea for the action star to showcase his comedic side. However, Stallone had next to no interest in this, so he rewrote the script to fit his action-oriented status. No one liked Stallone’s ideas and he ended up leaving the production, re-purposing those ideas for what would become Cobra.
Enter Eddie Murphy. According to director Martin Brest, Beverly Hills Cop’s script was repeatedly changed as the film was made to shape around Murphy’s talents:
I had six drafts and I wasn't happy with any one of them. I showed them to him, he closed his eyes and six seconds later he said, "I've got it." He then went through the entire spiel in character.
In addition to improvising some of the funniest scenes in the film (including that one at the art dealership), Murphy even had a say in Foley’s wardrobe. So much of Foley is Murphy.48217Change for the best?
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
Before his untimely passing in 1982, John Belushi was supposed to play Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters. In the wake of that tragedy, Dan Aykroyd, who was working on the script with Harold Ramis, turned to Bill Murray to fill the role (with only half the script completed). Murray agreed to be attached to the product in a limited capacity; at the time, Murray was a hot commodity and very busy. The filmmakers didn’t even know if he was going to commit until the day filming began. Regardless, Ramis (having worked with Murray on Stripes, Caddyshack, and Meatballs) reworked the script with Murray’s voice in mind.
Director Ivan Reitman came to learn how to be flexible with Murray, who is infamous for his impromptu comedic instincts. Reitman did his best to stick to the script while simultaneously taking advantage of Murray’s brilliance. His performance as Venkman officially made him (and his persona) a household name.50128Change for the best?
- Photo: New Line Cinema
Dark Horse Comics’ The Mask series is much darker than its 1994 big-screen adaptation. Comic book Stanley/The Mask/Big Head slays the mechanics who wrong him - as well as an elementary school teacher who embarrassed him when he was a kid. It’s a horrific yet humorous exploration of inhibitions and the human condition. Think Deadpool but more brutal.
Despite these bloody origins, The Mask transformed into a more family-friendly blockbuster starring Jim Carrey. Early drafts of the script are closer to the source material than the ones written by Mike Werb after Carrey was cast. According to the film’s director, Chuck Russell, who previously helmed 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and the 1988 remake of The Blob, Carrey’s skillset demanded a redirection:
I just felt it should be Jim putting the mask on, and if Jim’s putting the mask on, it shouldn’t be a horror film. I just knew he was going to blow up. I’d seen his stand-up, and it blew my mind.
And so the movie became a vehicle for Carrey's ability to contort his body (which saved the studio money on special effects) and do anything for a laugh. A lot of the movie just feels like Carrey doing skits, and that was the intention.37160Change for the best?
- Photo: New Line Cinema
David Berenbaum’s Elf script was being passed around Hollywood for around 10 years before 2003. Before Will Ferrell’s involvement, Jim Carrey was attached to the project around the time he was making films like The Mask and Dumb and Dumber. The original script was much darker than the one Jon Favreau ended up reworking for Ferrell, whose goofy, lovable, man-child energy ended up being perfect for the Christmas classic.
Ferrell improvised a number of scenes in the movie; for example, during the scene in which Buddy is interrogating the apartment store Santa, Ferrell rattled many of those lines off the top of his head. As revealed by Favreau, "You sit on a throne of lies," as well as "You smell like beef and cheese; you don't smell like Santa," were all off the cuff.36170Change for the best?