12 Times Filmmakers Had To Fight For Their Casting Choices - And It Worked Out

List Rules
Vote up the casting decisions you're glad someone fought for.

Sometimes, the best choice is the most unconventional. These 12 times filmmakers had to fight for their casting choices prove that thinking outside the box can lead to box-office gold and critical acclaim.

A dramatic actor for a dimwitted screwball comedy. An Oscar-caliber actor with a history of substance problems. A producer willing to pay the salary of an actor she believed in. 

Studios always have an eye on the bottom line. The best filmmakers see the whole picture and are unwilling to compromise their vision.

Vote up the casting decisions you’re glad someone fought for. 


  • Francis Ford Coppola had not yet made a major splash in the movie industry when he took on the big-screen adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, which had spent 67 consecutive weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. The 29-year-old Coppola, who had a distinct vision, recalled that he would not let let Paramount interfere:

    I had two kids and one about to be born. I had absolutely no money. I was making what had become a more important film than it was when I got the opportunity because the book had continued to become more and more important. And I had no power, and yet I had real opinions on how it should be done. And I was always just trying to bluff the studio to let me, you know, do it my way. And it was just the most frightening and depressing experience I think I've ever had.

    Paramount, which wanted a big name for the role of don-in-waiting Michael Corleone, suggested 1970s stars Ryan O'Neal or Robert Redford. Coppola, however, had spotted an unknown actor by the name of Al Pacino on the Broadway stage. 

    The auteur went rogue and cast the green Pacino. When Paramount executives caught dailies of his performance, they demanded on three separate occasions that Coppola fire Pacino. The director refused. 

    Casting Corleone patriarch Don Vito was equally difficult. Co-screenwriters Puzo and Coppola wanted Marlon Brando for the role. However, by the early 1970s, the once-renowned method actor had lost much of his luster. Brando had garnered a reputation for being difficult and unprepared. The last thing Paramount wanted was a has-been diva delaying an already complicated production. 

    Once again, Coppola insisted. Brando wanted the part, and even agreed to a screen test and contract stipulations that he would not slow production. 

    Brando's screen test showed Paramount why he was an acclaimed Oscar-winning actor. He created his now-legendary Don Vito character by sticking tissue paper in his mouth and speaking in a raspy voice. The studio loved it and gave Brando the part. 

    The Godfather won three Academy Awards in 1973. Brando won the Oscar for best actor and ultimately created one of the most memorable screen characters in cinema history. Pacino showed his range by going from a mild-mannered war hero who wanted nothing to do with his family's business to a ruthless gangster drunk with power. 

    Additionally, The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II won the Academy Award for best picture. The dramas are widely considered among the best films ever made. 

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  • The latter half of the '90s was a tumultuous time for Robert Downey Jr. The actor was detained multiple times for drugs, and even told a judge in 1999, "It's like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I've got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal."

    Downey eventually got his acting career back on track with a slew of independent films that might not have captured a large audience, but were a hit with critics and niche film spectators. His work on Shane Black's 1999 revisionist neo-noir indie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang caught the attention of up-and-coming filmmaker Jon Favreau, who wanted to cast Downey in the lead role of his new Marvel superhero movie Iron Man. At this time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't really a thing yet. 

    Marvel wasn't keen on hiring Downey. In fact, studio executives told Favreau, "Under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price.”

    However, Favreau never gave up, and said he couldn't ignore the similar paths taken by Downey and Tony Stark:

    He [Downey] had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career. That’s Tony Stark. Robert brings a depth that goes beyond a comic-book character who is having trouble in high school, or can’t get the girl. Plus, he’s simply one of the best actors around.

    Marvel eventually gave Favreau his leading man. And it could not have worked out better

    The massive success of Iron Man launched the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The trilogy of Iron Man movies brought in $2.4 billion worldwide.

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  • The first X-Men movie came out in 2000 before anyone except Marvel Comics fans knew what X-Men were. When the Stan Lee comic book adaptation started to take shape in the late '90s, Wolverine was one of the most difficult roles to cast.

    Way before Hugh Jackman became an A-list Hollywood movie star, the Australian thespian was mostly a musical theater actor. When Jackman first tried out for the role of Wolverine in Bryan Singer's X-Men, he didn't get cast. "He was great," said screenwriter David Hayter. "But he was the nicest guy in the world and he was very tall and super handsome, so we didn't think he was Wolverine."

    The head of Fox, Tom Rothman, wanted Dougray Scott for Wolverine. Scott had signed on for X-Men but got delayed because he was in Australia filming Mission: Impossible II. Hayter recalled: "We hadn't seen Wolverine or fit him for costumes, so we sent costumer Louise Mingenbach down to Australia to fit him, and it turned out he had been in a motorcycle accident shooting Mission: Impossible II and he's dropped down to like 150 pounds. It just wasn't going to work."

    Russell Crowe was also offered the part. However, the Australian actor turned it down. Producer Lauren Shuler Donner finally decided to bring Jackman back in for another audition, Hayter said, and this time the actor was right for the role:

    [T]hey did coaching sessions with him to really get him to that sort of Clint Eastwood hard*ss edge. Then he came in and did his audition and there was this one moment where he turned to the camera and he looked like young Clint Eastwood. That was the moment.

    Jackman captured Wolverine's complicated essence, despite the physical differences, said X-Men comics writer Chris Claremont:

    When it comes to Hugh Jackman’s performance, the stock answer I give is this: Wolverine is 5' 1" and Hugh Jackman is 6' 2" - who cares. He nailed the character. I cannot think of anyone who could do it better or even as well. I’m sure someone will come along eventually, but for me, Hugh Jackman embodied all the things that made Logan real to me as a creator. It was a mysterious something that just clicked.

    Of all the X-Men mutants, Wolverine is perhaps the most popular. The character has appeared in nine X-Men movies, including the standalone The Wolverine and Logan.

    Jackman hung up his retractable claws for good following 2017's Logan.

  • Marlee Matlin Refused To Be In 'CODA' If The Studio Went With A Hearing Actor To Play Her Character's Husband
    Photo: Apple TV+

    When CODA writer-director Siân Heder cast Marlee Matlin to play the matriarch of a deaf family with a hearing daughter, the Oscar-winning actress took an interest in more than just an acting role. Matlin said in an interview, "In my 35-year career, I've never had deaf co-stars in leading roles that carry the film equally as me. This is a very special movie."

    The studio behind CODA originally planned to cast a well-known hearing actor in the role of Matlin's deaf husband, Frank. That's when Matlin gave producers an ultimatum:

    I put my foot down and said, "If you do, I'm just out, that's it. I can't see any actor putting on the costume of being deaf. We are not costumes to put on, not any longer. I've seen so many times in this industry where hearing actors take on the role of deaf characters. We've had enough of that. It's time for myself and other deaf actors to be able to speak up and say, enough is enough. We are here. Our talents are valid."

    The studio listened. Actor Troy Kotsur was cast in the role of a patriarch desperately trying to keep his fishing business afloat despite the economic difficulties and challenges of being deaf. 

    Matlin's perseverance worked. Kotsur won the Academy Award for best supporting actor, making him the second deaf actor to win an Oscar (Matlin was the first). CODA became the must-see feel-good movie of the awards season, and eventually overtook Oscar favorite Power of the Dog to win the Academy Award for best picture.

    "It's extra special because this movie highlights authentic representation of characters and shows what might typically happen in deaf peoples' lives - how they live, how they work," Matlin said. "All deaf people are not the same. This film is just a slice of life of the deaf community."

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  • On paper, Speed appeared to be nothing more than a high-concept B action movie with a popcorn plot. It's not difficult to see why A-list dramatic actresses like Meryl Streep and Kim Basinger passed on the project

    But the movie's director, Jan de Bont, didn't think an already established actress was a good fit for the role. Annie Porter, the bus passenger turned driver in Speed, is the sweet, heroic heart and soul of a high-octane action movie that needed a character the audience could identify with. 

    De Bont thought Bullock, not yet a big star, had an all-American accessible appeal. Still, de Bont said, Fox wanted a bigger name:

    Initially every studio wants bigger stars for lead roles, and I understand that. But I could not see Julia Roberts driving this bus. I could not see several other actresses. I would never believe they would ever even be on a bus. I felt I needed an actress who you could believe would have taken the bus, and Sandra had this kind of everyday look - I mean that in a good way - in the way she dresses, the way she behaves, very casual.

    The Dutch director got the heroine he wanted, and the result could not have been better. "She was exactly what I hoped for, and thank God the studio, at the very last moment, let me choose her," du Bont said.

    Speed went on to rake in $350 worldwide on a $30 million budget. The movie also launched Bullock's career. 

    "[De Bont] chose me over so many people that probably would have helped that movie get kicked off in a bigger way,” Bullock said. “So I've got to say, he had some pretty big balls. And I'm grateful for his large balls. And you can quote me on that.”

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  • Dumb and Dumber, the directorial debut of boundary-pushing gross-out comedy masters Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is a screwball romp featuring two of the most dimwitted but lovable buddies in comedy movie history, played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

    In the mid-'90s, Carrey was rising in the comedy ranks, but Daniels was mostly known as a serious dramatic actor. At the time, Daniels said, he wanted a change:

    I wanted to go into comedy. I’d been doing drama, and I was kind of spinning my wheels, and so I went up to LA and chased some jobs, and Dumb and Dumber was one of them.

    Both Carrey and the Farrelly brothers wanted Daniels for the part of Harry Dunne, but New Line was not convinced. When Daniels agreed to film a few of the funniest scenes of the buddy comedy to show New Line, the studio finally saw his range.

    Even after Daniels scored the role, his managers tried to convince him the silly comedy would wreck his dramatic movie career. The Purple Rose of Cairo actor ignored the advice and took the part.  

    Dumb and Dumber became a massive box-office smash and one of the most beloved comedies of the '90s. It also spawned a 2003 prequel and a 2014 sequel. 

    Daniels did manage to have an enormously successful dramatic movie and television career as both a leading man and a character actor. He won Emmy Awards for both Newsroom and Godless. In 2018, during an interview with Today, Daniels credited Dumb and Dumber with revitalizing his acting career. 

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