Actors Who Played Roles Written For Someone Completely Different - And Nailed It

List Rules
Vote up the actors who made someone else's role their own.

Casting is a tricky business. Many times, writers and/or directors have a particular actor in mind from the conception of the project. If they end up getting that star, it's great. If, for some reason, they don't, there can be a scramble to find someone else who fits the criteria and is available. Cinema history is littered with times filmmakers didn't get their first choice, only to see the movie falter.

And then there are the happy cases where an actor played a role that was written for someone else and nailed it. Luck isn't the reason why - talent is. Even if the writers and directors envisioned a different person at first, these actors were clearly as good a choice, if not an even better one. In the best of examples, it's now hard to imagine anyone else playing those characters. That's how fully they embodied the parts. The following stories of how one performer effectively replaced another will increase your appreciation of these popular movies. 


  • In 1984, casting comedians in action movies was a very uncommon thing to do. Beverly Hills Cop changed that. The original script was designed as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, and it was intended to lightly spoof his tough-guy image. Everything was set to go until, two weeks before production was slated to start, the actor got cold feet. He took it upon himself to rewrite the script as a more typical action flick, with a hero who occasionally made wisecracks, rather than as a comedy that happened to have some action in it. The executives at Paramount Pictures didn't like this change, nor did they want to sink more money into the budget. Sly was out.

    Eddie Murphy had scored a hit for Paramount via a co-starring role opposite Nick Nolte in the action-oriented 48 Hrs., so they offered Beverly Hills Cop to him. The impact was profound. Whereas 48 Hrs. gave Murphy a big-screen breakout, Beverly Hills Cop made him a full-on movie star. His turn as Axel Foley is hilarious. In fact, it's become his signature role. Murphy handles the action credibly, too, bringing a streetwise quality to Foley that infuses the movie with a distinct edge. 

  • After winning an Oscar for Goodfellas and demonstrating his comedic abilities in Home Alone, Joe Pesci cranked out another winner with My Cousin Vinny. He plays Vinny Gambini, a bottom-of-the-barrel lawyer who takes on the murder case involving his cousin and a buddy. It's funny because Vinny is the exact opposite of what you'd expect a lawyer to be like. He's brash and profane, with a tendency to say whatever's on his mind, whether appropriate or not. Screenwriter Dale Lautner had comedian Andrew Dice Clay in mind for the role, saying:

    Vinny was supposed to be a heavyweight boxer. It was mentioned in the screenplay, but got cut out. But he was supposed to look like a big thug, like muscle for the mob. I saw him as six feet four and 220 pounds.

    Clay's vulgar, controversial stand-up routine made the studio executives nervous, and a rude comment he once directed at its Vice President led to them refusing to cast him. However, 20th Century Fox had a good experience with Pesci on the massively successful Home Alone, so they pushed for him to get the role instead. He won the part after meeting with director Jonathan Lynn, during which he talked about the story featuring “two yutes.” Lynn added that now-famous bit to the movie, and the actor delivered an ace comic performance that people still quote to this day.

  • If you don't know about the almost-happened casting in The Fifth Element, you might find yourself wishing it had occurred after learning the facts. Writer/director Luc Besson's sci-fi epic features a supporting character named Ruby Rhod. He's a hyperactive intergalactic DJ with an androgynous fashion sense and a strong interest in sex. If the character sounds kind of like pop legend Prince, that's no coincidence. Besson conceived Ruby Rhod with the Purple One in mind, and even got him to sign on - for a while. A complicated tour schedule that conflicted with the production dates forced him to drop out.

    Comedian Chris Tucker replaced Prince, to the degree that anyone can ever replace Prince on anything. It worked out incredibly well. Tucker's ability to delve into over-the-top humor proves a great fit for the role, and his motor-mouthed style brings a unique edge to the character. The Fifth Element is serious about sci-fi, yet there's a tongue-in-cheek quality to it nonetheless. Whenever Tucker steps onscreen, the humor becomes much more overt. His energy and pizzazz allow him to steal every scene he's in. 

  • George Lucas has made no secret of the fact that Star Wars was heavily inspired by Flash Gordon serials, as well as by Akira Kurosawa's 1958 film The Hidden Fortress. That film stars Toshiro Mifune as General Rokurota Makabe, a general who pays two peasants to escort him across enemy lines. For his space opera, Lucas wanted to pay direct homage to The Hidden Fortress by casting Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wizened Jedi who mentors hero Luke Skywalker. The actor turned it down because, according to his daughter, “he was concerned about how the film would look and that it would cheapen the image of samurai.”

    That paved the way for Alec Guinness to come onboard. The veteran British actor was notoriously dismissive of Star Wars, finding it silly and full of badly written dialogue, but his performance never let on his true feelings. Through his stoic, deeply moral performance, he turned Obi-Wan into the kind of teacher millions of children wished they could have. Guinness sells the Force, a concept that proves vital to the entire franchise. Without his commitment to the role and to that idea, in particular, Star Wars would not have had the same impact.