Behind-The-Scenes Stories About Famous Roles Getting Recast With New Actors

When audiences connect with an actor playing a particular film or television role, it can be hard for them - and the critics - to accept another actor in that part. Especially when the first actor has played the character over a series of films or television series and really becomes associated with it.

But in truth, roles get recast all the time, for various reasons. Maybe the actor doesn't want to get typecast in a particular part or doesn't like how their character is portrayed in the script. Maybe they have a scheduling conflict that can't be resolved. Or they want a raise, but the studio or network executives don't want to pay them. Or maybe they clashed with the director, the producer, and/or other cast members and was seen to be a problem on set. Or maybe the original actor passes away.

Whatever the reason, the part gets recast. Sometimes the replacement actor is seen as doing a better job in the role than their predecessor. Other times, their performance falls flat in comparison. Either way, when more than one actor plays the same role, it isn't unusual to spark a debate that can last for years. Below are some of the significant film and television roles that have been recast in the last 30 years, along with the reason(s) why the original actor was replaced.

  • In Back to the Future, George McFly is a nerdy teenager with a love for science fiction stories and a crush on his high school classmate Lorraine. Even after he grows up, he is unsuccessful and cowardly. Marty's trip back to the 1950s alters George's future, resulting in him becoming a published novelist and a man able to stand up to bullies like Biff.

    Crispin Glover was cast as George McFly. Although he drew generally strong reviews from the critics, the way he approached the character didn't always please director/co-screenwriter Robert Zemeckis or co-screenwriter/producer Bob Gale.

    "[Glover] was really something. 'Nuts' is a good description. A lot of those mannerisms were actually his," Gale told The Guardian. "He had to be reined in occasionally. The hardest thing was getting him to act like a completely normal person for the final scenes of the movie."

    Glover declined to reprise his role for Back to the Future Part II and was replaced by Jeffrey Weissman. Nearly 15 years after the sequel's release, Glover explained there were two main reasons why he didn't return to portray George McFly: (1) his "moral" objections to the script's original ending and (2) money.

    "It [the ending] had to do with money, and what the characters were doing with money," Glover said on the Opie and Anthony show. "I said to Robert Zemeckis I thought it was not a good idea for our characters to have a monetary reward, because it basically makes the moral of the movie that money equals happiness."

    Glover said he thought that love, not money, should be the characters' reward and that Zemeckis "got really mad" at the actor for him questioning the script. The actor also admitted, "I wanted to be in the movie, but the offer was less than half of what Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson - who had similar sized roles - it just wasn’t fair."

    This might have been a fairly typical story about one actor replacing another in a role except for one thing - in 1990, Glover ended up suing Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and U-Drive Productions for $1 million. The lawsuit alleged that "[Glover] has a unique and distinctive likeness and voice that have won him roles in numerous motion pictures" and that they violated the actor's right to publicity by using his likeness and his voice in the two sequels without his permission.

    The lawsuit revolved around the fact that the filmmakers tried to make it appear that Glover - not Weissman - was the one playing George in the sequels. They did this by having Weissman wear a mold of Glover's face - which had been made during the production of the original Back to the Future film - and used additional prosthetics as well as camera angles to make it appear to the audience and critics that Glover was in the sequels.

    In his appearance on the Opie and Anthony show, Glover admitted that - aside from the issue about the filmmakers trying to fool people into believing Weissman was actually Glover - he hated the way his replacement Weissman played George McFly.

    "If I’d have played that part, I would have played it different. I didn’t like the way that guy played it, and people think it’s me. It still gets to me that there’s that confusion."

    Weissman had other problems. Lea Thompson, who played Lorraine McFly, pretty much snubbed him during filming, and many of the other cast and crew members, evidently confused by how the prosthetics made him resemble Glover, often called him “Crispin.”

    "Lea never called me by name," Weissman claimed. "When we were in the makeup chair in the morning, she rarely addressed me."

    After Glover sued, Universal Pictures filed a demurrer - a document that argues that there is no basis for the lawsuit even if the allegations made are true. Their argument was that, in making Weissman look like Glover, they were simply trying to protect the continuity of the character of George McFly.

    The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for $760,000. Even though it never got to court, the case is still often cited when filmmakers look for ways to keep the continuity of a character when the original actor isn't available.

  • The elderly, wise, and benevolent Dumbledore is considered the most powerful wizard in the world and the possessor of the Elder Wand. He is the founder and leader of the Order of the Phoenix, a group whose purpose was to combat the evil Lord Voldemort. As the headmaster of Hogwarts, he also serves as a mentor to Harry Potter. Dumbledore dies in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

    Richard Harris's health was already declining when he was offered the part of Dumbledore. He actually turned down the offer three separate times and only ended up taking it on because of his 11-year-old granddaughter Ella.

    "All I knew is that they kept offering me the part and raising the salary every time they called. I kept turning it down," the actor explained to Zap2it. At age 71, Harris added he had been unwilling to commit to a series of films. "Anyone involved has to agree to be in the sequels, all of them, and that's not how I wanted to spend the last years of my life, so I said no over and over again."

    Harris had a change of heart when his granddaughter stepped in. "She said, 'Papa, I hear you're not going to be in the Harry Potter movie', and she said, 'If you don't play Dumbledore, then I will never speak to you again,'" the actor admitted.

    In a 2001 interview with the Toronto Star, the actor - who had been nominated for the Academy Award for best actor in 1963 (This Sporting Life) and 1991 (The Field) and won a Golden Globe for his performance in the 1967 film musical Camelot -  admitted he was worried that being in the Harry Potter films would overshadow the rest of his acclaimed career. "I don’t just want to be remembered for being in those bloody films, and I’m afraid that’s what's going to happen to me."

    Harris's performance in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was his final film role - he died on October 25, 2002, just nine days before the film's London premiere. He reportedly had expressed hope that his good friend Peter O'Toole would be the one to replace him as Dumbledore. But Warner Bros. worried that the famed actor's age and health would not allow him to appear in the six scheduled remaining films in the series. The producers' true first choice to replace Harris was Christopher Lee, who had to decline the part due to scheduling conflicts. Ian McKellen, meanwhile, said he was offered the role but turned it down because he didn't want to replace the man [Harris] who had once called McKellen a "technically brilliant but passionless" actor. 

    "I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me," McKellen said on the BBC's "HardTALK Show."

    In the end, they replaced Harris with Michael Gambon - who was eight years younger than O'Toole. Gambon ended up playing Dumbledore in all of the remaining Harry Potter films and was praised for his performance. But the actor downplayed his performances, saying, "All I did was copy Richard [Harris]."

  • Clarice Starling is a young, highly intelligent FBI agent sent to interview serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the hope of getting him to identify another serial killer called Buffalo Bill. She reveals personal information about herself to Lecter in exchange for clues about Buffalo Bill, and a mutual respect is formed between herself and the cannibalistic Lecter.

    Jodie Foster's performance as Starling in The Silence of the Lambs earned the actor her second career Academy Award for Best Actress (her first came for The Accused). When it was announced that Thomas Harris's novel Hannibal would be adapted for the big screen, the producers attempted to recruit Foster, Hopkins, and The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme for the project. Foster was originally attached to the project, but she felt the script for the sequel betrayed the way Starling's character had been established in The Silence of the Lambs. Demme also declined to return for Hannibal because of similar issues. As in Harris's novel, the original script reportedly had Starling and Lecter becoming lovers and the FBI agent indulging in some cannibalism. After Ridley Scott signed on to direct, he brought in Schindler's List screenwriter Steve Zaillian to re-write the script, but in the end, Foster decided not to reprise her role.

    However, Dino De Laurentiis, who was one of Hannibal's producers, made the claim that Foster had simply asked for way too much money in order to reprise the role.

    In a 2021 appearance on Josh Horowitz's “Happy Sad Confused” podcast, Foster admitted, "there’s been some stuff over the years about reprising [Clarice], but Jonathan [Demme] and I were both disappointed not to do the sequel." She went on to say that she has never seen Hannibal.

    When Foster declined to return, it looked like the sequel would get scrapped. But the producers ended up deciding to move with the project by re-casting the role of Starling. They ended up choosing Julianne Moore for the part. Although Hannibal was a huge hit at the box office, Moore was criticized for being unable to make the role her own and for not having the same type of chemistry with Hopkins that Foster did. Despite the criticism, Moore told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002 that she was open to reprising the part.

    "Oh, I would love to be FBI Agent Clarice Starling again. I love Anthony Hopkins. I’d work with him in a second!"

  • James "Rhodey" Rhodes, AKA "War Machine," is a US Air Force officer and the best friend of Tony Stark who supports his friend's heroic efforts and eventually becomes a member of the group of superheroes known as the Avengers.

    Terrence Howard portrayed War Machine in the original Iron Man film. Howard was the highest-paid cast member on Iron Man, reportedly earning a salary of $3.5 million, but according to the actor, the studio drastically slashed his salary to just $40,000 per film. This upset Howard, who claimed he had taken a $1 million salary reduction in order to try and get the producers to hire Robert Downey Jr. for the lead role in Iron Man (the studio denied Howard had any role in Downey being cast).

    "Apparently, the contracts that we write and sign aren't worth the paper that they're printed on sometimes," Howard commented in a 2008 interview with NPR. "Promises aren't kept and good-faith negotiations aren't always held up."

    There were also rumors Howard had been difficult to work with on the Iron Man set and that director Jon Favreau and the film's producers hadn't been happy with the actor's performance, spending hours reshooting and editing his scenes. So when Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux started working on the sequel, they reduced Howard's role, which allowed the studio to approach Howard's representatives with the reduced salary offer. However, reportedly no one with Marvel ever told the actor or his team that Favreau and the producers had issues with Howard's conduct on set.

    It's unclear whether Howard decided against reprising the role in Iron Man 2 or if the studio ended up pulling the offer. But after it became clear Howard would not be returning, Don Cheadle got a call from his agent telling him "these Marvel guys" wanted to speak to the actor to offer him the role.

    Cheadle told the AV Club, "They [the Marvel reps] said, 'Hey, this is the role. We want you to do this. It’s a six-picture deal.' I was like, 'What?! Oh, uh, okay...' And I’m trying to do the math. I’m like, 'That’s 11 or 12 years. I’m not sure.' And they’re like, 'Well, we need to know, because if you’re not saying yes, then we’re gonna move on to the next person. So you’ve got an hour.' I said, 'I’m at my kid’s laser tag party right now.' They said, ‘Oh! Oh, take two hours.’"

    The actor, of course, ended up accepting the offer and, as of 2021, has played the role of War Machine in eight films.

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  • Dr. Bruce Banner is a well-regarded physicist who subjected himself to a failed gamma radiation experiment that was meant to try and duplicate a WWII-era "super soldier" program. As a result of the failed experiment, Banner transforms into a large, green creature with superhuman strength known as the Incredible Hulk whenever he is in grave danger or when his heart rate exceeds 200 beats per minute. He is one of the founding members of a group of superheroes known as the Avengers.

    In 2010, a feud broke out between Marvel Studios and Edward Norton and his reps after the former released a statement that took a clear shot at the actor in its explanation about why Norton wouldn't be playing Banner in The Avengers.

    "Our decision [not to bring Norton back] is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members," Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was quoted in the press release. "The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble."

    The actor's agent fired back quickly, calling Feige's statement "offensive" and "a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light." He added that the two sides had been negotiating a contract offer to bring Norton back in the role until being informed just a few days prior to Feige's statement that the studio "had decided to go in another direction with the part."

    In 2015, Norton went on NPR's "Fresh Air" program and explained that, although he had really enjoyed playing the role in The Incredible Hulk, he didn't reprise his role as Banner in The Avengers because he had always focused on trying to be involved in a wide range of projects and wanted to continue doing that.

    "Maybe on some unconscious level, I didn't want to have an association with one thing in any way degrade my effectiveness as an actor in characters. I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times, it can become a suit that's hard to take off in other people's eyes."

    The actor pointed out if he had continued playing Banner, he wouldn't have been able to make Moonrise Kingdom or Grand Budapest or Birdman, because of scheduling conflicts. 

    Norton ended up being replaced by Mark Ruffalo. The latter was actually director Louis Letterier's first choice to play the role in The Incredible Hulk, but Marvel Studios overruled him in favor of Norton because the latter was "more famous" and Ruffalo only did "smart intellectual films."

    Ruffalo has now played Banner/The Incredible Hulk in five feature films. He's also going to portray the role in Disney+'s She-Hulk series. But although he has expressed interest in doing a sequel to The Incredible Hulk film, it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon; as he explained to Variety in 2017, Universal holds the intellectual rights to the character and was uninterested in letting Marvel Studios make a standalone film about The Hulk.

  • When The Role Of The Mountain Was Expanded For 'Game of Thrones' Season 4, The Part Was Recast For A Second Time

    When The Role Of The Mountain Was Expanded For 'Game of Thrones' Season 4, The Part Was Recast For A Second Time
    Photo: HBO / HBO

    Gregor Clegane, AKA "The Mountain" or "The Mountain That Rules," is a murderous knight known for his enormous size, cruel nature, and great prowess in battle. The older brother of Sandor "The Hound" Clegane - whom he disfigured by pushing his face into a brazier when they were children - has also murdered numerous women and children. After he is mortally wounded in a duel, The Mountain is resuscitated by evil means and becomes a member of the Kingsguard and the personal bodyguard for Cersei Lannister.

    The role of The Mountain was played by three different actors during Game of Thrones' run on HBO: Conan Stevens (Season 1), Ian Whyte (Season 2), and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (Seasons 4-8).

    The Mountain wasn't a significant character in the show's first two seasons and didn't appear in the third season. Game of Thrones had a habit of recasting its minor parts when planning to expand the character's role. That seems to be the reason why Whyte was replaced by Björnsson, who had never acted professionally before being cast in Game of Thrones. Instead, he was famous for being the second-strongest man in the world. Appropriately for a character nicknamed The Mountain, Björnsson stands 6'9" and at the time of his casting, weighed more than 400 pounds.

    On September 2, 2013, Björnsson tweeted, "For all my fans! I am happy to tell you that I will be THE MOUNTAIN In season 4 In Game Of Thrones :)"

    The novice actor won over network executives with his impressive strength. "HBO contacted me and called me in for an audition," the Icelandic strongman explained during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat in early 2014. "During the audition, I lifted a guy up (well, he asked me to) and they were really impressed. They said they were also impressed by the way I move, because I am very quick and powerful."