Iconic Roles that Almost Weren’t: Stars Who Weren’t Their Director’s First Choice

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Iconic Roles that Almost Weren’t:  Stars Who Weren’t Their Director’s First Choice
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Julia Roberts in 2011. Photo by David Shankbone.

Director David Fincher recently made headlines for declaring Scarlett Johansson "too sexy" to star in his upcoming film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Settling on relative newcomer Rooney Mara for the role of Lisbeth Salander, Fincher said the character "Should be like E.T. If you put E.T. dolls out before anyone had seen the movie, they would say, 'What is this little squishy thing?' Well you know what? When he hides under the table and he grabs the Reese's Pieces, you love him! It has to be like that."

While it appears Fincher got his way with "Dragon Tattoo" part, a number of film's most memorable roles were born when directors were forced to cast their second, third, or even fourth choice of actor or actress. Here's a look at some of movie-making's most iconic roles that almost weren't.

While it's hard to imagine anyone other than Ian McKellan in the role, New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson were initially bent on casting Sean Connery as Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" series. Reportedly passing on the role because he "didn't understand the plot," Connery may have given up the largest paycheck in cinematic history; the production company offered him between 10 and 15 percent of worldwide box office earnings in exchange for his participation--a deal that would have netted the actor around $225 million. So what's the moral here? "You shall not pass" on lucrative roles.

Russell Crowe earned an Academy Award for his portrayal of Maximus in the 2000 film "Gladiator," but he wasn't the first choice for the part. Mel Gibson was supposedly unwilling to trade his "Braveheart" kilt for some Roman armor, and passed up the juicy role, leaving the arena action to Crowe.

Actor Keanu Reeves will forever be known as Neo from the "Matrix" series, but he wasn't the first-or second-choice for the part. Will Smith passed up the opportunity to "know kung fu" in favor of "Wild Wild West," and Nicolas Cage opted out of his chance to take the red pill for "family reasons."

Actress Kate Winslet received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 1997 film "Titanic," but she reportedly had to beg for the part. Gwyneth Paltrow was supposedly director James Cameron's first choice to play Rose, but she turned down the role, as did "Romeo + Juliet" star Claire Danes.

The role of Cher in the 1995 film "Clueless" was initially offered to Sarah Michelle Gellar, who passed on the part due to scheduling conflicts with "All My Children." Though Gellar went on to star in an iconic role of her own on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," it's hard to imagine anyone other than Alicia Silverstone playing the relationship-challenged blonde. As if!

We can't picture anyone other than Harrison Ford as the hat-wearing, whip-cracking Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but the role was first offered to "Magnum PI" star Tom Selleck. Director George Lucas had already worked with Ford on "Star Wars" and "American Graffiti," and was reportedly reluctant to work with him on yet another project. Clearly the two work well together.

The 1990 film "Pretty Woman" launched Julia Roberts' career, but she landed the role of Vivian Ward only after two other actresses turned it down. "Pretty in Pink" star Molly Ringwald passed on the part, and Daryl Hannah said no to the role, calling the film "degrading for the whole of womankind." The general public seemed to disagree, as the film grossed more than $463 million worldwide and made Roberts a household name.

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