Originally Starring 6

Ever wonder what The Philadelphia Story would have looked like with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable in the male lead roles? Can you even imagine Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly as played by Marilyn Monroe? Well, we did! And you can see the results here! This is where we re-imagine classic movie posters as if the initial casting choices actually did pan out. For our sixth installment of Originally Starring, we continue telling the back stories of actors who won (or lost) choice roles and the reasons why they did.


The Terminator

The Terminator (1984)

James Cameron rebuffed Orion Pictures’ request to cast O.J. Simpson for the lead role because, as he stated in 1984, “…people wouldn’t have believed a nice guy like O.J. playing the part of a ruthless killer.” The writer/director had his own ideas who should play the merciless android and that person was…Lance Henriksen. Here’s Lance—drawn by Cameron himself—as his ideal Terminator:


Cameron wanted his time-traveler to be “an infiltration unit”; an unassuming individual who would easily blend into a crowd. But after his first meeting with the hulking Arnold Schwarzenegger Cameron gushed that “he’d make a hell of a Terminator.” No hard feelings; Henriksen accepted the role of Detective Hal Vukovich.


Captain Blood

Captain Blood (1935)

The first choice for the role of Peter Blood was not previously-unknown Aussie actor Errol Flynn. It was Robert Donat. He portrayed a suave swashbuckler the previous year in The Count of Monte Christo and seemed perfect for the role of Irish doctor turned pirate. Both his chronic asthma and longing for a return to his native England caused Donat to unexpectedly bow out. That turn of events had producers re-thinking their original choice of Jean Muir for the female lead. Producer Hal B. Wallis saw this as an opportunity to showcase his latest “protégé,” the 19 year-old Olivia de Havilland. This would be the first of eight films the gorgeous screen couple would make. Fun fact: Flynn—perhaps the most notorious womanizer in Hollywood—never shared his bed with de Havilland.


Easter Parade

Easter Parade (1948)

Here we have a double whammy of medical maladies. Fred Astaire was the Brett Farve of his day when it came to retirement. He did not need much prodding to keep stepping back into the limelight. Such was the case in 1947 when MGM called, begging for his return. Gene Kelly had long ago secured the lead role opposite Judy Garland and was now in the middle of rehearsals for Easter Parade when he broke his ankle (Kelly told producers the accident happened while practicing a dance routine; it was actually a sports injury). Three days later Astaire was on set. Also, Ann Miller auditioned and won the role of Nadine Hale after torn ligaments sidelined the already-cast Cyd Charisse.


High Sierra

High Sierra (1941)

George Raft was well established as a Hollywood actor known mostly for his gangster roles. By now Raft could play hoodlums so well that real mobsters were imitating him! Humphrey Bogart was nothing compared to Raft. He was playing thugs on camera too, but in relative obscurity hoping for a big break. Bogart saw that break in High Sierra. Though it was yet another gangster role, Bogart wanted the part badly because the character had some depth and was sympathetic. Veteran Raft would get first dibs to play Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, of course, but he was tiring of being a heavy and of being killed off yet again in the last reel. As a result, Raft backed away and his star power diminished immediately. Filling that void was Bogart. It truly was the breakthrough role Bogart imagined, catapulting him to fame.


I Married A Witch

I Married a Witch (1942)

Perhaps director René Clair should have talked to Joel McCrea before deciding to direct Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch. McCrea on filming Sullivan’s Travels with Lake: “We would go through about fifteen takes while she was learning her lines. Then by the time she got it great, I was kind of pooped out and tired.” McCrea was to play the male starring role here but bailed when he heard Lake was to get the female lead, saying “Life is too short for two films with Veronica Lake.” Ironically, once Fredric March took over for McCrea, their acting styles were reversed. March performed best after repeated takes; Lake was so much better early on that Clair would shoot Veronica (unbeknownst to her) during rehearsals. The March/Lake duo fared no better. Fredric sniped that Veronica was “a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability.” Lake got her revenge by torturing March—like when a scene called for March to pick up & carry Lake she surreptitiously stuffed a 40-pound weight up her dress!


The Kings Speech

The King’s Speech (2010)

“Hugh is kicking himself,” claims an associate. “He realizes that the king’s struggle to overcome his speech impediment would have been a wonderful part, particularly as viewers would have recalled Hugh’s stuttering in Four Weddings and a Funeral.” That’s a direct quote taken from the Mandrake, the pop culture/celebrity section of Britain’s newspaper The Telegraph. The Mandrake subsequently reported that Colin Firth was actually the third choice to play King George VI, behind Hugh Grant and Paul Bettany.

End of story? Not quite. While all of this seems perfectly plausible and could very well be the honest truth, there’s a tiny problem with corroboration—which is to say I could find none. There are a multitude of articles making reference about Hugh “regretting” his decision, but each and every one is sourced back to this single Telegraph report. Going back to re-read the original piece I noticed this in the article’s subhead: “Hugh Grant is believed [emphasis mine] to have turned down the role in The King’s Speech.” Hmm…well, did he or didn’t he? Fact is I have not found any quotes from either Hugh Grant or director Tom Hooper on the subject. Perhaps the Mandrake did get the scoop…it makes for an interesting anecdote, especially here for Originally Starring. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be the first time a gossip column let facts get in the way of a juicy story.


Lawrence Of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Turner Classic Movies’ website has this interesting anecdote: “Producer Sam Spiegel’s first choice to play Lawrence was Marlon Brando, who at the time was the same age Lawrence had been in 1917. When Spiegel announced his choice, one incredulous British reporter asked, ‘Will it be a speaking part?’ referring to the Method actor’s renowned mumbling. After the conference, Brando’s management announced that he had yet to sign for the role. Eventually, he would decline the project because of his commitment to the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).” Well, that and a cushy on-location shoot in Tahiti, as opposed to a grueling, sweltering production in the deserts of the Middle East. After Brando’s exit director David Lean then grew enamored of Albert Finney. But, like Brando, Finney also chafed at the thought of a punishing schedule in intense heat. He passed. Then Peter O’Toole did his screen test. Lean finally had found his man, gushing “This is Lawrence!”


Pandoras Box

Pandora’s Box (1929)

German film director G.W. Pabst spent a considerable amount of time & effort trying to find his Lulu—the quintessential femme fatale from Pandora’s Box. It had been months but no woman could walk that knife edge of sexual seductiveness and naiveté, power and fragility that the role demanded. That all changed when he saw American actress Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port (1928). She was perfect. He quickly contacted Paramount and tried to get Brooks on loan from them. Negotiations stalled, and then broke down completely. Pabst knew that the already-established German movie star Marlene Dietrich would eagerly take the part. Heck, the German film press thought it was a forgone conclusion: Dietrich was Lulu! So with reluctance he resigned himself to offer it to her. She accepted. Dietrich went to see Pabst in order to sign the contract. While Marlene was at his office Pabst received a cablegram: Brooks had quit Paramount. She was now available. Pabst wasted no time jettisoning Dietrich (“…too old and too obvious—one sexy look and the picture would become a burlesque”) to get his number one choice all along.


Point Break

Point Break (1991)

Empire magazine about casting for Point Break: “Patrick Swayze had been in the frame since the start. The 38 year-old Texan was offered the choice of both roles, finally deciding on the part of spiritual surfer and bank robber, Bodhi. With Swayze on board and enthusing about Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘wet Western’ (as she was now calling it), the second role—the brilliantly-monikered F.B.I. Agent, Johnny Utah—remained to be filled. First to be approached was Matthew Broderick who, despite being in the process of trying to shake the teen image he had fostered with War Games and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, turned the role down in favor of the disastrous comedy Out on a Limb.” Wipeout! Rough seas continued for Bigelow when she made Keanu Reeves her second choice. Twentieth Century-Fox was not on board. Bigelow recalled: “Convincing everybody that he was the right person took a bit of doing. It was perceived as a stretch for him.” Bigelow eventually got her way and rode that wave to success.


The Producers

The Producers (1968)

When penning the script director Mel Brooks wrote the larger-than-life character Max Bialystock with Zero Mostel in mind. Casting the milquetoast accountant Leo Bloom seemed to go smoothly at first. Brooks asked Peter Sellers to do the role and Sellers agreed. Super! Except that when Brooks started production he never heard back from Sellers. Time to go to Plan B. Luckily, Brooks would be introduced to Gene Wilder and he realized immediately that he had his man.

End of story? Not quite. Though Sellers had passed on the part he still thought Brooks’ movie was pure genius. So when he learned that executives at Embassy Pictures were refusing to release the film (they deemed it in “bad taste”) Sellers placed an advertisement in Variety singing its praises, proclaiming it the “ultimate film,” and urging support for a wide theatrical release. Sellers didn’t stop there. Preceding its release in the UK he took out a double-page ad in the Sunday Times that was even more effusive in its accolades than in his stateside advert. Not done just yet, Sellers showed up on Parkinson, a BBC1 TV talk show, donning a Nazi helmet quoting the entire “Hitler was a better painter than Churchill” speech. Even though he had opted out early on, Sellers knew a great script when he read one and wasn’t shy about expressing his views. The voting Academy took notice, awarding Brooks the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.