Today, Matt Smith is best known for his roles as the Eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who and as Prince Philip on The Crown. But the 36-year-old actor’s career could have gone in a much different direction. As Esquire reports, Smith came very close to playing the role of bespectacled, briefcase-carrying high schooler Will McKenzie in The Inbetweeners, Damon Beesley and Iain Morris's raucous coming-of-age comedy series that spawned two hit movies and one disastrous MTV remake.
On January 1, the cast and creators came together for Fwends Reunited, a reunion show that aired on England’s Channel 4. Among the many behind-the-scenes revelations made was that Simon Bird—the Will McKenzie fans know, love, and regularly cringe at—beat out Smith for the role.
Though the fact was a surprise to many viewers, some of whom took to Twitter to voice their shock, the casting decision was something that Morris first talked about nearly 10 years ago.
In 2009—the same year Smith was announced as David Tennant’s successor on Doctor Who—Morris told Digital Spy about the difficulty they had casting the role of Will. “We auditioned literally 1000 people—including Matt Smith, who is the new Doctor. And I'm sure Dominic Cooper at one point too,” Morris said. “[Smith] was brilliant—down to the last two for Will, I think. I think he was a bit too dashing! That's why he'll be brilliant in Doctor Who; he's got something sort of heroic about him.”
If you’re going to be rejected for a role, being “a bit too dashing” is one way to soften the blow. The Inbetweeners wasn’t the only hit show Smith came close to appearing in: A week before he read for the role of The Doctor, Smith auditioned to play Dr. John Watson in Sherlock. (In that case, it came down to having the right chemistry with star Benedict Cumberbatch, and Martin Freeman had him beat.)
Smith, who is currently filming Star Wars: Episode IX, will next be seen playing famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in Ondi Timoner's Mapplethorpe, and as Charles Manson in Mary Harron's Charlie Says.