The progeny of comedy legends Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Ben Stiller first made a name for himself with the critically acclaimed—but quickly cancelled—The Ben Stiller Show. After directing and appearing in Reality Bites and The Cable Guy, starring in There’s Something About Mary brought Stiller into Hollywood's spotlight.
Having clout as an actor, writer, director, and producer, a ton of projects have naturally been presented to and created by the multifaceted filmmaker, but Stiller couldn’t do them all. The recent news that he had turned down directing Good Will Hunting wasn’t even a big surprise (nor was his regret in not taking the job). In honor of his 50th birthday, we're looking back at several film roles that Stiller was set to play, but that never came to be.
1. MONKEYBONE (2001)
Ben Stiller was going to play Stu Miley, the live action cartoonist who gets trapped in a universe he created. Director Henry Selick told The A.V. Club that Stiller wanted to bring in his own writers, so the role went to Brendan Fraser instead. "It actually would have been better to go with Ben and his writers," admitted Selick. "There's a lot of variables looking back, what-ifs. But who knows. I learned my lesson that in the live-action world, you have to earn the support of people over a very, very long time. And in animation, I already have the support."
2. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)
The part of Chuck Barris, Gong Show host and purported assassin, was offered to Stiller, Mike Myers, and Johnny Depp. Sam Rockwell took the gig.
3. ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)
Stiller made a cameo in the movie as the Spanish news anchor in the infamous local news brawl scene, but in the first draft of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s script, he was listed as the suggested actor for Brian Fantana. Paul Rudd ended up rocking the 'stache and Sex Panther cologne.
4. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)
Among others, Stiller was considered for Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic. Johnny Depp got the part. Years later, SNL guest host Ben Stiller appeared in a parody of the film, where Andy Samberg (as Wonka) offered him deli food instead of candy.
5. THE TV SET (2006)
Stiller was set to play Lenny, a network president who clashed with David Duchovny’s character, a scriptwriter trying to get a TV show off the ground. Interestingly enough, Sigourney Weaver ended up playing Lenny instead. Writer-director Jake Kasdan later realized that Weaver was the right choice all along.
6. BLADES OF GLORY (2007)
Originally, the part of Chazz Michael Michaels was to be played by Stiller, who loved the idea for the movie. As it turned out, by the time production was scheduled, Stiller had just made Dodgeball and decided he didn’t want to make two sports movies in a row. Will Ferrell took his place.
7. MEGAMIND (2010)
Originally titled Oobermind, Stiller was attached to portray the titular villain. Once again, Will Ferrell ended up replacing Stiller. Stiller still voiced the archivist Bernard, and his production company Red Hour Films brought the project to DreamWorks’ attention in the first place.
8. MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (2011)
The adaptation of Richard and Florence Atwater’s children’s book was developed by Stiller and director Noah Baumbach. Stiller was going to play the lead as a publicist who had to deal with both client Peyton Manning’s career-threatening injury and, naturally, a bunch of penguins. Baumbach dropped out, followed by Stiller, which led the way for Jim Carrey and director Mark Waters to take over with a different, Peyton-less script.
9. ALOHA (2015)
Cameron Crowe’s movie was announced back in 2008 as Deep Tiki, with Stiller and Reese Witherspoon ready to star. By the time Aloha was released in May of this year, Bradley Cooper played the lead, a military contractor who runs into a lost love in Hawaii.
10. WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?
Based on the 1941 book by On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg, Stiller and Permanent Midnight writer Jerry Stahl wrote an adaptation in the 1990s. Stiller was to set to star and direct the tale of Sammy Glick, a man who cons his way into running a major movie studio. With constant resistance from movie studios who considered the book too anti-industry, and Stiller’s busy schedule, he gradually became too old to play the lead.
11. UNTITLED ROLLING STONES PROJECT
Stiller and Judd Apatow were hired by Mick Jagger to make a concert film in conjunction with their 1994 album Voodoo Lounge. Stiller and another actor would play two Stones fans following the band across America. Thinking that they spotted a potential band assassin, they would attempt to warn the band before the would-be killer parachutes on stage and reveals he’s one of Jagger’s illegitimate kids. Brad Pitt showed serious interest but decided to make Se7en instead. The project ended up not happening.
12. GHOSTBUSTERS III: GHOSTBUSTERS IN HELL
Harold Ramis discussed Ben Stiller starring with Ramis, Aykroyd, and Rick Moranis in a potential sequel back in 2006, based on a script by Aykroyd. The film would have seen the Ghostbusters travel through a portal—and end up in hell.
20th Century Fox had tried to get a movie made of the classic TV series. Stiller replaced John Travolta in 2007 as the lead, J.R. Ewing, and changed the script so it was a comedic “behind the scenes” version of the series. Eventually Dallas returned as a TV series again, this time on TNT.