Sometimes a movie and an actor love each other very much, and the pair of them sail to critical and commercial success together on golden wings. Other times … it's a little different. Less than two weeks after the announcement that Scarlett Johansson would play a transgender man in Rub & Tug, a biopic of crime boss Dante “Tex” Gill, the four-time Golden Globe nominee dropped out of the project after a wave of critical backlash about the casting decision.
"In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project," Johansson said in a statement to Out.com. "Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I've learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive."
Johansson is not the only well-known actor who has taken action in the wake of public criticism. Here are five other times things just got too complicated.
1. WILL FERRELL
Will Ferrell, already famous for playing one President during his tenure on Saturday Night Live, was all set to play another one in a comedy based on Mike Rosolio’s Black List script, Reagan. Per Variety, Ferrell would have played President Ronald Reagan as he entered his second term, right around the time dementia started to kick in; to deal with the leader of the free world’s declining mental state, “an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander-in-chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.” The “would have” is because, just days after it was announced that Ferrell would be starring in the film in 2016, it was announced that he was backing away from the project following extensive backlash, most notably from Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis.
“I watched as fear invaded my father’s eyes—this man who was never afraid of anything. I heard his voice tremble as he stood in the living room and said, ‘I don’t know where I am,’” Davis wrote in an open letter. “There was laughter in those years,” she continued, “but there was never humor.”
Ferrell’s spokesperson subsequently told Page Six that, “The Reagan script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered. While it is by no means an ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project.”
2. LEONARDO DICAPRIO
In 2010, Mel Gibson’s planned Viking epic Berserker lost its lead actor in Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has never offered a candid explanation as to why he left—unsurprisingly, actors tend to be pretty closed-lipped about that sort of thing—but given the news of his departure broke two and a half weeks after audio of (one of) Gibson’s infamous racist rant(s) was leaked online … we can guess a desire to avoid that particular PR firestorm probably had something to do with it. As of 2012, Gibson was still trying to get the movie made.
In 2014, up-and-coming actress/Disney Channel star Zendaya Coleman dropped out of the lead role in Lifetime’s biopic Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B. The main reasons, the actress explained, were the film’s production values (or lack thereof) and “complications with the music rights.” However, another major factor was the film’s lack of support from the family of the late singer, who died in a plane crash at the age of 22. “I tried my best to reach out to the family on my own, and I wrote a letter, but I was unable to do so; therefore, I felt not really morally OK with moving forward with the project,” explained Coleman. She was replaced by Alexandra Shipp.
4. CHRISTIAN BALE
Before Michael Fassbender took the lead in Steve Jobs, it was Christian Bale donning the black turtleneck and wire-rimmed glasses in Danny Boyle’s Jobs biopic. Bale, however, “couldn’t really see [how to play the part],” Boyle explained, and eventually dropped out. (Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that he “came to the conclusion he was not right for the part.”) This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that Jobs’s widow, Laurene, was actively trying to stop the movie from being made. An unnamed “key player” told The Hollywood Reporter that, “from the very beginning, Laurene Jobs has been trying to kill this movie … Laurene Jobs called up Leonardo DiCaprio [who was considering the role at one point] and said, ‘Don’t do it!’ Laurene Jobs called Christian Bale and said, ‘Don’t [do it].’” A Sony executive confirms that Jobs “had a strong desire not to have the movie made” and “did call one or two of the actors.”
5. SACHA BARON COHEN
Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of late Queen singer Freddie Mercury, has not had an easy time of things. Lingering in various circles of development hell since 2010, with directors (including David Fincher and Tom Hooper) dropping like flies, the film took a big hit in 2013 when star Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out. The reason? Backlash from the surviving members of Queen, who (per Cohen) wanted a more cleaned-up version of Mercury’s life that focused more on the band as a whole: “A member of the band—I won’t say who—said, ‘This is such a great movie, because such an amazing thing happens in the middle of the movie.’ I go, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘Freddie dies […] We see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’ And I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see [what happens to the band].”
For his part, Queen’s Roger Taylor said he didn’t want the film to be “a joke,” while Brian May said that Cohen “became an arse” and “told untruths about what happened.” After languishing a bit longer, with Ben Whishaw being rumored to take the lead, it eventually proceeded into production with Mr. Robot star Rami Malek in the lead and Bryan Singer directing. It's scheduled for a November release.