10 Actors Who Almost Turned Down Very Famous Roles
Can you imagine The Terminator without Arnold Schwarzenegger? Think about how different film history would’ve been—let alone California. It’s true: the Terminator-turned-Governator almost skipped out on the part, and Universal Studios amusement parks everywhere would’ve forever felt a little bit emptier without us knowing entirely why. Hell, so would the movies.
The same could be said for a handful of other actors who almost turned down some of their most famous parts, and, in some cases, the roles that made them famous in the first place. Check them out below.
1. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER // THE TERMINATOR (1984)
To promote Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2012 memoir, amazingly named Total Recall, The Sydney Morning Herald published an excerpt of the book, in which the living legend detailed how he almost turned down the lead role in The Terminator. Recalling his conversation with director James Cameron, Schwarzenegger wrote: “I told him that being cast as an evil villain wasn't going to help my career. It was something I could do later on, but right now I should keep playing heroes so that people would get used to me being a heroic character.” Fortunately, Cameron was able to win Schwarzenegger over by promising that he’d make the Terminator the kind of hero Ah-nold was interested in exploring.
2. RICHARD DREYFUSS // JAWS (1975)
According to an old BBC documentary on Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss wasn’t interested in playing oceanographer Matt Hooper in what would become Hollywood's defining "blockbuster." However, after seeing—and hating—his performance in 1974's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Dreyfuss reportedly begged Spielberg for another shot.
3. JULIE ANDREWS // THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
Fresh off the success of Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews was hesitant to take on another musical—especially one in which she would play the same kind of character: a nanny. “Having done The Americanization of Emily between Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, I hoped that would show I didn’t only play nanny roles,” she said.
4. LEONARDO DICAPRIO // TITANIC (1997)
Does anyone even want to imagine Titanic without Leonardo DiCaprio? There’d be no Leo and Kate BFF-ship! According to People, DiCaprio wasn’t interested in playing a romantic leading man. However, James Cameron convinced him otherwise. “His character doesn’t go through torment, and Leo previously and subsequently in his career was always looking for that dark cloud,” Cameron told the magazine. “It became my job to convince him that it was a challenge to do what Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart did in previous generations, to stand there and be strong and hold the audience’s eye without seeming to do very much. [It was] only when I convinced him that was actually the harder thing to do that he got excited.”
5. TOM HANKS // BIG (1988)
In the DVD extras of the extended edition of Big, the cast and crew shared some trivia about the picture, including the fact that Tom Hanks came very close to not playing 30-year-old man-boy Josh Baskin at all. The audio commentary notes that Hanks originally passed on the role due to scheduling conflicts, so the role went to Robert De Niro. However, a failed deal cleared the way for Hanks to shift things around and reconsider.
6. UMA THURMAN // PULP FICTION (1994)
The Pulp Fiction posters on the bedroom and dorm room walls of cinephiles everywhere could’ve looked vastly different if Uma Thurman hadn't agreed to star in the film. In Vanity Fair’s sweeping oral history of the film, Thurman opened up about why she initially turned down Mia Wallace. “I was 23, from Massachusetts. [Tarantino] wasn’t this revered demigod auteur that he has grown into. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, because I was worried about the Gimp stuff,” she said. “We had very memorable, long discussions about male rape versus female rape. No one could believe I even hesitated in any way. Neither can I, in hindsight.”
7. RICHARD HARRIS // HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (2001)
Who would turn down the chance to appear in a Harry Potter film? Well, Richard Harris did—three times, no less. "Anyone involved has to agree to be in the sequels, all of them, and that's not how I wanted to spend the last years of my life, so I said no over and over again," Harris told The Guardian in 2001. Eventually, Harris changed his mind at the sweet request of his granddaughter, Ella, who told him: “If you don't play Dumbledore then I will never speak to you again.”
8. AUDREY HEPBURN // BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
Truman Capote made no secret of the fact that he was very unhappy that Marilyn Monroe, his first and really only choice to play Holly Golightly, wasn't cast in the iconic role in Breakfast at Tiffany's. “Audrey [Hepburn] is an old friend and one of my favorite people, but she was just wrong for that part,” Capote said. For her part, Hepburn didn’t necessarily disagree; she didn't feel like she was a capable enough actress to pull the role off. “It’s very difficult and I didn’t think I was right for it," Hepburn told The New York Times. "I’ve had very little experience, really, and I have no technique for doing things I’m unsuited to. I have to operate entirely on instinct. It was Blake Edwards who finally persuaded me. He, at least, is perfectly cast as a director, and I discovered his approach emphasizes the same sort of spontaneity as my own."
9. BILL MURRAY // LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
Lost in Translation isn't necessarily Bill Murray's most famous role, but it's the movie that gained him a bit of recognition for his capabilities as a dramatic actor—and earned him his first (and so far only) Oscar nomination. It’s a well-known fact that Sofia Coppola wrote the role of fading star Bob Harris specifically for Murray, but it wasn’t easy getting him on board. While he never directly turned down the role, for months he ignored Coppola's phone calls, emails, and requests for contact. "I spent about a year trying to track him down and was asking random people who knew him through golf," Coppola told The Daily Beast. "I was on a mission. And he didn’t have an agent at that time, so he was very elusive." Eventually, producer Mitch Glazer connected the two. Still, it wasn’t a done deal. “We went to Japan without knowing if Bill was going to show up—he wouldn’t even tell us what flight he was on because he’s so elusive—so it was nerve-wracking," Coppola continued, "but he showed up right before we started shooting.”
10. JESSICA CHASTAIN // THE HELP (2011)
The Oscar-nominated role that became Jessica Chastain's initial claim to fame almost never was. In a 2012 interview with Marie Claire, Chastain recalled a story about how she almost never auditioned for the film, explaining that the auditioning process "had been stretched out for so long, and I thought it was because I wasn't the right look, you know? I didn't look like Celia Foote, so I remember there was a moment when I was like, 'I'm not going to go. They clearly don't want me for this part. It's my day off. I shoot all night, so I can't fly to L.A. and then fly back, I just can't do it.' But I was talked into going."