10 actors originally cast in iconic movie roles

In Entertainment by Brian Abrams / March 7, 2013

In the magical world of moviemaking, believe it or not, sometimes landing a part in a feature film isn’t so simple. The office politics that go into casting the right face or the right name are endless. That’s before even considering the issue of finance. I was supposed to write a pool scene in a screenplay for a porn parody once, but there wasn’t enough money for swimming pool cleaners. What I’m saying is, show business is not only tough, it’s random as hell.

Here’s just a taste of the arbitration that explains in part why we see some stars, and not others, play legendary roles on the big screen.

1. Harvey Keitel, Apocalypse Now


In Marshall Fine’s biography “Harvey Keitel: The Art of Darkness”, Keitel says he “clashed” with director Francis Ford Coppola during the spring 1976 production. The actor became belligerent upon learning that Coppola planned to suspend production for the summer so co-star Marlon Brando could spend time with his kids. (Keitel was scheduled to work on another movie in the fall.) “Had I known then what I know now,” Keitel told the biographer, “I would have kept my mouth shut longer and had them shoot so much they couldn’t fire me.”

Coppola wasn’t pleased with the dailies anyways and replaced Keitel with Martin Sheen.

2. O.J. Simpson, The Terminator


During the production of James Cameron’s 1984 cyborg thriller, one studio exec had pushed for Orenthal James Simpson to don the T101’s biker gloves. But Cameron balked. He didn’t believe O.J. could be taken seriously as an unstoppable killing machine. “I didn’t know that he was gonna go murder his wife later and become the real Terminator,” Cameron told 60 Minutes in 2010.

3. Veronica Cartwright, Alien


Cartwright was first auditioned and cast as Ellen Ripley, the heroine and sole survivor aboard the USCSS Nostromo, but apparently someone’s mind had changed. After arriving on the set for costume fittings, Cartwright realized the script was switched for her to play Lieutenant Lambert.

Almost a decade later, Cartwright received critical acclaim in “The Witches of Eastwick” as the crazy lady who barfed up the cherries.

4. James Remar, Aliens


Ajax from “The Warriors” was set to play Corporal Dwayne Hicks in James Cameron’s sci fi-horror masterpiece but had creative differences with the director after one week of filming. Michael Biehn filled his shoes.

Check out photos of Remar on the set of “Aliens” here.

5. Eric Stoltz, Back to the Future


“He’s a magnificent actor, but his comedy sensibilities were very different from what I had written with [screenwriter Bob Gale],” director Robert Zemeckis told The Hollywood Reporter in 2010. “We just weren’t able to make that work … So I had to make this horrific decision. Luckily, I was able to convince the studio to let me reshoot five weeks of work.”

Check out raw footage of Stoltz as the first Marty McFly here.

6. Annette Bening, Batman Returns


Bening was supposed to play Tim Burton’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman until she hooked up with Warren Beatty on the set of “Bugsy” in 1991. Then she got pregnant and gave way to Michelle Pfeiffer.

7. Kim Basinger, Boxing Helena


The role itself wasn’t iconic, but, in terms of Hollywood contract breach, the casting of Jennifer Lynch’s deranged fantasy (about a surgeon who kidnaps and amputates a hellcat played by Sherilyn Fenn) set a precedent. When Basinger backed out of her verbal commitment for the title role, the studio sued her and won $9 million in damages. “Hundreds of people lost their jobs because [Basinger] backed out,” Helena producer Carl Mazzocone told Entertainment Weekly in 1993. “From now on, when a star says commit, it will mean commit.”

Basinger filed bankruptcy after the lawsuit and eventually settled with the studio for $3 million.

8. Sylvester Stallone, Beverly Hills Cop


Legend has it the screenplay for “BHC” had bounced around Hollywood since 1977. Stallone at one point was attached to play Axel Foley, but that changed after he botched the script with rewrites.

Sly recalls:

When I read the script for “Beverly Hills Cop”, I thought they’d sent it to the wrong house. Somehow, me trying to comically terrorize Beverly Hills is not the stuff that great yuk-festivals are made from. So I re-wrote the script to suit what I do best, and by the time I was done, it looked like the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan” on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy. Needless to say, they dropkicked me and my script out of the office, and the rest is history.

9. Virginia Madsen, Basic Instinct


My girlfriend Virginia Madsen was one of a number of actresses considered for the role of Catherine Tramell, but it was Officer Mahoney’s heartthrob in “Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol” that ended up with the honor of dry humping Michael Douglas.

10. Robert De Niro, Big


Director Penny Marshall recalls the labor of casting the lead in her memoir:

It turned out that [De Niro] wanted to make a commercial film. He had done all of Marty Scorsese’s movies, but hadn’t broken out in a film the whole family could watch. The [studio execs] were skeptical. They told me to get him to commit. I called Bobby.

It was exciting. I would have paid to see Bobby dance on piano keys.

An article came out in the papers about how much money Chevy Chase, John Candy and other people were paid for movies, and all were getting a hell of a lot more than Fox was going to pay Bobby. To be blunt, they were going to pay him shit and they weren’t budging. [De Niro] had second thoughts and called the next day. Apologetic, he explained he couldn’t do the movie anymore.