5 huge actors who rejected life changing roles

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Here’s a list of actors who turned down some huge roles.

Who: Al Pacino

Movie: Star Wars

Turned Down Role: Han Solo

Tough-guy, Italian mobster, hard-core… space explorer? Al Pacino, best known for playing senseless criminals and cops, could have had a very different career path, fighting to destroy the Imperial army rather than the Barzini and Tattaglia families. “There is a museum of mistakes, all the movies I rejected”, said Pacino, who famously tuned down the George Lucas offer that consequently kick started Harrison Ford’s career.

Had Pacino been able to rap his head around the sci-fi script and warm to the Star Wars franchise, who knows what would’ve happened? Not only would Star Wars have been completely unimaginable in the way we know it today, but a butterfly effect could have prompted the demise of Indiana Jones, Scarface or even the world as we know it! Okay, maybe not the world, that’s a bit extreme. In hindsight, although Pacino may have described his decision as a “missed opportunity”, we’re thankful of the way it all panned out.

Han Solo Harrison Ford, ew
Han Solo as Harrison Ford. Source: 20th Century Fox.

Who: Jack Nicholson

Movie: The Godfather

Turned Down Role: Michael Corleone

Another close encounter almost saw Pacino miss out on yet another legendary role. Before Pacino was offered to be the main man in the now timeless mafia classic, the position of Michael Corleone, the Don’s son, was offered to Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neal, and Dustin Hoffman. Needless to say, Pacino was not their first pick. But just like a new kid at school being picked last for lunchtime football, Paramount Pictures misjudged how perfect Pacino was for the role, ultimately surprising everyone.

Paramount originally called upon the experienced Nicholson, scared that it would be too risky to bring in some small time up-and-coming actor. Nicholson however declined the role in a true artist manner, rejecting the money and fame because he believed he could not contribute to the film’s true potential: “I knew The Godfather was going to be a great film, but at that time I believed Indians should play roles written for Indians and Italians should do the same.”

Al Pacino Godfather, cineset
Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather’. Source: Paramount.

Who: Matthew Broderick

TV Series: Breaking Bad

Turned Down Role: Walter White

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Bryan Cranston embodying the high school chemistry teacher/methamphetamine ‘cook’, Walter White. But just as the TV series nearly didn’t make it to air (it was passed on by FX), Cranston’s acclaimed role almost went to Matthew Broderick. According to rumours, Broderick was given an initial script with the idea that if they liked it, the part was his for the taking. However, after hearing Cranston’s name being mentioned, creator Vince Gilligan began to dither over Broderick. Gilligan was reminded of the time he and Cranston collaborated on The X-Files, and ultimately (with the help of persuasion) Cranston was able to seal the tick of approval from the network too.

Another amusing Breaking Bad fact is that Aaron Paul was seemingly “too good-looking” to play Heisenberg’s partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman. Yet as we all know, he turned out to be the bread to Cranston’s butter as a perfect on-screen match.

Matthew Broderick (left) Bryan Cranston (right), purewow
Matthew Broderick (left) Bryan Cranston (right). Source: Purewow.

Who: Will Smith

Movie: The Matrix

Turned Down Role: Neo

Ironically, after choosing to walk away from both star roles in Django Unchained and The Matrix, Will Smith finally gave into Suicide Squad, which (unlike the other two films) was a huge cinematic disappointment. Seventeen years have passed, and I bet Smith is still kicking himself for turning down what would’ve been the role of a lifetime, in one of the most spectacular displays of visual effects and action to date. While Keanu Reeves was walking on walls and dodging bullets, Smith was ‘shining’ in Wild Wild West, a far less successful film… to put it nicely.

Neo's role was nearly given to Will Smith. Source: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Neo’s role was nearly given to Will Smith. Source: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Who: Matt Damon

Movie: Avatar and The Dark Knight

Turned Down Role: Jake Sully and Harvey Dent

Jason Bourne is arguably Matt Damon’s most famous movie character. Yet that may not have been the case if he didn’t decide to back away from some other high-profile roles. James Cameron’s first choice as the lead role in Avatar was Damon, who madly declined due to a scheduling conflict with The Bourne Ultimatum. Instead, as we all know, the job went to Sam Worthington, who I can almost grantee did not regret putting his name to one of the highest grossing movies ever.

Alongside this unfortunate stroke of bad luck, Damon again turned down the role of Harvey Dent (Two-Face) in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, wishing away his opportunity to act alongside the great Heath Ledger. Damon again stricken with an unlucky scheduling clash. Seriously, how full is this guy’s calendar?

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, bacon bits
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Source: Universal Pictures.

It’s hard to imagine where some of these actors would be today had they not turned down such roles. What impact could we have seen in film if such actors didn’t turn down their roles? And who do you think would’ve played them better?


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