This year, Matthew McConaughey received massive amounts of critical acclaim for his performance as disturbed, philosophical detective Rust Cohle in the first series of True Detective. However, the script was first sent to the actor with the intention of casting him as Cohle’s partner, Marty Hart (eventually played by Woody Harrelson). Upon reading the script himself, McConaughey expressed interest in the role of Cohle. It’s far from the only example of actors being approached / auditioning for parts different from those they have ended up playing.
When casting The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount clashed on nearly every casting choice. The studio was against casting Al Pacino as Michael; at one point, James Caan was instead cast as Michael, with his eventual role as Sonny filled then by Carmine Caridi (who was, after Paramount’s interference, pushed out of the film).
A more recent example is Thor: Tom Hiddleston, Loki in both Thor films and The Avengers, initially auditioned for the titular role, even getting down to the final five actors. It’s interesting to wonder how Hiddleston would have played Thor, almost Loki’s complete opposite.
Hiddleston is not the only actor who went from hero to villain in Marvel’s movies. Sam Rockwell was on the short list to play Tony Stark during development of Iron Man, and ended up playing the character’s villainous rival businessman in the film’s sequel. Jon Favreau, director of both films, said Rockwell ‘represented a dark-horse idea for Tony Stark early on in the process. A very different take.’
Switching from film to TV briefly provides an example of where two actors basically swapped roles. For Friends, Jennifer Aniston was apparently initially considered for the role of Monica, while Courtney Cox was approached for Rachel; Cox soon asked to play Monia instead. This casting apparently altered the way the character turned out; Monica was initially conceived as ‘darker and edgier and snarkier,’ according to one of the show’s creators.
A change in casting can sometimes change stories as well as characters. Such was the case when Christian Bale was approached to play Marcus, the lead character in Terminator Salvation. Bale himself preferred the role of John Connor, who at that point played a significantly smaller part in the film. Bale’s alternative casting lead to rewrites of the script, increasing Connor’s importance to the story.
Though the reasons for these shifts in actors are often creative decisions, they are sometimes merely about scheduling. The upcoming western Jane Got a Gun (beset by various problems with casting and shifts in talent, both behind and in front of the camera) initially had Michael Fassbender cast as the film’s lead; however, shooting would have overlapped with X-Men: Days of Future Past. This meant he had to vacate the role (which was filled by Joel Edgerton, initially cast as the film’s villain).
These situations can be interesting in and of themselves, as stories behind the casting. But the most fascinating part is imagining what might have been… A world where Sam Rockwell is currently teaming up with The Avengers, a Rust Cohle played by an actor other than Matthew McConaughey, or a Godfather without Al Pacino. Just imagining makes you realise how important casting really is.