15 Iconic Roles That Were Written for Completely Different Actors

When directors and screenwriters are discussing the plot of a film, they often already have an idea of who they think would be ideal for the lead role. Often, the script itself is written with a particular actor or actress in mind. But that actor doesn’t always end up playing the role, even if it was technically written for them. This can happen for a variety of reasons: some are busy with other projects, others don’t like the script, and some ask for too much pay. So here are 15 famous film characters who were originally supposed to be played by completely different actors.

1. Evelyn Quan Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once was written for Jackie Chan

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert originally wrote the script for Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), assuming Jackie Chan would play the lead role. But after a while, they reconsidered it and made the main character a woman. The screenwriters felt that the husband and wife dynamic would be more convincing. In the end, the star of the film was Michelle Yeoh, who also played Jackie Chan’s partner in Police Story 3: Supercop (1992).

2. Luke Hobbs in Fast Five was written for Tommy Lee Jones

According to the film’s producer, Vin Diesel, the role of diplomatic security agent Luke Hobbs was originally developed with Tommy Lee Jones in mind. But Diesel changed his mind when he read the feedback on his Facebook page: a fan, Jan Kelly, wrote that she would like to see Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in the movie together. The producer ended up redesigning the role of the agent for Johnson.

3. Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was written for Marilyn Monroe

The writer Truman Capote, whose 1961 comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s was based on the novel of the same name, had imagined Marilyn Monroe as Holly Golightly, the main character of his work. So initially, the famous blonde was chosen for the role. But when acting teacher Lee Strasberg told the actress that playing the main character of this film would not be good for her image, Monroe turned it down. Audrey Hepburn ended up starring in the film, for which she later received a Golden Globe nomination and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

4. Billy “The Great” Hope in Southpaw was written for Eminem

The director of Southpaw (2015), Antoine Fuqua, had originally planned to have Eminem in the lead role. The director liked the singer’s performance in the drama 8 Mile (2002) and offered the musician the starring role in his new film. This was back in 2010. Eminem initially accepted, but a month before the filming started, he withdrew from the project because he wanted to devote himself entirely to his music and throw all his energy into writing a new album.

With Eminem no longer taking part, DreamWorks lost interest in the project. But in the end, the film was made with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role.

5. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters was written for John Belushi

The role of Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters (1984) was originally written for John Belushi. Unfortunately, the actor passed away while screenwriter Dan Aykroyd was still writing the script. As a result, Bill Murray starred in the film instead of Belushi. Murray did very well in this role, and critics praised his performance, noting the actor’s comedic talent and ability to improvise.

6. Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element was written for Prince

Courtesy Everett Collection / East News, © The Fifth Element / Gaumont and co-producers

In Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi action film, the role of the eccentric Ruby Rhod was played by Chris Tucker. However, the role was originally meant to be played by musician Prince. The singer was unable to fit the filming into his schedule as he was doing a world tour at the time.

7. Nada in They Live was written for Kurt Russell

The role of Nada, the main character in They Live (1988), was originally written for Kurt Russell. But the director, John Carpenter, later realized that he needed to cast someone else as Kurt Russell had already appeared in four of his previous films: Elvis (1979), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Roddy Piper was then cast in the role.

8. Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment was written for Burt Reynolds

The comedy melodrama Terms of Endearment (1983) was based on the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. But the character of Garrett Breedlove doesn’t appear in the novel at all; it was written especially for Burt Reynolds. However, the actor refused the role, as he had already agreed to take part in another film — Stroker Ace (1983). In the end, the role of the retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove was played by Jack Nicholson.

9. Christian in Moulin Rouge was written for Leonardo DiCaprio

In this 2001 musical, Ewan McGregor played Christian. But director Baz Luhrmann had originally planned to work once again with Leonardo DiCaprio, who had previously starred in his romantic drama Romeo + Juliet (1996). However, as the Titanic star put it, his singing voice is too “awful” to play the lead role in Moulin Rouge.

10. Joe Pendleton in Heaven Can Wait was written for Muhammad Ali

As well as directing the film, actor Warren Beatty played the lead role in the 1978 sports comedy Heaven Can Wait. Originally, according to the script, the main character, Joe Pendleton, was a boxer. So Beatty wanted Muhammad Ali to star in the film. But the athlete’s busy schedule prevented him from taking part in the filming. Warren Beatty then rewrote the script, making the character a footballer, and took the lead himself.

11. Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Episode IV: A New Hope was written for Toshiro Mifune

In the epic film Star Wars. Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the last Knights of the Jedi Order. But at first, director George Lucas wanted to cast Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune as Kenobi. In creating Star Wars, Lucas was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958), in which Mifune plays a general. Lucas wanted to pay homage to Kurosawa’s film. But the Japanese actor declined, as he was worried that a movie about Jedis would dishonour the image of the samurai.

12. Vincent “Vinny” LaGuardia Gambini in My Cousin Vinny was written for Andrew Dice Clay

In the comedy My Cousin Vinny (1992), the role of lawyer Vincent “Vinny” LaGuardia Gambini was played by Joe Pesci. But the movie was originally developed with Andrew Dice Clay in mind. The actor wrote about it in his 2014 autobiography, The Filthy Truth. Fox Studios severed its relationship with him after the failure of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), in which Dice Clay played the lead role.

13. Eric Brooks in Blade was written for LL Cool J

When Marvel Studios began the development of Blade (1998) in 1992, it was assumed that the lead role would be played by the popular-at-the-time rapper and aspiring actor LL Cool J. But in the end, Wesley Snipes was given the part, as he was already experienced in martial arts. With him in the lead role, Blade became a real hit, giving rise to two sequels.

14. Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy was written for Rob Lowe

Originally, one of the main characters in Grey’s Anatomy (2005-present), Derek Shepherd, was supposed to be played by Rob Lowe. But he turned it down and the role went to Patrick Dempsey.

15. Lucious Lyon in Empire was written for Wesley Snipes

The executive producer and director of Empire (2015-2020), Lee Daniels, revealed in an interview who he had originally approached to play the main character, hip-hop tycoon Lucious Lyon. It turned out to be Wesley Snipes. But actress Taraji P. Henson, who plays Loretha “Cookie” Lyon, insisted that the role should be played instead by Terrence Howard, her partner in the hip-hop film Hustle & Flow (2005).

Which of the original actors, do you think, should have played the role written for them?

Cheery/Films/15 Iconic Roles That Were Written for Completely Different Actors
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