Making it in the world of acting isn't easy. When you first start off, you're a nobody. You're competing with hundreds of people for every role you apply for, and you're lucky if you can get a speaking role on television. You accept every part that's ever offered to you.
If you're lucky enough to land a few roles, then you'll hopefully find yourself being offered bigger roles on a more frequent basis. You're no longer wondering where the next job is going to come from. In fact, you might even find yourself turning work down because you're too busy!
Sometimes, though, you might live to regret one of those refusals. What looks like a doomed film or a bad television role turns out to be a huge hit. Someone else picks up awards and recognition for playing a part you turned down. That's happened to everybody on this list!
Bruce Willis - Ghost
There are conflicting theories about whether or not it's a good idea to work with your significant other when you're making a film. As we've seen with Marilyn Monroe, if it goes wrong, it can put undue strain on your relationship. Maybe that was a key factor in Bruce Willis' thinking when he decided to pass on a lead role in 'Ghost.' If he'd taken it on, it would have been him who'd had the iconic 'let's make pottery sexy' scene with Demi Moore - who was, at the time, his wife.
We'll never be sure why Willis said no, but perhaps he was concerned about stepping too far away from his comfort zone at the time. He was an action movie star, and he wouldn't accept a more subdued role until he appeared in 'The Sixth Sense' years later. He also wasn't the only big name to turn 'Ghost' down; both Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise didn't see the merit in the script, and rejected the offer as well. Patrick Swayze had no such concerns, and was wearing a big smile when he movie collected the 'Best Original Screenplay' Oscar.
Leonardo DiCaprio - Boogie Nights
This is a little bit of a strange one. When Leonardo DiCaprio turned down a lead role in 'Boogie Nights,' he had an excellent reason for doing so. He'd been offered big money to appear in 'Titanic' instead, and 'Titanic' was the film that took him from being a reasonably well-known actor to becoming a bonafide Hollywood megastar. The part of Dirk Diggler in 'Boogie Nights' would have boosted his profile - and it would have been interesting to see his take on it - but it wouldn't have been the Oscar-winning star-maker that 'Titanic' was.
For all of the above reasons, we wouldn't have called this a cause for regret - but we include it on this list because DiCaprio himself has said that he wishes he'd taken the part. Speaking to GQ magazine in 2008, he described the decision as the only regret of his career to date. To us, that means one of two things - either he really, really loves 'Boogie Nights,' or he didn't enjoy the harsh glare of the spotlight that came with making one of the biggest movies of all time.
Will Smith - The Matrix
Keanu Reeves' poker face is one of the things that makes the character of Neo in 'The Matrix' so cool. You never know what he's thinking or feeling - he just beats people up and gets on with his day, and looks great while he's doing it. If Will Smith played the part, and was cracking jokes and dropping one-liners to Agent Smith every time he defeated a version of him, the film might lose some of that invaluable cool factor. It nearly happened, though - Smith was the guy that the Wachowski brothers came looking for first.
Nobody knew how 'The Matrix' would turn out when it was in pre-production. The team making it had no track record of success, and the script was a little weird. Smith - perhaps conscious that he was developing a reputation as a 'science fiction guy' after making 'Men in Black' and 'Independence Day,' didn't want to get involved. Three billion dollars in revenue later, we think it's safe to say he'd play that one a little differently if he got the chance again.
Eddie Murphy - Ghostbusters
'Ghostbusters' was something of a passion project for Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. They loved their off-the-wall script, but were having a hard time persuading anybody else to take them seriously. Included in that 'anybody else' group was Eddie Murphy, who worked with Aykroyd in 'Trading Places' during the early 1980s. A hopeful Aykroyd pitched the film to Murphy, hoping to get him on board in the part of Winston Zedmore. He knew that having a star like Murphy attached to his script would generate interest among movie studios.
According to Aykroyd, Murphy's response was less-than-polite. He listened to Aykroyd describe the concept, and responded with the sentence 'That sounds like a crock of excrement.' We've substituted the word 'excrement' in for the word he actually used. Ernie Hudson got the part instead, 'Ghostbusters' went down in movie history, and Murphy made a series of increasingly dreadful 1990s comedies.
Nicolas Cage - The Lord of The Rings
This is just plain weird to us. It's a standing joke in Hollywood that Nicolas Cage will never turn down a movie role. His love of spending money is legendary, and so he needs to make big money so he can carry on spending it. That's why for every great Nicolas Cage movie you can think of, there are two or three terrible ones. So long as the money is right, you can count on Cage signing a contract and doing the job.
Maybe the money on offer wasn't right when Peter Jackson asked him about playing a role in the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. It was the 'Fellowship of the Ring' film that would have made use of Cage's services, and he'd have been playing Aragorn. Cage spoke to Jackson and apparently considered the offer, but said no. Once the director and his team had recovered from the shock, they persuaded Viggo Mortensen to play the part instead.
Harrison Ford - Syriana
As one of Hollywood's greatest-ever leading men, Harrison Ford is always in high demand. He doesn't have the time to take every part that's offered to him, and so he picks and chooses what he likes the sound of. Because of his busy schedule, he's said 'no' to James Caan's part in 'Misery,' the title role in 'JFK,' and a leading role in 'Alien.' He has no regrets about passing on them, though.
The role that Ford wishes he could go back in time and agree to is in a smaller, lesser-known film - Syriana. When Ford was sent the script, it was at the first or second draft stage, and he didn't like the sound of it. George Clooney stepped into the breach and played the part of Bob Barnes instead. Ford happened to catch the film, and found that the script had improved significantly since he'd last seen it. He loved the movie, and was slightly envious of Clooney!
Jim Carrey - Pirates of the Caribbean
He's not as busy as he used to be, but there was a time when Jim Carrey was everywhere. He was the star of every can't-miss comedy blockbuster of the summer, and had us rolling in the aisles with 'Liar Liar' and 'Ace Ventura.' When Disney decided they were going to make a movie based on their old 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ride at Disney World, Carrey was the obvious choice. He was adored by children, and would have guaranteed the success of the project.
It was bad news for Disney. Carrey had signed on for 'Bruce Almighty,' and couldn't be available on the dates they needed him for filming. They decided to think outside of the box, and came up with the name of Johnny Depp for Captain Jack Sparrow instead. Carrey didn't miss out financially, but we're sure he'd have loved to spend a few movies playing pirates if he had the space in his diary.
Kevin Hart - Tropic Thunder
Insecurity was the reason behind Kevin Hart's decision not to take up the role he was offered in 'Tropic Thunder' - but at least he's had the courage to admit it. Hart had the chance to play Alpa Chino in the comedy film, and was initially enthusiastic, but ran away from the production when he found out that his character would be gay. He didn't feel like he could 'commit to' playing a gay man on screen, and so withdrew from talks.
Since then, Hart has confirmed that he has nothing against gay people or the gay lifestyle, and that his inability to take on such roles says more about his own state of mind than anybody else's. He's stopped short of saying that he'd approach things differently now, but his more recent statements at least suggest that he has a little more emotional maturity than he used to.
Michael B. Jordan - Straight Outta Compton
'Straight Outta Compton' is the tale of rap legends the NWA, and there was nobody more important to the NWA than Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre would probably have loved to play himself on film, but as he's now too old to play himself as a teenager or a man in his early 20s, someone else was required. Dre knew exactly who he wanted to play himself - Michael B. Jordan.
Jordan was flattered, and would have loved to say yes, but he'd just agreed to deal to appear in 'The Fantastic Four,' which was a box-office disaster. By contrast, 'Straight Outta Compton' featuring Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, brought in $160m. The 'Fantastic Four' reboot didn't even manage a third of that amount. Given the choice again, Jordan would probably have made his apologies to the 'Fantastic Four' crew and gone with Dre instead.
Danny Devito - The Princess Bride
Here's another film that will take you right back to childhood if you're of a certain age - 'The Princess Bride.' Memorably, it had professional wrestler Andre the Giant in it, but it also starred Wallace Shawn as Vizzini. In fact, it's probably the only Shawn film we can name without having to check Wikipedia - and yet he would never have been in it at all if Danny Devito had been available.
Being the second choice for the only major part of your career would sting the ego of most actors, but Shawn has shown that he's got a sense of humor about it. In an interview with 'Entertainment Weekly,' he said that he was once at the same party as Devito. He accosted the famous actor, and thanked him for having such a busy schedule that it allowed for Shawn to step in and have a moment in the spotlight. Devito, apparently unsure of the best way to respond to this, laughed and walked away. Perhaps he didn't even know who Shawn was.
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