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12 Oscar-winning roles that were supposed to go to different actors

Clémence Michallon looks at roles that were the results of an arduous process – but made Oscars history

Friday 08 March 2024 11:38 GMT
Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln’, Jodie Foster in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and Tom Hanks in ‘Forrest Gump'
Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln’, Jodie Foster in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and Tom Hanks in ‘Forrest Gump' (Amblin/Orion/Paramount)

Some of the most famous roles in Hollywood history were the results of an arduous process, peppered with unlucky auditions and last-minute changes.

But just because an actor wasn’t the first pick for a part doesn’t mean they can’t take ownership of it. Tom Hanks wasn’t first in line to portray Forrest Gump, yet it’s impossible to imagine anyone else leading the 1994 classic.

Sometimes, being the second (or third, or fourth) choice for a role can even be the first step on the way to Oscar glory. From Hanks to Lady Gaga, here are 12 actors who weren’t the first pick for their illustrious roles, yet went on to win Academy Awards for their work:

Lady Gaga in A Star is Born

A Star is Born, the 2018 remake of the musical romantic drama starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, was in development for years before the project finally kicked into gear, so it makes sense that it would have gone through several iterations.

Beyoncé was originally supposed to play the female lead in the latest version, with Clint Eastwood directing, but that film was delayed and never materialised. In the end, Gaga played Ally Maine, earning a Best Actress nomination for the role – and winning the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Shallow”.

Star cross’d: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (Clay Enos/Warner Bros)

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

According to the Los Angeles Times, Julia Roberts received the script for the 2006 sports drama The Blind Side, but “expressed no interest”. 

Sandra Bullock accepted the part of Leigh Anne Tuohy, and went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress at the 2010 ceremony.

White saviour: Sandra Bullock in ‘The Blind Side’ (Warner Bros)

Russell Crowe in Gladiator

Mel Gibson reportedly was the first pick to portray Maximus in Ridley Scott’s 2000 Gladiator – as noted that year by The New York Times.

Of course, the role eventually went to Russell Crowe, who took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2001.

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Swords and sandals: Russell Crowe in ‘Gladiator’ (Universal)

Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump

John Travolta was reportedly in consideration to play Forrest Gump in the film of the same name, but turned down the part. Asked in 2007 by MTV if he regrets turning down famous roles, including this one, Travolta said: “No, because if I didn’t do something Tom Hanks did, then I did something else that was equally interesting or fun... But I feel good about some I gave up because other careers were created.”

In this case, Hanks ended up winning the Oscar for Best Actor in 1995 – defeating Travolta, who was nominated in the same category for his role as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.

A box of chocolates: Tom Hanks in ‘Forrest Gump' (Paramount)

Haller Berry in Monster’s Ball

In 2002, Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball.

Angela Bassett – herself a Best Actress nominee at the 1993 Oscars for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It – told Newsweek that year that she was offered the Monster’s Ball role but turned it down because she didn’t feel comfortable with the character.

Making history: Berry in ‘Monster’s Ball’ (Lionsgate)

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

Matt Damon was a producer on Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, but he was originally supposed to star as its lead too. 

A string of other commitments forced him to let go of the part, and – as noted by The Hollywood Reporter – Damon recruited Casey Affleck, a longtime friend of his, for the role of Lee Chandler.

The bet paid off: Affleck took home the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in the tragedy.

Affleck and Lucas Hedges in ‘Manchester By the Sea’ (Amazon)

Emma Stone in La La Land

It’s hard to imagine someone else next to Ryan Gosling on the La La Land poster, but another Emma was first primed to star as one of the musical romantic comedy-drama’s leads.

While the project was in its infancy, Emma Watson was a possible pick for the role of Mia Dolan. She later explained that she couldn’t commit to La La Land after having already accepted the part of Belle in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

La La Land - Trailer

“It’s one of these frustrating things where sort of names get attached to projects very early on as a way to kind of build anticipation or excitement for something that’s coming before anything is really actually agreed or set in stone,” Watson told SiriusXM.

Stone’s turn as Dolan ended up winning her the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 2017 ceremony.

Gosling and Stone in ‘La La Land’ (Lionsgate)

Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love

Gwyneth Paltrow won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her turn as Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love, but her participation wasn’t always in the cards.

As Paltrow herself told Variety in 2019, “Julia Roberts was going to do it for a long time, and then that version fell apart. It ended up in Miramax, and I was the first person they offered it to.” But Paltrow, who was going through a “terrible breakup”, “didn’t even read” the script. The role was then reportedly offered to Kate Winslet, who turned it down. 

Eventually, Paltrow read the script, fell in love with the part, and the rest is history.

Paltrow in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (Miramax)

Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

Anne Hathaway was originally supposed to star in Silver Linings Playbook as Tiffany Maxwell, according to remarks made in 2014 by Harvey Weinstein, who was a producer on the film.

Hathaway left the project, and Lawrence eventually replaced her – which resulted in her Best Actress win at the 2013 ceremony.

Cooper and Lawrence in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (The Weinstein Company)

Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment

Burt Reynolds turned down the role of Garrett Breedlove in the 1983 comedy-drama – a decision he has sorely regretted.

“I regret that one most of all because it was a real acting part,” Reynolds told Business Insider in 2016. “I wish I would have done it, and thinking back now, it was really a stupid decision, but I made a lot of stupid decisions in that period. It must have been my stupid period.”

Perhaps adding to his regrets is the fact that Nicholson won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1984 for his work on the film.

Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine in ‘Terms of Endearment’ (Paramount)

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis won one of this three (yes, three!) Best Actor Oscars for his turn as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 biopic of the US president.

But according to Liam Neeson, he was also approached by Spielberg for the part and seriously considered it, but ended up turning it down in a “real thunderbolt moment”.

It was during a reading, he told GQ in 2014, that he thought to himself: “I’m not supposed to be here. This is gone. I’ve passed my sell-by date. I don’t want to play this Lincoln. I can’t be him.”

“Daniel Day’s an old pal, and I think Daniel maybe had been approached first; I don’t know the history of that,” Neeson added, “but I was thrilled that Daniel played him, and when I saw the film, I was like, ‘He’s f****** Abraham Lincoln. This is perfect.’ Perfect.”

Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln’ (Amblin Entertainment)

Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs

Well, hello, Clarice. According to director Jonathan Demme himself, the classic psychological thriller almost had a different lead starring as the FBI trainee Clarice Starling.

As Demme recounted at the Austin Film Festival, he once thought that Jodie Foster, who was a fan of Thomas Harris’s novel on which the film is based, would not have been believable in that role.

Jodie Foster in ‘Silence of the Lambs' (Orion)

According to Demme, the script went through Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, and Laura Dern, before he was eventually talked into casting Foster as Starling. Of course, the choice paid off: Foster delivered an iconic performance, and earned her second Best Actress Oscar for the part.

This article was originally published in 2022

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