Producers wanted Elvis Presley to play Tony, but Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, nixed the idea, reportedly because he didn’t want the King associated with gang violence. Natalie Wood read opposite Warren Beatty—director Robert Wise’s first choice for the male lead—just as a favor to her boyfriend and “Splendor in the Grass” costar. Without even trying, she got the part of Maria over Audrey Hepburn, Jill St. John and Valerie Harper.
Truman Capote, who wrote the novella on which the film is loosely based, thought Audrey Hepburn was wrong for the part of Holly Golightly—and he had a point. After all, the character he created is a blonde from the sticks who reinvents herself as a New York party girl. Her real name: Lulamae Barnes. Capote said the role should go to the former Norma Jeane Mortenson, better known as Marilyn Monroe.
Peter O’Toole was better known as a stage actor before he played T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic masterpiece. He got the part after Marlon Brando—producer Sam Spiegel’s first choice—and Albert Finney both turned it down. Other contenders included Anthony Perkins, Montgomery Clift (who lobbied hard on his own behalf) and Richard Burton.
Producer Warren Beatty considered casting his sister (Shirley Maclaine) and Bob Dylan in the title roles. Then, after deciding to play Clyde Barrow himself, he begged his ex Natalie Wood to co-star as Bonnie Parker. Many big stars had their hats in the ring—among them Jane Fonda, Cher and Tuesday Weld—but Wood declined for personal reasons and the part went to Faye Dunaway, a virtual unknown.
Warren Beatty was too busy with “Bonnie and Clyde” to accept the role that ultimately went to Dustin Hoffman. As for Mrs. Robinson, director Mike Nichols wanted to cast French actress Jeanne Moreau, but his producer offered the part to Doris Day (who reportedly found the script offensive). Before settling on Anne Bancroft, they considered stars ranging from Lana Turner to Sophia Loren.
The title role of Vito Corleone might seem like an offer you can’t refuse, but Laurence Olivier did exactly that, just as Jack Nicholson passed on the chance to play Vito’s son Michael. Producer Robert Evans and director Francis Ford Coppola seldom saw eye to eye. Still, Coppola got permission to cast Marlon Brando as the mafia don and Al Pacino as his heir apparent—even though Evans preferred Ryan O’Neal!
Riding high after “The Godfather,” Robert Evans planned to make his wife, Ali MacGraw, the leading lady in “Chinatown”—that is, until she dumped him for Steve McQueen. Evans’ second choice was Jane Fonda, but Roman Polanski had other ideas, so they settled on Faye Dunaway. Although she and the director battled nonstop, Polanski considered Dunaway’s “special brand of ‘retro’ beauty” perfect for the role.
Stephen Spielberg’s first choice to play oceanographer Matt Hooper was Jon Voight. Yet the part ended up being rewritten for Richard Dreyfus, who came recommended by Spielberg’s friend and fellow director George Lucas. Meanwhile, Lee Marvin turned down the role of Quint, the irascible shark hunter. Robert Shaw nearly did the same—he hated the novel—but his wife persuaded him to say yes.
Molly Ringwald was offered the role that’s now synonymous with Meg Ryan, but couldn’t work it into her schedule. Also considered for the part of Sally Albright were two Elizabeths—Perkins and McGovern. Director Rob Reiner wanted his friend Albert Brooks to play the male lead, Harry Burns. Brooks declined, however, on the grounds that the script “read to me like a Woody Allen movie, verbatim.” Enter Billy Crystal.
Disney execs didn’t envision Julia Roberts as Vivian, the hooker with the heart of gold in this cross between “Cinderella” and “My Fair Lady.” She got the part only after it was rejected by Molly Ringwald—and Karen Allen and Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer and Daryl Hannah and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Al Pacino did a reading with Roberts before turning down the role of Edward, the corporate raider we now think of as Richard Gere.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s first choice for the role of Dirk Diggler was Leonardo DiCaprio, but he declined in favor of “Titanic,” which transformed him into a megastar. Yet DiCaprio—who had recommended Mark Wahlberg—later said that passing on “Boogie Nights” was his “biggest regret.”
Mark Wahlberg had no regrets about leaving the role of Jack Twist to Jake Gyllenhaal. While reading the script, Wahlberg said, he got “a little creeped out.” For Matt Damon, who rejected the role of Jack’s lover (played by Heath Ledger), the timing wasn’t right. As the star of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “All the Pretty Horses” told Playboy, “I just did a gay movie and a cowboy movie. I can’t do a gay cowboy movie now.”