warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Which Stars Have Turned Down Influential Film Roles?

Meena Jang |
June 6, 2013 | 8:03 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Will Smith was originally chosen to play Neo in "The Matrix" (Tumblr)
Will Smith was originally chosen to play Neo in "The Matrix" (Tumblr)
They say one man's trash is another man's treasure -- it's never been more true than in Hollywood! Find out which big-name actors rejected film roles that have made another actor's career.

Will Smith - Neo in "The Matrix"

The "Fresh Prince" was so close to being "The One." Will Smith was initially approached to star as Neo in "The Matrix" franchise; however, the actor admits he had no confidence in his ability to perform such a difficult film concept.  In an interview with Wired, he confessed, "I watched Keanu's performance -- and very rarely do I say this -- but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up 'The Matrix.'" Needless to say, Keanu Reeves got the leading role and Neo has now become one of Reeves' most well-known character portrayals. Smith, on the other hand, went on to film "Wild Wild West" after passing on the offer.

Sean Connery - Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings"

When New Line Cinema began developing the trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings," the project consisted of a relatively unknown director, a B-list cast of actors, and a risky attempt to create the film adaptation of a complex book series. Knowing all of this, you might be able to understand why Sean Connery declined the offer to play Gandalf in the film; he just didn't understand the character. No one predicted that the trilogy would later go on to make billions worldwide, which led Connery to miss out on substantial profit and Ian McKellen to bask in the film's surprising success.

John Travolta - Forrest Gump in "Forrest Gump"

Run, John, Run! It may come as a surprise, but John Travolta was chosen to play Forrest Gump before Tom Hanks could catch up. Once Travolta turned down the leading role, Hanks came into the picture and well, we all know what happened from there. "Forrest Gump" helped further launch Tom Hanks' promising acting career in 1994, while "Pulp Fiction," Travolta's film project, also met success that same year. 

Emily Blunt - Black Widow in "Iron Man 2"

Despite how good Scarlett Johansson looks in a bodysuit, actress Emily Blunt was close to taking the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Declining the proposal, Blunt starred in "Gulliver's Travels," which was also released in 2010. The decline may not have been a detriment to her career, but wouldn't it be entertaining to watch Emily Blunt, the uptight workaholic in "The Devil Wears Prada," play an avenging superhero alongside The Hulk?

Francis Bean Cobain - Bella Swan in "Twilight"

Courtney Love revealed that her daughter, Francis Bean Cobain, had initially been offered the role of Bella Swan in the "Twilight" trilogy at the young age of 13 before Kristen Stewart claimed her spot. While Cobain chose to focus on more art and modeling projects, Stewart (along with her co-stars) received her first big break through the movie series and her portrayal of Bella's character has become her best-known film role. Looks like Kristen Stewart owes someone a "thank you" -- she couldn't have had this widespread fame or met her on-and-off-screen ex-flame Robert Pattinson if Cobain hadn't rejected the offer.

Johnny Depp - Ferris Bueller in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

In the 1986 classic, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Matthew Broderick plays a witty and rebellious teenager who stirs up trouble by ditching school to explore the city. What would Ferris Bueller have done on his day off if Johnny Depp had chosen to play him in the film instead? Who knows, maybe escape from pirates or build a chocolate factory. Depp, who has taken on eccentric character roles like Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, and Jack Sparrow, was the lead consideration for the role of Ferris Bueller. After rejecting the part, he filmed "Platoon" and the TV series "21 Jump Street," which were released in 1986 and 1987, respectively.

Jim Carrey - Greg Focker in "Meet The Parents"

Though Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro brought the film to life, the concept of the Focker family in "Meet The Parents" is attributed to none other than Jim Carrey. Carrey had been working with renowned director Steven Spielberg in developing the movie, before scheduling commitments caused both partners to drop out of the project. The actor expressed that he has no regrets about passing the role on to Ben Stiller, whom he thinks portrayed the Greg Focker perfectly. Thanks to Jim Carrey's original film idea, a follow-up movie, "Meet The Fockers," was released in 2004.

Jada Pinkett Smith & Angelina Jolie - Alex Munday in "Charlie's Angels"

Charlie almost had "Mrs. Smith" as an angel. Though it may be hard to picture anyone else but Lucy Lui as the fierce and aloof Alex Munday, Jada Pinkett Smith and Angelina Jolie were both front-runners who were offered the role first. Jolie turned down the offer and, instead, began filming for "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," which was released a year after "Charlie's Angels." Jada Pinkett Smith took on several over projects that failed to reach the same level of success. 

Vanessa Williams - Leticia Musgrove in "Monster's Ball"

After being asked to play the role of Leticia Musgrove in the 2001 film "Monster's Ball," Williams declined because she felt the character portrayal unfairly reenforced stereotypes of black women and contained too many graphic scenes. Halle Berry took the role, and later won an Oscar in 2002 for her performance. Though we'll never know if Williams could have been given the same honor had she taken the role, both actresses have reached different kinds of milestones in their careers. Vanessa Williams was the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America, while Berry was the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for "Actress in a Leading Role." 


Reach Staff Reporter Meena Jang here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.