For better or for worse, there are a lot of cases in the film industry where things don’t always go as planned. In some, it’s a matter of timing when a certain actor happens to be in the right place at the right time, is invited to the film and ends up making the final cut. In others, it could be a matter of desperation when a director is forced to cast someone in a last-ditch effort to meet the deadline. Or every so often, it’s completely unpredictable circumstances of life and business that simply just happens.
Be it miracle or misfortune, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. From unscripted cameos to last-minute casting changes, here is a list of unplanned movie roles that almost never happened.
Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused
The discovery of Matthew McConaughey is a story told and retold so many times over the years it’s hard to get the facts straight. But essentially, in 1992 as a young wannabe-actor, McConaughey approached Dazed and Confused casting director Don Phillips at a Hyatt hotel bar in Austin, Texas where the cast was staying. And while filming had already begun for the would-be cult classic, McConaughey impressed Phillips so much he was invited to audition for the role of Wooderson and the future superstar’s career was born.
Where it gets even more interesting is the Wooderson character was not supposed to get as much screen time as it did. However, actor Shawn Andrews (Pickford) was an apparent nuisance on set – culminating in a full-on fight that had to be broken up between him and Jason Landon (Pink) – resulting in a lot of his lines being cut and Wooderson becoming a more prominent character. To give him more screen time, a lot of McConaughey’s lines were written on the spot or improvised completely, including his famous, “Alright, alright, alright” ad-lib that would follow him around for the rest of his life.
Chris Farley in Billy Madison
Chris Farley completely stole the show in Billy Madison with the most quotable lines still getting laughs at keg parties today. At first, Farley wasn’t even supposed to be in the film. It was a matter of convenience that he happened to be filming Tommy Boy in the Toronto area at the same time Adam Sandler was filming Madison. So he was invited to play the creepy bus driver with the beet red face, which as director Tamra Davis discloses in the DVD commentary, is a result of having too many “espressos” (I’ll take her word for it) while waiting to shoot.
In the end, Farley’s uncredited character did a lot for having such little screen time, claiming to have knocked boots with “that” Veronica Vaughan, stealing all the kids’ field trip lunches, helping Billy study, and falling in love with an imaginary penguin – all of which were completely improvised.
Bob Saget in Half Baked
This 1998 stoner classic also coincidentally directed by Tamra Davis is loaded with cameos that include Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Jon Stewart, and Tommy Chong. But the Bob Saget appearance is probably the most memorable and most quoted. It’s yet another case of being in the right place at the right time.
In August of 1997, he was in Toronto making his directorial debut filming Dirty Work, starring Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange, during the same time Half Baked was being filmed in the same city. Saget, being longtime friends of Dave Chappelle via the standup comedy circuit, was invited to the set one day and spontaneously offered the role of the cocaine addict in the rehab scene. The role went uncredited and was in fact originally offered to someone else who had to step aside to let Saget in. Sucks to be that guy.
Mike Myers in Shrek
In another Farley occurrence, Mike Myers was never originally cast as the voice of Shrek. Now a major motion picture franchise, Shrek’s titular character had originally been voiced by Chris Farley – hence the uncanny likeness between the two. In fact, Farley had recorded almost all of the dialogue for the film before his untimely passing in 1997, which must be locked in a DreamWorks vault somewhere. In 2015, some storyboard footage was leaked with audio of Farley voicing Shrek’s lines (see below).
With the project left unfinished, the studio was basically forced to find a replacement and settled on Myers. That too became a challenge in itself. Myers insisted on a complete rewrite of the script, and after recording all of his dialogue he then decided the character needed a Scottish accent. Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg liked the accent so much he agreed to re-record all of it, which also meant most of the film needed to be reanimated at a cost of $4m. It turned out to be a decision well worth the investment, as Shrek has gone on to be one of the most successful animation franchises of all-time.
Bill Murray in Zombieland
This may be one of the most famous cameos ever, and one that really reinvigorated Bill Murray‘s career to remind us he’s one of the most beloved comedians of all time. But the role wasn’t originally intended for him.
The late Patrick Swayze was initially cast and forced to cancel due to his battle with pancreatic cancer. Matthew McConaughey was next in line, but he backed out. Other considerations included Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Hamill, Jeane-Claude Van Damme, Joe Pesci, Dustin Hoffman, and Kevin Bacon. But the film’s star Woody Harrelson did what he thought was best and reached out to good friend Bill who improvised his way through most of it and helped to create one of the highest-grossing zombie films of all time.
George Harrison in Monty Python’s Life of Brian
What is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most controversial comedy films ever almost never got made if it wasn’t for a member of The Beatles. From the start, Life of Brian seemed doomed. British studio EMI Films backed out of funding the production just days before shooting, fearing the film too blasphemous. So longtime Monty Python fan and friend George Harrison steps in.
After reading the script once, he decides to mortgage his home and personally fund the production with £3-million. His reasoning? In his own famous words he simply, “Wanted to see the film.” Thus, Harrison’s HandMade Films was created and Life of Brian was saved.
As a way of showing gratitude, the Pythons gave Harrison an uncredited role as prominently-placed townsperson Mr. Papadopolous. See him in red doing a horrible acting job as he holds back laughter and does what looks like a wave to the camera.
Sofia Coppola in Godfather III
Widely mocked as one of the worst acting performances of all-time, Sofia Coppola‘s role as Mary Corleone in the final installment of the Godfather trilogy almost never happened and probably shouldn’t have.
The role was originally going to Julia Roberts, who dropped out to shoot Flatliners. After wrapping up filming Mermaids, Wynona Ryder was also set to audition. But she was extremely exhausted and ill due to her intense schedule and was urged by doctors to rest, forcing her to cancel. Actress Rebecca Schaeffer was being considered for the role when a bizarre turn of events occurred. While preparing to audition in her West Hollywood apartment, a knock came to her front door where she was shot to death by a crazed fan who had been stalking her for three years. Director Francis Ford Coppola then tried to get either Annabella Sciorra or Laura San Giacomo. But they were both unavailable on such short notice.
With time running out, he made a last-minute decision. He cast his own daughter in the role. That was that. Her questionable acting skills ignited claims of nepotism. And the film’s poor box office performance, compared to its two predecessors, just increased the outrage. Sofia later stated she never wanted to be an actor. She only agreed to do the film to help her father. He was out of options. Can you blame her?
Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future
Director Robert Zemeckis had always eyed Michael J. Fox for the role of Marty McFly. Fox was already a teenage star for his role as Alex Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties. However, the show’s producer Gary David Goldberg wouldn’t allow Fox to take any time off. Goldberg thought Fox was essential to the show’s success. This left Zemeckis in a mad scramble to find someone else. It was November 1984 when he found out Fox was unavailable. And producers gave Back to the Future a strict deadline of May 1985.
So the role went to Eric Stoltz. At the time, his few film credits included a minor role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the yet-to-be-released Mask, which later went on to receive critical acclaim.
Four weeks of filming with Stoltz went on before Zemeckis decided Stoltz’s comedic sensibilities just didn’t fit the part. Thanks to YouTube, there’s footage of Stoltz as McFly out there and there’s something definitely off about it. It was January 1985 when the Back to the Future producers finally convinced Goldberg to share Fox. Under the agreement, Fox would divide his time between Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future at night. If any conflicts arose, Family Ties would be his priority. With so much lost time, producers agreed to extend the film’s release date to June of 1985.
As for Stoltz, the success of Mask released in March of 1985 led to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor and a long acting career with credits including 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful (also starring Lea Thompson), Pulp Fiction and Jerry Maguire.
Christian Bale in American Psycho
The film adaptation of the American Psycho novel is a complicated story. The 2000 film was nearly a decade in the works since the rights were purchased from author Bret Easton Ellis back in 1992 by producer Edward R. Pressman. In the early days, Johnny Depp wanted to play the main character, Patrick Bateman. But it never happened.
Producers rejected the film for years, but wheels were finally back in motion in 1996 and director Mary Harron promised the role to Christian Bale in a handshake deal. The film’s eventual distribution company, Lionsgate Films, didn’t agree. They pushed hard for Leonardo DiCaprio, fearing Bale wasn’t famous enough at the time to draw people to theaters. Harron and Lionsgate butted heads. Lionsgate was willing to increase the film’s budget from $6-10m to $40m in order to meet DiCaprio’s $21m asking price. But Harron stood firm on her decision to cast Bale, saying DiCaprio’s image as a teen idol would distract audiences from the dark tone of the film and the intensity of the Bateman character. With DiCaprio and Lionsgate both on board, Harron was completely overpowered. DiCaprio wanted her out and new director Oliver Stone was in. The script was totally rewritten, however, Stone and DiCaprio also butted heads on the direction of the film and both left the project completely.
So, Harron returned to the project with her original vision and hired Bale – this time in writing. Bale had wanted to play Bateman so badly he was turning down paid gigs while waiting in the wings. He also personally urged Ewan McGregor not to take the role after it was offered to him by Lionsgate. As a friend, McGregor agreed and Bale finally landed his breakthrough role that catapulted his career into superstardom.
Kevin Peter Hall in Predator
In cases such as Peter Mayhew or the late Andre the Giant and Kevin Peter Hall, sometimes it’s just a matter of being tall. Standing at 7′ 2″, Hall is best known for being the man behind the mask as the titular character of one of the most iconic science fiction film franchises in history. Jean Claude Van-Damme was originally cast to play Predator. But it didn’t take long into filming before director John McTiernan realized he needed to make a major change.
Claudey-boy just wasn’t working out. Sure, he was badass enough – just not when standing next to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura or Carl Weathers. The original plan was for Jean Claude to portray a ninja-like kickboxing Predator character. But at just 5′ 9″, he looked less like an extraterrestrial hunter and more like a space cockroach. Plus, Jean Claude didn’t like wearing the suit while filming in Mexico. It was too hot for him and he was constantly complaining of heat exhaustion. This made Tiernan’s decision to replace him even easier. So back to the drawing board. Literally. Kevin Peter Hall was hired to replace Jean Claude. And Stan Winston was called upon to redesign the Predator suit to fit him. The result was a much more imposing stalker of Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer & Co., and a character that has lived on in sequels and reboots to this day and beyond.
Roles From Famous Movies That Were Unplanned
Do you know of any other last-minute role changes or casting decisions not included in this list? Feel free to educate us in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
Toronto-based writer. Star Wars, sharks and shawarma.