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10 Actors Who Almost Turned Down Iconic Roles

by Jonathan Hastad
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Lights, camera, hesitation? It’s hard to believe that some of the biggest stars in Hollywood almost walked away from the roles that defined their careers. From space adventurers to musical divas, these actors came dangerously close to turning down the characters that would skyrocket them to superstardom. But luckily for us, fate intervened, and they bravely stepped into the shoes that would become legendary.

Get ready for a captivating journey through the realm of near-miss decisions as we uncover the tales of ten actors who, against all odds, nearly said “no” to their most iconic roles. Buckle up because this rollercoaster of almost-misses will leave you grateful that destiny had other plans!

Related: Top 10 Serious Movies Starring Comedy Actors

10 Sigourney Weaver in Alien (1979)

ALIEN Clip – “Escape” (1979) Sigourney Weaver

In the vast reaches of space, a resilient and fierce hero was almost left without a captain. Sigourney Weaver, a rising starlet at the time, found herself on the brink of rejecting the role that would forever etch her name in cinematic history. When Ridley Scott approached her to play the indomitable Ellen Ripley in the sci-fi thriller Alien, Weaver initially hesitated. Uncertainty crept in as she grappled with doubts about the script, the genre, and the demanding nature of the role. Yet with a leap of faith, Weaver embraced the challenge, forever changing the trajectory of her career and the landscape of science fiction cinema.

Little did she know that by embodying Ripley, Weaver would redefine the notion of a female action hero. Her portrayal of the fierce and resourceful space survivor would not only shatter gender stereotypes but also establish her as an icon of empowerment and resilience. It’s hard to imagine anyone else stepping into those space boots, and we can’t help but be grateful that Sigourney Weaver ultimately heeded the call of the cosmos, giving us a performance that has stood the test of time and left an indelible mark on the world of cinema.

9 Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Official Trailer #1 – Jack Nicholson Movie HD

In the realm of riveting performances, Jack Nicholson’s iconic portrayal of Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest nearly didn’t come to fruition. Despite being captivated by the script and the complex character, Nicholson initially hesitated to accept the role. He had concerns about the demanding nature of the character and whether he could live up to the high expectations set by the novel. However, the persistent encouragement of director Miloš Forman and the allure of delving into such a richly layered character convinced Nicholson to take the leap, ultimately delivering one of his most memorable and acclaimed performances.

Nicholson’s electrifying portrayal of McMurphy, a rebellious and charismatic psychiatric patient, brought the character to life with an unmatched intensity. His ability to seamlessly navigate between moments of humor, vulnerability, and explosive rage showcased his exceptional range as an actor. Nicholson’s embodiment of McMurphy earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, solidifying his status as one of the finest talents of his generation. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else capturing the essence of the character with the same magnetic presence, and we can’t help but be grateful that Nicholson overcame his initial doubts, gifting audiences with a performance that continues to resonate to this day.

8 Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

The Devil Wears Prada (3/5) Movie CLIP – Stuff (2006) HD

Even the incomparable Meryl Streep, the epitome of talent and versatility, had doubts about stepping into the high-fashion world of The Devil Wears Prada. When initially approached to play the formidable Miranda Priestly, Streep hesitated, unsure if she wanted to delve into the fashion world and portray a character often associated with icy perfection. However, the script’s complexity and the opportunity to challenge herself as an actress ultimately convinced her to accept the role, and the rest is cinematic history.

Streep’s transformative portrayal of Miranda Priestly proved a masterclass in acting, earning her critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination. With her impeccable delivery of cutting one-liners and a nuanced exploration of Miranda’s hidden layers, Streep created a character that transcended the stereotypical villainess, humanizing her in unexpected ways. We can’t imagine anyone else commanding the screen with such poise and authority, and we are eternally grateful that Streep overcame her initial reservations, giving us a performance that is nothing short of iconic.

7 Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs (9/12) Movie CLIP – Screaming Lambs (1991) HD

In the chilling realm of psychological thrillers, Jodie Foster’s captivating portrayal of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs almost never came to be. Initially, Foster was hesitant to take on the role of the FBI trainee delving into the mind of a notorious serial killer. Concerns about the dark and intense nature of the film, as well as the potential impact on her personal life, led her to contemplate turning down the opportunity. However, the captivating script and the chance to work with director Jonathan Demme and the talented Anthony Hopkins ultimately persuaded Foster to take a leap of faith.

Foster’s unforgettable performance as Clarice Starling showcased vulnerability and strength. With her unwavering determination and the subtle nuances she brought to the character, Foster breathed life into a role that would earn her critical acclaim, including an Academy Award for Best Actress. Her on-screen chemistry with Hopkins, who portrayed the infamous Hannibal Lecter, created a captivating dynamic that electrified audiences. The film’s impact on pop culture and its enduring legacy are a testament to Foster’s exceptional talent and her decision to embrace the darkness, permanently leaving her mark on the thriller genre.

6 Alan Rickman in Die Hard (1988)

Favorite Scene of Alan Rickman from Die Hard

When it comes to heart-pounding action thrillers, Alan Rickman’s unforgettable portrayal of the cunning and sinister Hans Gruber in Die Hard almost slipped through his fingers. When initially approached with the role, Rickman was hesitant to accept, concerned about being typecast as a villain. However, the captivating script and the opportunity to work alongside an exceptional cast and crew convinced him to take the role. Rickman’s decision proved to be a stroke of brilliance as his portrayal of Gruber became one of the most memorable antagonists in cinematic history.

Rickman’s nuanced performance as the sophisticated yet ruthless terrorist elevated the film to new heights. His icy delivery, commanding presence, and impeccable timing created a captivating on-screen villain that audiences loved to hate. Rickman’s ability to inject a sense of charm and intelligence into the character added an extra layer of depth, making Gruber all the more compelling. It’s hard to imagine Die Hard without Rickman’s iconic performance, and we can’t help but be grateful that he ultimately embraced the role.

5 Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator (1984) Official Trailer – Arnold Schwarzenegge Movie

In the realm of futuristic action thrillers, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic portrayal of the relentless cyborg in The Terminator nearly never came to be. Schwarzenegger initially had reservations about playing the villainous character when first approached with the role. He was concerned that his previous roles as a heroic figure might be compromised, and the idea of portraying a cold-blooded killer seemed at odds with his image. However, after discussions with director James Cameron and a thoughtful reconsideration of the script, Schwarzenegger realized the unique opportunity to challenge himself and bring an unforgettable presence to the character.

Schwarzenegger’s towering presence and steely determination breathed life into the Terminator, elevating the character to iconic status. His portrayal of the relentless killing machine, with his famous catchphrase “I’ll be back,” has become indelibly etched in pop culture. Schwarzenegger’s ability to blend physicality, intensity, and unexpected moments of humanity created a captivating contrast that defined the character. We can’t imagine anyone else embodying the Terminator with the same level of impact, and we are grateful that Schwarzenegger took on the role, ultimately giving us a performance that solidified his status as an action superstar.

4 Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables (2012)

Les Misérables (2012) – I Dreamed A Dream Scene (1/10) | Movieclips

In the grand tapestry of musical theater, Anne Hathaway’s angelic voice nearly went unheard. When offered the role of Fantine in the film adaptation of Les Misérables, Hathaway initially contemplated turning it down. The weight of the iconic character’s emotional journey and the pressure of performing live on set left her questioning her ability to do justice to the role. However, after intense contemplation and reassurance from the film’s director, Hathaway mustered her courage, embraced the challenge, and embarked on a transformative journey that would garner critical acclaim and earn her an Academy Award.

Hathaway’s haunting rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” became the centerpiece of her mesmerizing performance, capturing the raw vulnerability and anguish of Fantine’s tragic story. Her portrayal was a tour de force, reminding audiences of her incredible range as an actress and her unwavering commitment to her craft.

3 Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)

“Do-Re-Mi” – THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

In the enchanting world of musicals, Julie Andrews almost missed out on the role that would define her career and become a beloved cinematic classic. When initially offered the part of Maria in The Sound of Music, Andrews had reservations about accepting the role. She worried audiences might see her as too closely tied to her previous iconic character, Mary Poppins, and that taking on another wholesome, singing governess role might limit her range as an actress. However, the persuasive charm of the script and the opportunity to work with renowned director Robert Wise convinced Andrews to take a chance on the role, and the decision would prove to be one of the greatest in her career.

Andrews’s luminous performance as Maria captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. Her soaring vocals, effervescent spirit, and magnetic screen presence breathed life into the character, creating an enduring connection with viewers. The Sound of Music became one of the most beloved musicals of all time, and Andrews’s portrayal of Maria is a testament to her talent and ability to effortlessly bring joy and warmth to the screen.

2 Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Сhris Pratt Star-Lord dance Guardians of the Galaxy (HD)

It’s time for one of our favorite superheroes. Chris Pratt’s star-turning role as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, in Guardians of the Galaxy was almost an opportunity that slipped through his fingers. Initially, Pratt had reservations about taking on the role, unsure if he could step into the shoes of a leading action hero. He questioned his ability to embody the charismatic and irreverent nature of the character. However, director James Gunn saw the potential in Pratt and believed he was the perfect fit for the role. After a heartfelt conversation and some reassurance, Pratt mustered the courage to embrace the challenge, and it would prove to be a decision that would catapult him into the realm of A-list stardom.

Pratt’s portrayal of Peter Quill showcased his undeniable charisma, quick wit, and ability to balance humor with emotional depth. His infectious energy and charm became the heart and soul of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, garnering him a massive fan base. Pratt’s performance allowed audiences to connect with a character who was equal parts hero and misfit, endearing him to viewers of all ages. The world of Marvel would not be the same without Pratt.

1 Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws (1975)

JAWS (1975) Scene: “It’s a Great White”/’Eating Machine.’

In the vast expanse of the ocean, Richard Dreyfuss nearly missed out on the opportunity to become part of cinematic history as Matt Hooper in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. When initially approached for the role, Dreyfuss had doubts about joining the production. He was concerned about being typecast in a specific genre and questioned whether a movie about a giant shark would resonate with audiences. However, Spielberg’s passion for the project and the allure of working with the acclaimed director ultimately convinced Dreyfuss to dive into the role headfirst.

Dreyfuss’s portrayal of the enthusiastic oceanographer injected a perfect blend of intelligence and humor into the film. His on-screen chemistry with co-stars Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw helped create a dynamic trio that captivated audiences. Dreyfuss’s performance brought a relatable human element to the suspenseful tale, making Hooper a character audiences could root for and identify with.

fact checked by Rachel Jones