Actors Who were Fired from Major Roles

     April 20, 2019

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Most of us have been fired from a job before but, thankfully, we probably didn’t have it make international news when it happened. This is not the case for famous actors, who have to deal with endless headlines and speculation every time they get fired from major roles, whether or not they even deserved to get canned. How many of these big-name stars did you know had been tossed off of major productions?

Edward Norton – The Hulk

Look at 2008, the first year of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and an interesting dichotomy emerges. Marvel not only released two different films, but two films with clearly different tones. One was the extremely charismatic and comedy-heavy Iron Man, and the other was… well, not that. The Incredible Hulk quickly became the one they wanted us to forget.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Having hired Edward Norton as both a star and an uncredited writer, the actor proved to be fairly combative when it came to getting credit for his work. If there’s one thing Marvel doesn’t want, it’s to give up any control. And so, Norton was replaced with a much more cooperative Mark Ruffalo for the rest of the series.

Natalie Portman – Romeo + Juliet

Dear, old people, do you remember that year when Baz Luhrmann shoehorned a modern setting into Romeo & Juliet and then added a “+” into the title and everyone was super into it? To the point that it made almost $200 million worldwide? Why in the heck was that allowed to happen?

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Image via 20th Century Fox

The film did at least help jump-start the careers of some young actors, one of which was almost Natalie Portman. The already-working actress was originally cast in the role of Juliet, but was ultimately decided to be too young-looking for the role. The studio executives thought it was creepy for Leonardo DiCaprio to be kissing her — even comparing the love scenes to “molestation”.

Samantha Morton – Her

Acting is the only job where you can perform the entire task, get paid, and still be considered “fired”. This is thanks to the concept of reshoots, wherein an entire character can be removed from the film or replaced with a different actor. In the case of Spike Jonze’s Her, it was actress Samantha Morton.

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Image via Lions Gate Films

Turns out that the voice of the computerized romantic interest wasn’t originally Scarlett Johansson – Morton spent the entire production on set, providing the computer’s voice. It was only in post-production that Jonze decided to replace her — a decision later stated as purely creative and not based on Morton’s performance.

Megan Fox – Transformers

It’s generally accepted that publicly calling your boss “Hitler” is a bad idea 99.99% of the time. So it’s no surprise that even Megan Fox understands exactly why she was fired from Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

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Image via DreamWorks Pictures / Paramount Pictures

After calling director Michael Bay a “nightmare” who “wants to be like Hitler on his sets”, Fox refused to apologize for her remarks — eventually driving executive producer Steven Spielberg to push for her to be replaced with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Unfortunately, this didn’t make the Transformers franchise any better.

James Remar – Aliens

While not the most iconic role of the series, it’s hard to imagine the Alien franchise without Michael Biehn playing Corporal Hicks in Aliens. And yet the Terminator actor wasn’t even close to the first choice for the role, to the extent that there are photos of the character being played by a totally different person.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

That’s right – The Warriors actor James Remar was originally cast as the heroic Hicks. Sadly, the choice to replace him wasn’t artistic, but rather the result of Remar getting busted for drug possession — something which the actor only recently divulged.

Marcus Chong – The Matrix

Despite neither the series’ creators, the Wachowskis, nor the studio putting out any official reason why the character of Tank was killed off between The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, actor Marcus Chong’s reaction to the news might give us some insight. In short, he did not take it well, to the point of acting like a total maniac.

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Image via Warner Bros.

According to the actor himself, Chong went on to seek petty revenge by crashing press junkets, stealing food from the production offices, and even prank calling the Wachowskis themselves. The moral? Never protest your firing by proving just how much of an avoidable pain you truly are.

Ryan Gosling – The Lovely Bones

Being an actor is one of the only jobs you can legally be fired for because of how you look. It stands to reason then that an actor wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to change their entire appearance after taking on a role, right? You certainly wouldn’t want to gain 60 pounds without checking in with the director first.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Only this is exactly what Ryan Gosling did when cast as Jack Salmon for Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Using his own interpretation of a grieving father, the actor literally drank melted ice cream to bring his figure up to 210 pounds. The problem? He never approved this with Jackson, who ended up replacing him with Mark Wahlberg.

Julianne Moore – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

It’s always nice to see an actor move past their own ego and loudly declare “I was super fired from this movie”. This is what happened when Julianne Moore appeared on Watch What Happens Live and made this scenario absolutely clear when it came to her departure from Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

So why did it happen? According to her (ex) co-star Richard E. Grant, Moore wanted to play the part while wearing a prosthetic nose and fat suit. This was apparently enough for director Nicole Holofcener to let her go — opting to take a different (and ultimately very smart) new direction for the character and casting Melissa McCarthy.

Kevin Spacey – House Of Cards

Ideally we can live in a society where predatory behavior is never tolerated. Unfortunately we also have this thing called “rich and powerful people”. It’s no surprise that it took so long for Kevin Spacey to be cast off, even despite his House of Cards crew repeatedly reporting his previous harassment.

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Image via Netflix

Netflix killed off Spacey’s character and completely disavowed the actor, and he was even completely recast in other films. But it’s hard to imagine that the news of his actions was actually news to the producers who spent years supporting his career. Better suspiciously late than never, we guess?

Charlie Sheen – Two and a Half Men

It’s definitely not a good sign when the people firing you accompany their decision with a 21-page pamphlet highlighting all the ways you desperately need to seek help — including ten pages of news sources highlighting your erratic behavior. This is, without exaggeration, what the producers of Two and a Half Men did to Charlie Sheen.

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Image via CBS

Written by Warner Bros. Television counsel John Spiegel, the letter explained in great detail how Sheen refused to fully participate in any rehabilitation program, forcing the company to part ways. This was apparently after Warner Bros went so far encourage rehab that they even provided a private jet to take him there.

Sylvester Stallone – Beverly Hills Cop

At first glance it might be hard to picture a version of Beverly Hills Cop starring the action slab that is Sylvester Stallone, but it helps once you learn that the star personally rewrote the script to tone down the more comedic aspects. Suddenly it became a “fish out of water” story not unlike Demolition Man.

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Image via Universal Pictures

This, however, was not want the studio wanted, and so Stallone’s version was ultimately ignored in favor of the original script, and the role of Axel Foley was given to Eddie Murphy instead. There’s no arguing that this was a good decision… you know, considering that Beverly Hills Cop is a classic and all.

Harvey Keitel – Apocalypse Now

You could say that missing out on an iconic film like Apocalypse Now is a career death sentence… except when the actor in question happens to be Harvey Keitel. And so, considering the notorious toll the aforementioned production took on its talent, being fired from the role of Captain Willard might have been a blessing in disguise.

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Image via Miramax

According to Coppola’s biography, Keitel only lasted a few days of production before being replaced. This was simply due to the director being unhappy with his interpretation of the character. But that didn’t stop him from using some of the already-shot footage in the final cut, turning this initial casting into a secret cameo.

Rip Torn – Easy Rider

Considering that he once drunkenly broke into a bank at 79-years-old, there’s really no telling which stories about the famous maniac Rip Torn are actually true and which are false. The man is as close to The Joker as any living human has ever been. We’re genuinely afraid to even mention him.

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Image via British Lion Films

The story goes that Torn was originally cast in the 1969 film Easy Rider, but lost the part after literally getting into a knife fight with Dennis Hopper during a dinner. The story made it all the way to court, because conflicting stories swap exactly which actor was wielding the cutlery. Honestly, this is exactly what we would expect to happen when Rip Torn and Dennis Hopper have dinner.

Judy Garland – Valley Of The Dolls

In what would sadly be known as her final years, actress Judy Garland was briefly cast in Mark Robson’s Valley Of The Dolls. Her involvement with the film didn’t last long, and there has since been many conflicting accounts of what exactly happened. Most popularly: the story that Garland showed up to set drunk.

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Image via MGM

But while even Garland specified she was fired, that’s not the only story surrounding this decision. Other accounts say that she made rewrite demands, wouldn’t leave her dressing room, and didn’t get along with the director. For all we know it could have been all of these things and more.

Terrence Howard – Iron Man

We’ll never fully know exactly what happened between original Rhodey actor Terrence Howard and Marvel, but we do know it resulted in a big payday for Don Cheadle. What makes that a little ironic is that, according to the original actor, his departure was mainly due to money.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

As Howard explains it, Marvel offered him “one-eighth” of what they originally agreed on for the sequel — giving the difference to Robert Downey Jr. instead. Their given reasoning?  “We think the second one will be successful with or without you.” At least, that’s how Howard describes the conversation. Pretty cold!

Shannen Doherty – Beverly Hills, 90210

Actress Shannen Doherty is pretty notorious as far as 90s celebrities with the reputation of being royal pains in the ass. While shooting Mallrats, for example, the actress insisted that her character get multiple costume changes, but only because her contract allowed her to keep the clothing afterward.

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Image via Universal Pictures

So just imagine coworking with her for years on a TV show, and what that must do to your temper. Tori Spelling didn’t have to imagine, and in fact got so fed up with her 90210 co-star that she called her father (aka the creator of the show) and actually got Doherty fired for bad behavior. Sometimes nepotism works!

Stuart Townsend – Lord Of The Rings

Unless you are a fan of Queen of the Damned and/or The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and statistically-speaking you are not), you might not be familiar with Stuart Townsend. But for a moment in time, he was about to completely blow up after being cast as Aragorn for Lord of the Rings.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

So what happened? After months of training, director Peter Jackson decided that Townsend was ultimately too young for the part — recasting it with the 40-year-old Viggo Mortensen. And while that’s not the end of the world, Townsend claims he wasn’t paid for his time, making his bitterness over the recasting extremely understandable.

Selma Blair – Anger Management

Here’s some free advice: if you find yourself unable to hold a job and constantly butting heads with your co-workers, the problem might just be you. This seems to be the case for Charlie Sheen, and yet it seems that the producers of Anger Management weren’t able to catch on fast enough.

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Image via FX

After being a constant pain on set, co-star Selma Blair became very vocal about the actor’s lack of professionalism. But instead of properly handling the situation, the showrunners bent to Sheen’s demands that Blair be fired from the show, which was ultimately canceled not long after.

Lori Petty – Demolition Man

We often overlook just how great of an adaptation Tank Girl is, and how much actress Lori Petty contributed to that greatness. That said, it’s hard to imagine a world where she was cast in Sandra Bullock’s role in Demolition Man. But this was exactly the case, at least until several days into production.

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Image via United Artists

Chalked up to “creative differences”, Petty was let go from the film and promptly replaced with a then-unknown Bullock. All things considered, this was probably a good thing, as the change at least contributed to the start of a prosperous career filled with astronaut adventures and mailbox time travel.

Colin Firth – Paddington

Is it possible for an actor to be too good for a role? It sure sounds like one of those “it’s not you; it’s me” type of excuses for dismissing a performance, and yet this was exactly the explanation for why Colin Firth was dumped from the titular role in Paddington.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

As director Paul King explained to EW: “Paddington does not have the voice of a very handsome older man, who has the most beautiful voice on the planet.” In other words, it was decided after filming that Firth was just too beautiful for the part of a living teddy bear.

Holly Hunter – Chicken Little

It’s probably a safe bet that most of you either a) don’t remember a Chicken Little film, or b) certainly haven’t thought about it for at least a decade. But it turns out that this totally was a film where the titular role was played by Zach Braff. Currently at a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film did manage to make a chunk of change.

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Image via HBO

Honestly there’s not much more to say about the matter, except that at one point Holly Hunter was hired for the starring role. That was before the producers decided they wanted the film more “action-oriented,” which apparently meant that the main character had to be male. Clearly this decision saved the film we all remember so fondly.

Lisa Bonet – The Cosby Show

After all we’ve learned, it’s no surprise that many people who worked with Bill Cosby are coming forward with retrospectively creepy stories. In the case of Cosby Show co-star Lisa Bonet, there were no instances of direct harassment, but rather memories of an overall sinister tone to the man.

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Image via NBC

The problems started when Bonet began taking roles that were more adult and sexually-oriented, such as her role in Angel Heart and a nude appearance on a magazine cover. When she got pregnant, Cosby used it as a reason to kick her off the show, despite an initial willingness to work it into the plot.

Suzanne Somers – Three’s Company

The 1980s were a different time. Specifically, they were a time where major studios could be way more blatant about their sexism. So, when Suzanne Somers asked her Three’s Company producers for a raise on par with her male co-star’s salary after four years of playing the “dumb blonde,” things didn’t go great.

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Image via ABC

And by “didn’t go great,” we mean that they just flat-out fired her. And while in her own words, she eventually landed on her feet, her career never fully recover either. All because she had the terrible gall to demand that she be treated equally to her male colleagues.

Erinn Hayes – Kevin Can Wait

When it comes to handling serious issues like death, sitcoms are downright toxic. Having to combine shock and grief with crammed-in dad jokes is embarrassing to watch at best, and is corporate-mandated insensitivity at worst. So when Kevin Can Wait randomly decided to kill off the title character’s wife, you can imagine the lack of grace.

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Image via CBS

After letting actress Erinn Hayes go for “creative reasons” (a phrase here meaning “they wanted to replace her with star Kevin James‘ former King of Queens co-star Leah Remini) the show spends about a minute addressing her death before expecting fans to move on as if nothing ever happened. Needless to say, fans didn’t buy it, and the already-mediocre show wasn’t able to last another season.

Brett Butler – Grace Under Fire

Before Charlie Sheen there was the story of Brett Butler, another sitcom celebrity whose life suffered from a serious addiction problem. Currently enjoying more than a decade of sobriety, Butler’s severe addiction to prescription medication gradually dismantled Grace Under Fire, a 90s sitcom starring Butler that started out on top of the TV ratings.

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Image via AMC

Among the many problems — such as actors leaving the show and fights with writers — there was an infamous incident wherein Butler reportedly and repeatedly flashed the 12-year-old actor playing her son on the show. It was only a matter of time before ABC canceled the series and Butler (thankfully) entered rehab.

Jean Claude Van Damme – Predator

Somewhere in this thick multiverse is a world where Arnold Schwarzenegger murdered Timecop with a forest log trap, causing a self-inflicted jungle explosion. Because good lord, you guys, Jean-Claude Van Damme almost played the alien in the film Predator. Seriously, he did full costume tests and everything.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Alas — the man initially hired for his ninja flexibility found it extremely difficult to even jump while wearing the hilarious-looking early version of the alien costume. And so after a few failed attempts, he was ultimately let go and replaced with Kevin Peter Hall. No one protested this change, Van Damme included.

Anthony Michael Hall – Full Metal Jacket

The sheer brilliance of casting Anthony Michael Hall as a smart-ass newbie being pummeled by the horrors of war is great enough, but it’s absolutely delightful to then imagine that story being directed by Stanley Kubrick. Yes, we’re talking about Full Metal Jacket, a film that would have originally starred the Weird Science star as Joker.

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Image via Warner Bros.

But of course, we’re talking about Kubrick — a man who expects endless devotion and at least a year of your life. The notoriously meticulous director was known to spend days on single shots of his films. So, as the schedule for the war film kept moving, Hall was unable to make himself suitably available and was replaced by Matthew Modine.

Sean Young – Dick Tracy

Best known for her tremendous performance in Blade Runner, Sean Young is one of those actresses whose career should have taken off more than it did. There’s probably a lot of reasons for that which have nothing to do with Warren Beatty being creepy. That said… there’s at least one film in Young’s career wherein that was a factor.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Well, allegedly that is. While Beatty denies the claim, according to Young she was removed from the romantic lead role in Dick Tracy after she denied Beatty’s advances. These allegations, at least in part, began to limit career opportunities for the actress. Considering what we’ve learned in the last decade, this sadly isn’t a complete shock.

Christian Bale – American Psycho

This has to be one of the very few cases where an actor was both fired from and later rehired for a role. The story behind how American Psycho came to be is basically a long timeline of studio executives begrudgingly settling arguments with each other. The result shows just how clueless movie studios can be.

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Image via Lions Gate Films

After first reaching out to David Cronenberg, Lionsgate eventually settled on director Mary Harron — who snagged Christian Bale for the lead. But after the script got the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio, both Harron and Bale were temporarily booted while the studio courted Oliver Stone, Danny Boyle, and Martin Scorsese to try and make the film into a big-budget blockbuster. Thankfully, those plans fell through, and Bale and Harron were brought back to make the classic independent film we still admire nearly 20 years later.

Eric Stoltz – Back To The Future

Likely one of the most infamous firings from a major film, the story goes that Eric Stoltz simply went overboard when it came to the character of Marty McFly. Specifically, the actor apparently went ultra-method for what was ultimately a pretty-simple role. The sheer intensity resulted in less support and more hostility from his co-stars.

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Image via Universal Pictures

In other words: he was a bit of a jerk. Not only insisting that everyone call him “Marty” on set, but being particularly nasty toward Tom Wilson, who played the bully Biff Tannen. Stoltz would often get too physical in scenes with Wilson, including a shoving match that left actual bruises on Wilson’s chest. So yeah, Stoltz had to go, and he was brilliantly replaced by Michael J. Fox.

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