Before They Were Famous, These A-Listers Were Denied Starring Roles

     January 5, 2019


Everyone has to start somewhere, and that’s especially true for Hollywood hopefuls trying to break into show business. The cutthroat process of auditioning means facing tons of rejection. Before they were famous, even A-list celebrities suffered this brutal experience.Sometimes, it’s as simple as an actor not being right for the role. Other times, it’s a bad audition turned casting nightmare. No matter the reason, these famous actors all had their dreams squashed after getting rejected for what they thought would be the juicy role of a lifetime.

Jamie Foxx, Jerry Maguire

A botched audition from nerves led to Jamie Foxx not receiving the role that Cuba Gooding, Jr. secured in Jerry Maguire, according to a post from WENN.  “I blew it, man,” Foxx said of the experience. “Maybe I wasn’t ready. Tom was just too famous, and I was too young.”


Image via Fox

At the time, Foxx was better known as a comedian rather than a dramatic actor. Though nervous auditioning alongside Tom Cruise, the actor is now a star in his own right. He won the Academy Award for his performance in Ray, released 2005 and was nominated that same year for his supporting role in Collateral.

Scarlett Johansson, Jumanji

Many years before Scarlett Johansson would become the Black Widow, she auditioned for the role of Judy in Jumanji but lost out on the role to Kirsten Dunst. The 1995 film was yet another win for Dunst, who had already starred in Little Women and Interview With a Vampire in 1994.


Image via Columbia Pictures

This rejection did not deter Johansson, who would later go on to wow audiences in The Horse Whisperer in 1998, and Ghost World in 2001. The actress has proven herself to be multi-faceted, with roles in arthouse movies like Girl With a Pearl Earring to the blockbuster Avengers series.

John Cusack, The Breakfast Club

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Judd Nelson in the role of Bender from The Breakfast Club now, but the relatively unknown John Cusack was considered for the role before Nelson was cast. Nicolas Cage was also considered, well-known even back then and considered in an effort to bring star power to the movie.


Image via Warner Bros.

Director John Hughes had already worked with Cusack in Sixteen Candles, which is likely why Cusack was considered. Ultimately, it was decided that Nelson would be the best fit and Cusack was snubbed for the role. Cusack didn’t have long to wait though, as his breakout role was that same year in 1985’s Say Anything.

Jennifer Aniston, Pulp Fiction

1994 was a big year for Jennifer Aniston, who, despite getting passed over for the role of Mia in the classic film Pulp Fiction still performed in a breakout role that year. Mia was played by Uma Thurman, while Aniston starred as Rachel in the hit tv show Friends.


Image via Trimark Pictures

Mia Wallace is often considered an iconic role, and it’s difficult now to imagine anyone but Thurman in the part. Friends is still so popular that it even made headlines when the 90s sitcom was rumored to be expiring from Netflix. So for Aniston, it seems she lucked out after all.

Christopher Walken, Love Story

For an actor as seasoned as Christopher Walken, it’s hard to imagine a time before he was A-list let alone imagining him rejected for any roles. Of course, even he had to start somewhere. Though he had a few roles under his belt, Walken was rejected for the role of Oliver in the 1970 film Love Story.


Image via United Artists

Though Walken had screen tested for the part and director Arthur Hiller was in favor of him taking on the role, the part ultimately went to Ryan O’ NealWalken was also considered for the iconic role of Han Solo, which, of course, went to Harrison Ford. Walken’s breakout role was arguably The Deer Hunter in 1978.

Eric McCormack, Friends

Will & Grace star Eric McCormack auditioned multiple times for the role of Ross on Friends but ultimately lost out to David Schwimmer. Though he missed out on the role for the series which started in 1994, just four years later he would star in his own sitcom alongside Debra Messing.


Image via NBC

Though he missed out on one of the most famous TV series of the 90s, Will & Grace ran for a very respectable eight seasons originally and is now back and running again since 2017’s revival of the series. Besides, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Schwimmer saying “We were on a break!”

Meryl Streep, King Kong

Meryl Streep said she was rejected for a role in the reboot of King Kong (1976). Producer Dino De Laurentiis’s son took the actress to meet with his father. He said to his son, in Italian, “ [why do you bring me this] ugly thing,” according to Streep, who talked about the rejection on The Graham Norton show.


Image via United Artists

The now Academy Award-winning actress was only 26 at the time. Since Streep spoke Italian, she was able to sardonically reply back to De Laurentiis that she was sorry to not be beautiful enough for King Kong. It’s reassuring that even Meryl Streep faced rejection early in her career!

Harrison Ford, The Graduate

Though practically an unknown actor at the time, Harrison Ford almost snagged the coveted role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. The role ended up going to Dustin Hoffman. For Hoffman, it was a breakout role. Luckily for us, the then 25-year-old Ford wasn’t deterred from the industry.


Image via ABC

Ford was also rejected for the role of John Buck in Midnight Cowboy and, as mentioned earlier, nearly missed out on the iconic role of Han Solo in Star Wars. From there, Ford was in high demand and spent far more time declining roles than being rejected, according to Mental Floss.

Martin Sheen, The Godfather

Among several contenders for the role of Michael Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather was Martin Sheen. At the time, Sheen was an actor with steady work in various TV and film roles, but he ultimately lost out to Al Pacino. Sheen did work with director Francis Ford Coppola later.


Image via Universal Television

In Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, released in 1979, Sheen had his breakout performance as Captain Benjamin L. Willard. Since then, Sheen went on to a number of notable projects, though he is perhaps most recognizable as the lead of the popular television series The West Wing, which ran from 1999 to 2006.

Michelle Pfeiffer, Flashdance

Michelle Pfeiffer auditioned for the lead role in the 1983 movie Flashdance— a role which ultimately went to Jennifer Beals. Pfeiffer was relatively known at the time for her role in Grease 2 but hadn’t really had her breakthrough role yet. She didn’t have to wait too long, though.


Image via Orion Pictures

Pfeiffer portrayed Elvira Hancock in Scarface, which also released in 1983 and was a notable performance for the young actress. The 80s proved to be a successful decade for Pfeiffer, who was praised for performances in The Witches of Eastwick, Married to the Mob, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

Christian Bale, Titanic

Though the actor had a notable role in Little Women in 1994, Christian Bale was not a household name when he auditioned for the role of Jack in Titanic. James Cameron apparently didn’t want two British actors playing the male leads, according to The role went to Leonardo DiCaprio.


Image via Buena Vista Pictures

The 1997 film was huge for DiCaprio. For Bale, he would have his breakout role in 2000, as serial killer Patrick Bateman in the thriller American Psycho. His rise to A-list status would help him secure the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the Christopher Nolan films based on the iconic hero.

Matthew McConaughey, Titanic

Christian Bale wasn’t the only actor considered for the life-changing role of Jack Dawson of Titanic. The studio pushed for Matthew McConaughey to star, but director James Cameron insisted on Leonardo DiCaprio for the part. McConaughey’s most notable roles at that point were in Dazed and Confused and A Time to Kill.


Image via Sony Pictures Classics

The actor still had more fame to gain though, starring in several romantic comedies in the early 2000s before moving on to more dramatic roles. Now, the actor has cemented his status as a multi-faceted talent with darker roles in the television series True Detective and in films, such as Interstellar and Dallas Buyers Club.

Tom Cruise, Wall Street

Tom Cruise’s infamous role in Risky Business and Top Gun was not enough to secure the actor the role of Bud Fox in Wall Street. The 1987 film secured Charlie Sheen for the role, instead. Apparently, director and writer Oliver Stone met with Cruise despite already offering the part to Sheen.


Image via Warner Bros.

Not deterred, Cruise went on to even more notable roles, including Jerry Maguire, A Few Good Men, and Rain Man. Cruise still maintains his A-list status, albeit with less dramatic roles and more action-packed fare like the Mission: Impossible franchise and Minority Report.

Brad Pitt, Backdraft

Brad Pitt had not really cemented his status as a talented actor yet when he auditioned for Backdraft, and an admittedly not-so-great audition meant Pitt was passed over for the lead role, which went to William Baldwin. While probably a hit to the actor’s ego, he kept at it.


Image via Paramount Pictures

Though Pitt was soon known for his good looks through his performance in Thelma & Louise, also released in 1991, it wasn’t until later that he would prove himself a very capable actor. His performance in Interview With a Vampire was largely panned, but Seven in 1995 turned to be a turning point for the actor.

Robert De Niro, The Godfather

Acting veteran Robert De Niro faced his share of rejection in his career. Famously, the actor auditioned for the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather but was passed over in favor of James Caan, instead. De Niro would later get the part of Vito in The Godfather Part II.


Image via Paramount Pictures

That role would earn De Niro the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, so perhaps, in the end, the rejection ended up being a blessing in disguise. A few years later, De Niro wowed critics and audiences in Taxi Driver and Cape Fear, proving his talented performance of Vito was no fluke.

Charlize Theron, Chicago

Talented actress Charlize Theron told Howard Stern that she has missed out on roles she wanted, including the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago, which went to Renee Zellweger. Luckily for her, she scored a role in Monster which came out the very next year and received an Academy Award for her performance.


Image via DreamWorks Pictures

“I’ve definitely wanted stuff that I didn’t get. For a while I was attached to Chicago,” she said. “I really wanted that — I was a dancer for most of my life, and there was a real nostalgia — the idea of making that movie for me. I got kicked off it. The directed kicked me off it. I was really bummed about it.”

Gwyneth Paltrow, Jurassic Park

Gwyneth Paltrow was lucky to be cast in Hook in 1991 and luckier still to get an audition for Jurassic Park from director Steven Spielberg. However, after a lackluster audition,  the part went to Laura Dern instead. While the young actress was passed up for the new action movie, she still had bigger roles to come.


Image via Paramount Pictures

Perhaps Paltrow’s biggest role yet was as the female lead Shakespeare in Love in 1998, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Nowadays, Paltrow makes more headlines for her lifestyle brand, Goop, and her romantic life, including drama with ex-husband Chris Martin, than her acting.

Kurt Russell, Star Wars

It seems that many actors auditioned for the role of Han Solo of Star Wars, and Kurt Russell was one of them. While about 10 years younger at the time than some of the other actors considered (including the aforementioned Christopher Walken and, of course, Harrison Ford) he still screen tested for the part.


Image via Walt Disney

Ultimately, the part went to Ford, and Russell was passed over. The actor hit his own stride, though, when he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Silkwood in 1983. Russell would have his own shot to perform in a sci-fi/action film as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Jim Carrey, Sixteen Candles

While it’s well known that Jim Carrey tried out multiple times to be a part of the cast of Saturday Night Live despite multiple rejections, the actor and comedian also tried out for various film roles. One such role was Ted from Sixteen Candles, a role which went to Anthony Michael Hall.


Image via Vestron Pictures

It’s hard now to imagine Carrey as Ted. Though he has the humor and acting chops, perhaps he would have been a little too charming to believe that Molly Ringwald’s character would reject him repeatedly. The actor has since more than proven himself, including a Golden Globe nomination for his role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Kyra Sedgwick, Dirty Dancing

Kyra Sedgwick screen tested for the infamous role of Baby in Dirty Dancing but was passed over for the role, which went to Jennifer Grey. Sedgwick’s career still took off though, after her marriage to Kevin Bacon she took a few notable roles on Broadway and in Hollywood.


Image via Warner Bros.

Born on the Fourth of July came out in 1989, which would be Sedgwick’s Hollywood breakthrough role, in which she starred opposite Tom Cruise. More recently, Sedgwick is most recognizable for starring in TNT’s The Closer, which aired from 2005 to 2012, which won her an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Winona Ryder, The Hudsucker Proxy

Winona Ryder was not only not cast in 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy, she further revealed to Charlie Rose that getting rejected for the role of Amy Archer was a “huge devastation.” The part in the Coen brothers’ film went to Jennifer Jason Leigh instead of Ryder.


Image via New World Pictures

Though upsetting, Ryder recovered from the rejection and went on to play Jo March in Little Women that same year, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for best actress. Plus, Ryder has plenty of other impressive roles under her belt, including parts in Edward Scissorhands and Girl, Interrupted.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aspects of Love

Before she was a prominent actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones suffered an epic rejection from director Trevor Nunn for the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. The young actress was rejected for being “too old,” even though she was only 19 at the time.


Image via Universal Studios

“Trevor is always charming and told me I was just a little bit too old and a little bit too pretty,” Zeta-Jones told Wales Online. “I wasn’t even 20 and I remember telling him I could be as not pretty or as not old as he wanted, but it didn’t do any good.”

Henry Cavill, Twilight

Though he’s now reached A-list status with the role of Superman, Henry Cavill was relatively unknown when he auditioned for the iconic role of Edward of the Twilight saga. The role went to Robert Pattinson instead. Cavill had some prominence in The Tudors, but Edward would not be his breakthrough role.


Image via Lionsgate

“I think the writer of the books, when the movie came around, I think I was her first choice,” Cavill said on The Graham Norton Show. “That’s the rumor I heard. And she wanted me to play the role, but it wasn’t up to her. And instead, a very talented actor played him instead.”

Selma Blair, Dawson’s Creek

Selma Blair very nearly scored the infamous role of Joey in Dawson’s Creek, but ultimately lost out to Katie Holmes, in the role which would make her famous. Luckily, Blair had her own breakthrough in 1998 as well, in Brown’s Requiem, in which she played the leading part.


Image via Columbia Pictures

Creator Kevin Williamson explained the decision to go with Holmes over Blair in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I really loved Selma until, of course, I got the infamous videotape from the basement of the Holmes family in Toledo, Ohio,” he said. “And when that video showed up, it changed my whole life.”

Miles Teller, La La Land

Though arguably still on the cusp of A-list status, Miles Teller was rejected for a role in 2016’s La La Land that would have likely launched the young actor into super-stardom. Teller gave an impressive performance in Whiplash and secured the leading role in War Dogs in 2016, though.


Image via A24

Though attached to play Ryan Gosling’s part, Teller was pulled. “I got a call from my agent, saying, ‘Hey, I just got a call from Lionsgate,’” Teller told Esquire in an interview. “‘Damien told them that he no longer thinks you’re creatively right for the project. He’s moving on without you.'”

Jodie Foster, The Blue Lagoon

Jodie Foster was another young actress who had an uncomfortable experience with director Dino De Laurentiis during an audition. Foster was considered for the role of Emmeline in The Blue Lagoon. The 1980 movie had nude scenes, and Foster apparently balked at being asked to remove her jacket during the audition.


Image via Astral Films

Instead, the role went to Brooke Shields and proved to be an iconic role for the then model at only 14 years old. Foster doesn’t seem to regret missing out on the role, having already secured an impressive performance in Taxi Driver and successfully transitioning into adult acting roles later, with The Accused in 1988.

Courteney Cox, The Princess Bride

Friends Alum’ Courteney Cox auditioned for the coveted role of Buttercup of the 1987 nostalgic hit The Princess Bride but lost out to Robin Wright. The role was huge for Wright, as it was her first major film role.


Image via NBC

Cox wouldn’t get her big break for several more years, but with a successful television career starring in shows like Friends and Cougar Town, it’s doubtful she’s regretting the missed opportunity too much.

Eric Stoltz, Back to the Future

Technically, Eric Stoltz did score the infamous role of Marty McFly in the 1985 classic Back to the Future— but it didn’t stick. The actor was fired after five weeks on set for being miscast in the role, apparently unable to get the comedic elements of the role quite right.


Image via Columbia Pictures

“I felt for Eric,” co-star Christopher Lloyd told Digital Spy. “He was a really good actor. Although he was doing the part well, he was not bringing that element of comedy to the screen.” Stoltz still managed to give an impressive performance in Mask that same year, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Claire Danes, Dazed and Confused

Claire Danes auditioned for the role of Sabrina in the 1993 movie Dazed and Confused. Unfortunately, she was passed over in favor of Christin Hinojosa. Rumor has it that director Richard Linklater found Danes “too classy” for the role, which is why he passed.


Image via 20th Century Fox

Danes would have her breakout role the very next year in the television series My So-Called Life and she also starred in Little Women, making her film debut. More recently, Danes has been awarded Golden Globe and an Emmy for her work in Homeland.

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