We recently chatted with Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the extraordinarily talented directors behind Disney classics Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Atlantis: The Lost Empire for a new episode of Collider Connected. Our full, hour-long conversation will be up soon, but we wanted to share a pair of anecdotes from the duo about the casting process for The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
How we got on the subject was that there were some pretty famous near misses in terms of casting for the 1996 film. Originally pop star Cyndi Lauper and Sam McMurray (from The Tracey Ullman Show) were cast as two of Quasimodo’s gargoyle sidekicks but were ultimately released from their obligations and replaced by Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes (who died before the movie was finished; her remaining lines were voiced by Jane Withers). But Wise and Trousdale revealed another tantalizing casting what-if – Meat Loaf as Quasimodo.
“The first person that was actually cast as Quasimodo was Meat Loaf,” Wise said. Trousdale then jumped in: “He wasn’t cast, he read for it. He was almost cast. It was an almost kind of thing. I don’t think we actually put pen to paper.”
Wise then continued: “I think that’s true. There was never a signed contract. But we got so far as to meet with Meat Loaf at a recording studio off Santa Monica Blvd. I think [composer] Alan [Menken] was there. We talked with Meat Loaf. He ran through ‘Out There,’ Quasimodo’s song a few times.”
And, as it turns out, it almost happened. “He was really good! It was pretty far along in the process. Like almost cast,” Trousdale explained. “To the point where Kirk and I were asking each other on the way to the car, ‘Do we call him Meat? Or Mr. Loaf?’” (This of course sent me into a spiral of thinking of a Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman Disney musical made in the hand-drawn heyday of the 1990s.)
Another candidate for the Quasimodo role was, more famously, Homeland star Mandy Patinkin. “In one of our casting sessions in New York, Mandy Patinkin came in and actually read for the part. Again, Mandy Patinkin – amazing actor, incredible career, big fan, disastrous audition,” Wise said, before throwing it over to Trousdale to continue the story.
“He brought his own accompanist. We had a guy there. He was on the piano and everybody who came in and sang, he supplied the music. His accompanist had rearranged the song,” Trousdale said. “This is Alan and [lyricist] Stephen Schwartz in the room!” Wise exclaimed.
“So they played it. And Kirk and I were like huh. You could see Alan and Stephen just turning red and levitating. Like the room behind them was getting dark,” Trousdale recalled, laughing. “And when he finished with the song, I can’t remember who it was, but almost immediately they said, ‘Kirk and Gary do you want to step outside?’ We said, ‘Okay.’”
This is when things got really interesting. “We could hear an animated discussion happening behind the door and then Mandy Patinkin came back out, ostensibly to work with us on a little bit of the dialogue,” Wise said. “He was going to read a dialogue scene, because he hadn’t yet for his audition. We were supposed to give him some feedback and talk about the character. He was very gracious with us and he’s talking with us and nodding and a little bit intense. Then, in mid-sentence, Gary and I were talking and at one-point Mandy goes, ‘Guys, I’m really sorry, I can’t do this.’ And he turns on his heel and he goes back into the room and shuts the door. Then the fireworks really started. The walls shook.” (For his part, Patinkin corroborated most of the story. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1997 that “they sent me a song and I worked on it the way I work on songs,” which apparently means rearranging it himself. Patinkin then confirmed that “right there at the audition said, ‘I can’t do this.’”)
Not that Patinkin saying that he couldn’t do it was the end of the, er, exchange. “The engineer and the casting director came out into the hall with us and they were like ‘Oh my god, oh my god,’” Trousdale said.
“Mandy chewed out Stephen so bad that Stephen was so pissed that he got up and left. Stephen gets in the elevator and he’s gone,” Wise said. “And then Alan has to go talk him off the ledge,” Trousdale contributed. Wise continued: “So Alan puts on his coat and his scarf and he’s out of here. So now we’ve lost Mandy, we’ve lost Alan, and we’ve lost Stephen. We’re sitting there in this smoking crater.”
The audition was so legendarily catastrophic that the team even gave it its own name. “We have since called it The Patinkin Incident,” Trousdale said. And such an event has to be immortalized in the tried-and-true Disney Animation way – by making lots of exaggerated illustrations depicting the event. “Many drawings were made about the subject after the fact,” Wise said with a wink.