At the Movies: Casting Makes Perfect

If Michael Madsen, whom Quentin Tarantino wanted for the role of Vincent Vegas, was in Pulp Fiction (1994) instead of Wyatt Earp (1994) with Kevin Costner, would John Travolta have accepted the part of Forest Gump (1994)?

Photo by: JWSherman

Photo by: JWSherman

Would Forest Gump have been Best Picture at the Academy Awards that year with John Travolta rather than Tom Hanks in the starring role?

If Tom Hanks, not Tom Cruise, had made Jerry Maguire (1996), and, by the way, the part was written for Hanks, would Renée Zellweger’s oft-quoted line, “You had me at ‘hello,’” been as memorable?

If Kevin Costner, instead of Tim Robbins, had agreed to star in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), would he have been saved from making Waterworld (1995)?

If Warren Beatty hadn’t turn down the role of porn director Jack Horner in Boogie Nights (1997), would Burt Reynolds have had a comeback?

Playing musical chairs when a movie is going into production comes with the territory.  As Travolta once noted, “What you turn down can be a gift to someone else.  There is enough to go around.”

Going back a couple of decades, producer Robert Evan told director Francis Ford Coppola during casting for The Godfather (1972), “I want to smell the spaghetti.”  Frank Sinatra, who certainly fit the bill, desperately wanted to play the head of the Corleone crime family, but the honors, including the Best Actor Oscar, went to Marlon Brando.

Who else could have played Michael Corleone, the don’s youngest son, but Al Pacino? Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Martin Sheen, and Dustin Hoffman were considered. Jack Nicholson turned the part down saying, “Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians… Al Pacino was Michael Corleone.”

The Motion Picture Academy thought so, too, and Pacino won for Best Supporting Actor*, beating out fellow The Godfather actors James Caan and Robert Duvall.

So where did this leave Jack Nicholson?  He was cast as Randall McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), a role James Caan had turned down.  Why? “At the time, I thought – because I’m a genius – it wasn’t visual enough.” Caan professed. “It took place in these four walls. I didn’t know that [director] Miloš Forman was as good as he was. It’s my opinion that I’m stuck with, unfortunately. I’ve made some bad choices.”

Haven’t we all?

And then there’s Stanley Kubrick, but he knew what he was doing when making The Shining (1980).   He considered Robert De Niro, but felt De Nero wasn’t psychotic enough to be Jack Torrance, despite having won an Oscar for Taxi Driver (1976).  Conversely, he deemed Robin Williams, based on his television performance as Mork, too psychotic.  But he thought Jack Nicholson was just right.  Author Stephen King, on whose novel the horror movie was based, didn’t want Nicholson, believing that, even five years later, he was so linked to the character McMurphy that it would be a tip-off to his going mad.

What do writers know?  The Shining didn’t win anyone any Oscars, but, make no mistake, it is often described as “seminal,” it’s place secure on any list of the scariest movies ever made.

Robin Williams, who played Popeye in Popeye (1980) that same year, was finally recognized for his acting chops in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) for which he was nominated for Best Actor Oscar.  In the recently released The Butler, he plays President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His fellow cast members include James Marsden as JFK, Liev Schreiber as LBJ, John Cusak as Richard Nixon, and Alan Rickman (a Brit!) as Ronald Reagan.

This fall, Williams returns to television in  “The Crazy Ones,” a situation comedy co-starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.  The duo plays a father/daughter advertising team.  She’s all buttoned up; he lets it all hang out.  Now that sounds like perfect casting.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

* Both Al Pacino and Marlon Brando boycotted the Academy Award Ceremony.  Brando was protesting Hollywood’s treatment of Native American Indians.  Pacino felt that, having more screen time than Brando, he, too, should have been nominated for Best Actor.  He received his just dues when he won the Best Actor Academy Award for The Godfather: Part 2 (1974).