Top 6 Iconic Roles That Almost Went To Different Actors

Posted by Laura Grande August 22, 2013 7 Comments 8729 views

We’ve all heard the one about how Tom Selleck was originally pegged for the role of Indiana Jones. You can’t help but try to imagine the mustachioed star cracking that whip but, try as you might, it’s undeniable that Harrison Ford was destined to don Indy’s fedora.

But what about those classic films prior to 1965? Considering how much is written about the “golden age of Hollywood,” there’s shockingly scant information on what now-iconic roles almost went to another star. Granted, there’s a lot of rumor and conjecture out there about who was up for what role and when, but after a bit of digging (and a Twitter call-out) I came up with a list of six classic iconic roles that you may not have realized almost went to a completely different actor.

Top 6 Iconic Roles That Almost Went to Different Actors

Cary Grant as James Bond

When the first James Bond feature hit theaters in 1962, it was a worldwide smash, setting the tone for what would ultimately become one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Dr. No made a then-unknown Sean Connery a household name and sex symbol. His Bond is still revered in many film circles as the greatest of them all. However, would Dr. No have been met with the same devout following if Cary Grant had stepped into the tux? There’s no way we’ll ever know for sure, but the films producer Albert Broccoli originally wanted his best pal Grant to take on the lead. When Grant would only agree to commit to one film, he was passed over for Connery who inked a deal for multiple pictures. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Marlon Brando as Jim Stark

The audition footage of a devilishly handsome Marlon Brando trying out for the lead in Rebel Without a Cause back in 1947 recently became a popular YouTube item again last month, making the rounds on various social media outlets. The five-minute video reveals what Rebel could have been, with a different lead and an almost entirely different script. In fact, even the character’s name was different (it was Harold instead of Jim Stark). But Warner Brothers ultimately shelved the project, returning to it in 1955 with James Dean front and center – a new emerging artist who was generating buzz for his dynamic performances. While Brando lost out on one role that could have cemented his status as a teen rebel, he went on to play the leads in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and The Wild One (1953), both of which kickstarted his rise to fame.

Olivia de Havilland as Mrs. de Winter

When Alfred Hitchcock began preparations for his 1940 film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, the director had to contend with two feuding sisters, both vying for the role of Mrs. de Winter. The romantic thriller was one of the most sought-after films in production that year, and a veritable who’s who of young Hollywood auditioned for the part. However, the two that garnered the most attention from the tabloids were Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine. The siblings, professional rivals and rarely on speaking terms, both coveted the role they both rightly believed would help their careers in the long run. Although de Havilland was coming off her recent success as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, the part was ultimately offered to Fontaine — much to de Havilland’s resentment. To add salt to the wound, Fontaine received the first of her eventual three Best Actress nominations for her critically-lauded performance.

Bette Davis as Scarlett O’Hara

The part of Scarlett O’Hara was a young actresses dream role. Headstrong, independent, beautiful and smart, the character demanded someone who could be both charming and fierce from one moment to the next. She had to allow audiences a glimpse of the woman that Rhett Butler so ardently admires while still putting on an indifferent front. It was a complex role that required an actress who understood the characterization perfectly. Bette Davis was an undeniable talent. By 1939 her career was on the rise and this was a role she wanted as much as the rest of Hollywood. Some claim that Warner Brothers would only allow her to take on the role of Scarlett if Erroll Flynn played Rhett — which wasn’t possible since producer David O. Selznick wanted Clark Gable in the lead. Other sources say Davis wasn’t interested in working on the film if she were cast alongside Flynn, whom she disliked, and turned down the part. Either way, Davis had just finished playing a Southern Belle in 1938’s Jezebel, which arguably lessened her chances regardless.

Katherine Hepburn as Scarlett O’Hara

Katherine Hepburn, like every other woman working in Hollywood at the time, wanted the role of Scarlet O’Hara. Rumor has it that she wanted to part so desperately that she demanded producer David O. Selznick cast her in the lead. “I am Scarlett O’Hara!” she reportedly said, to which Selznick is believed to have responded with a dismissive, “I can’t imagine Rhett Butler chasing you for 12 years.” The role, as we all know, went to British actress Vivien Leigh who, when we reflect back on the film, couldn’t have played the part more perfectly.

Frank Sinatra as Terry Malloy

Frank Sinatra never liked Marlon Brando. His dislike for his fellow thespian allegedly began in 1954 when On the Waterfront producer Sam Spiegel pleaded with Brando to take the lead as Terry Malloy. Director Elia Kazan, meanwhile, campaigned for Sinatra to take the part and, while Spiegel continued to convince Brando to try out for the role, Sinatra considered it a done deal that he would ultimately play Terry. After all, if the director was in his corner, how could he lose? In the end, Spiegel won. He’d convinced Brando to appear in the picture. Sinatra went on to sue Spiegel for breach of contract. No disrespect to Sinatra, but I think it’s safe to say that while he may have been a contender for the part, the right casting decision was made. It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Brando in the lead.

About Laura Grande

Laura Grande is a Toronto-based writer working in digital media. A (wannabe) movie buff who just wants to spend her days writing about classic film, she also loves history, travel, hockey, literature and anything related to Scotland.

View all post by Laura Grande

There are 7 Comments

  1. Richard
    - August 22, 2013
      -   Reply

    I just read James Mason was considered for James Bond . And wasn’t Shirley Temple in line to be Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz?

    • Laura Grande
      - August 23, 2013
        -   Reply

      I hadn’t heard about Shirley Temple being considered for Dorothy. Now, THAT would have been interesting…

  2. - August 22, 2013
      -   Reply

    Nice list!
    Cary Grant as James – Wowee that would’ve been something else. And I have to agree with David O’Selznick’s sentiments – Rhett would’ve never chased around Katherine as Scarlett. She’s a bit too harsh and demanding and not as soft yet manipulative as Vivien Leigh.

  3. orangegreen125
    - November 1, 2013
      -   Reply

    Hi Laura,

    Thats very nice article.I would like to know more about classic movies in the golden age.

    Please write an article about must watch movies made in golden age.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Laura Grande
      - December 3, 2013
        -   Reply

      Thanks! And I’ll keep that one in mind.

  4. Lawrence
    - January 27, 2014
      -   Reply

    Before hiring Humphrey Bogart to play Rick in “Casablanca,” Warner Brothers was planning to cast Ronald Reagan.

  5. Jas
    - July 10, 2014
      -   Reply

    While I am a huge fan of Harrison Ford, back in the day, and for years afterwards, I wished it was Tom Selleck in the role. Much like Grease and the hugely miscast (IMvHO) and miles too senior Olivia Newton John (tho I appreciated her as a singer and rumoured girlfriend of Cliff Richard), I wished, and still wish, Cheryl Ladd had taken on the role.
    I had heard that Patrick McGoohan (?sp), a good friend of Sean Connery at the time, was also a serious contender for James Bond.

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