Saturday, February 8, 2014

How Different Would Characters Be?

Playing "what if" is a dangerous game, right up there with a certain Peach Lake game that involves a beer, a lighter, and a single paper towel sheet...

And it's just as fun as that! And when you play "what if" with sports, movies, and pop culture, there are no losers. In fact, we are all winners that the following scenarios in movies and TV did not happen. Here are the biggest cast-changes, plot changes, and "almosts" in recent history. Imagine how different it might have been. The large majority of these will seem like the right choice was made in the end, but this is something I've always struggled with - do we really believe that one actor played a certain role better than another one could have, or have we just become so accustomed to one that we carry a heavy bias, and really the other actor could have done a fine job? I have no idea, but that's what makes it fun to wonder.

  • Matt Damon and Leo almost swapped roles in The Departed. I don't doubt that Leo couldn't be the nice guy who's actually crooked in Colin Sullivan, but I can't picture Damon being as tortured by the double life of William Costigan as Leo was. Damon "can't imagine playing the other one", either.

  • The Cousins were going to be the primary villains of season 3 of Breaking Bad, not Gus Fring. The plot structure of season 2 was written beginning to end ahead of time. For season 3, they changed it up and decided to write it week by week and see where it took them. Thankfully, they found a great thread in Gus and ran with it. This is a case where I'm sure BB would have been just fine with the Cousins because Vince Gilligan would've made it great, but we can all just be thankful that Gus developed the way that he did. 
Here's a few last minute casting changes from

  • John Travolta turned down the role of Forrest Gump. Can you imagine a non-Hanks Forrest? Apparently Travolta regrets turning it down, but here's a side what-if: Forrest Gump and Pulp-Fiction famously came out and competed for awards in the same year (1994). My friends at Wikipedia tell me that filming for each movie began around September of 1993. It's unclear whether Hanks as Gump or Travolta as Vincent Vega was finalized first, but if Travolta had accepted the role of Forrest, would the Pulp Fiction folks have found someone else for Vincent? I think Travolta did just fine. 

A few more that I could dig up..
  • Leo almost played Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Can you imagine Leo wielding a chainsaw naked? Actually, you shouldn't, because he probably wouldn't have. Apparently Leo and his cronies had a lot of problems with the script, so if he had gone through with the role, it would have been markedly different from the film we know today.  
  • One producer of Fight Club deemed Russell Crowe the perfect fit for Tyler Durden, but a senior producer recommended pursuing Brad Pitt instead. With age comes wisdom, I guess. 

Finally, some classic scenes that were unscripted and just sort of happened by way of improvisation. Imagine if those movies played it by the script? (click the link for the full list, here are my favorites).
  • In Zoolander, Ben Stiller repeated the line "why male models?" not because Zoolander is a moron, but because Stiller forgot the line that was supposed to follow. 

  • Bill Murray requested some flowers to smash in Caddyshack. The "cinderella boy, cinderella story" scene is what followed, conceived by Murray on the spot. 
  • "Here's Johnny" was improvised by Jack Nicholson in The Shining. 


  1. Loved this. I've actually heard that Lucille Ball was seriously considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I'm sure that would have taken her whole career in a different direction.

  2. Yeah wow imagine that! Or, Gone with the Wind wouldn't be as classic?