8 Roles Actors/Actresses Were Afraid To Take

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We’re not saying they were physically afraid to take a role…OK, maybe a few of these people were physically afraid. Pause. Rewind. Let’s reset the stage. Actors turn down roles for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the script doesn’t speak to them, and sometimes they may not trust that the director can execute the vision. Whatever the case, these valid concerns often manifest into legitimate fears for actors and actresses who are considering big roles. Here are eight well known names, and their fears–both legitimate and misplaced–that kept them from taking iconic roles.

8. Mel Gibson – Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman

“I’m Batman.” Can you imagine the words uttered by Mel Gibson? He was Tim Burton’s first choice for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 1989 release that eventually starred Michael Keaton. Setting aside any personal feelings, Mel Gibson is a great actor who would have easily pulled off the role. There is nothing Mel has done that he hasn’t done expertly. Even offending people, he has done it expertly. So, why didn’t Mel take the role of Batman? He was afraid the film would flop. He didn’t see how it could be well-executed during that time period, and felt that kids would see it and it would soon be forgotten. It wasn’t the first, nor the last time Mel missed the mark with his thought process. The film went on to enjoy wild success, spawn a sequel and some iconic performances by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

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7. Michelle Pfeiffer – Clarice Starling in Silence of The Lambs

Silence of The Lambs is a terrifying flick. The script was so terrifying that several actors turned down roles because of the dark subject matter. Michelle Pfeiffer was originally offered the role of Clarice Starling, the heroine who makes nice with Dr. Hannibal Lecter in order to solve the mystery of Buffalo Bill. Ted Levine played Bill, and he was truly disturbing. The role of Clarice went to Jodie Foster, and she won an Oscar for her portrayal. We can imagine Michelle saw the film, was as scared as the rest of us, but thought to herself, “Damn. I could have pulled that off.” It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Jodie Foster in the role, but flexing the brain, it would have been fascinating to see Michelle Pfeiffer as Clarice. Ten years later, Michelle did take the plunge into darkness with What Lies Beneath.

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6. Leonardo DiCaprio – Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights

When Paul Thomas Anderson wrote Boogie Nights, he imagined Leonard DiCaprio in the lead role of Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler. At the time, Leonardo was on fire from the success of Titanic, and he was able to be rather picky with his next few films. He certainly chose some interesting roles. We’ll never understand why The Man in The Iron Mask was his follow up choice, but that’s what he chose over Boogie Nights. The reason why? He was afraid to work with P.T. Anderson, who had only directed one feature film. It was a Sundance Lab film, Hard Eight, and it enjoyed a great cast, but it wasn’t really built for commercial success. Leonardo has been candid about his regret after seeing Boogie Nights. He loves the film. We’re still waiting on Leo and P.T. to collaborate. It would be a wonderful professional marriage.

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5. Josh Hartnett – Superman in Superman Returns

Can you imagine Josh Hartnett as Superman? Over 10 years ago, Josh was offered the opportunity to dawn the most recognizable cape in the world. When Warner Brothers decided to dust off the Superman film franchise–the first time since the 1980s–they considered going for a face that was recognizable, and somewhat accomplished in the industry, yet not a household name. Josh was the guy. And Josh considered the role. Heavily. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to play Superman. Josh eventually decided against it, afraid that the iconic character would pigeonhole him as only the iconic character. The film was bumped, and it was a few years later that Brandon Routh–a relative unknown–accepted the role, and did a decent job with a pretty bad story and script. We haven’t seen Brandon lead anything huge again, but he hasn’t stopped working. Josh on the other hand…

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4. Angela Bassett – Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball

Imagine you’re an actress. Now, imagine you’re offered the opportunity to do a commercial that pays well, but you’ll become the face of genital herpes. Do you do it? If not, why not? Pretty simple: you don’t want to be associated with genital herpes. Similarly, Angela Bassett enjoyed the thought of acting with Billy Bob Thornton, but she had no desire to portray a prostitute. She was afraid people would remember her as “that prostitute,” and she also felt that the role was damaging to the portrayal of black women on the screen, especially considering the problem prostitution poses for so many young women–black and white–who live in poverty, and turn toward the profession to make ends meet. Halle Berry had no problem jumping into the role when Angela declined. And she had no problem accepting the Oscar for her performance.

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3. Jennifer Hudson – Precious in Precious

Did ya see Precious? You don’t need to. Just imagine the most depressing thing you’ve ever seen, and then imagine enduring it for over two hours. Yes, the film did garner some serious awards, and by making Mariah Carey look her worst, they pulled from her some of her best work in any artistic venture. Still… you don’t need to see it. It was industry lore that Oscar-winner, Jennifer Hudson, was offered the role of Precious, but it would have forced her to gain a serious amount of weight. The thought of gaining weight terrified Jennifer. She worked so hard to slim down, she didn’t feel that it would be wise, or healthy to pack on pounds for a role. It also would have messed with her contract to serve as a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. The role eventually went to Gabourey Sidibe.

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2. Mark Wahlberg – Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain

Mark Wahlberg benefited from buddy Leonardo DiCaprio choosing to turn down Boogie Nights, thrusting Mark onto the list of actors who were far better than audiences might have imagined. Mark was good enough that he caught the eye of Ang Lee, and the iconic Chinese director sent Mark the script for Brokeback Mountain. He was hoping Mark might play Jack Twist. Mark struggled with the thought of playing a gay character given to rather explicit sex scenes. To reiterate, Mark was totally cool with wearing a prosthetic penis, and playing a porn star in Boogie…but couldn’t imagine making out with another dude for Brokeback…The role went to Jake Gyllenhaal, and he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. It was good Mark was honest with himself about his discomfort, because Jake was outstanding opposite Heath Ledger.

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1. Denzel Washington – David Mills in SE7EN

Denzel Washington afraid of something? C’mon. Afraid to tackle any role? No way. But he was. David Fincher originally thought to have two black police officers in Seven, Morgan Freeman mentoring Denzel Washington. This would have reunited the two actors from a similar relationship in Glory, for which Denzel won his first Oscar. Their chemistry is off the charts when they’re on screen together, but Denzel couldn’t get into the Seven script. It was haunting. Evil. Dark. Whether Denzel thought working on the film would give him nightmares, or launch him into a deep depression, he couldn’t get over the hump. He passed on the offer. The role was offered to Brad Pitt, who jumped into the mix, and injected some exceptional character work into the thriller. After Denzel saw the film, he wished he’d have chosen differently. He thought it was stellar.

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James Sheldon