POSTED November 8 2013

Casting Ouch: Day-Lewis in “Philadelphia”? Will Smith in “Matrix”?

Daniel Day-Lewis (in The Boxer) and Denzel Wasington (Hurricane) nearly co-starred in "Philadelphia"

Daniel Day-Lewis (in The Boxer) and Denzel Wasington (Hurricane) nearly co-starred in “Philadelphia”

From Casablanca to Philadelphia,  I am ever surprised by the filmmakers’ original casting choices. Call them casting ouches.

As you probably know, at one point during preproduction on Casablanca, Ronald Reagan was to play Rick, Ann Sheridan Ilsa and both Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne were considered for the role that went to Dooley Wilson. This week, on the 20th anniversary of Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner admitted that Daniel Day-Lewis was the original choice to play the HIV-positive corporate lawyer fired by his partners for undue cause, the role that went to Tom Hanks and won him his first Oscar.

Claudette Colbert was Joe Mankiewicz’ first choice to play Margo Channing in All About Eve, a role I can’t imagine anyone but Bette Davis in. Similarly, Kurt Russell was in the running to play Han Solo, Harrison Ford’s breakthrough role after hanging around Hollywood for more than a decade. Meryl Streep was originally tape to play Lt. Ripley in Alien, which became the signature role of her Yale classmate Sigourney Weaver. Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty McFly in Back to the Future and replaced a month into shooting by Michael J. Fox. The casting decisions I can’t imagine at all are Tom Hanks and Winona Ryder as the leads of Jerry Maguire and Will Smith as Neo in The Matrix(Reportedly Smith passed on the opportunity because he wanted to be in misbegotten The Wild Wild West) .

Other casting ouches?


  1. Actually, I’d be fine with all of the alternatives you mention apart from, as you say, those “ouches” for Jerry Maguire and The Matrix. I don’t greatly care about Back To The Future, but I do know I would miss Signourney in the Alien series. She’s just inspiring. I once sat near her on an airplane and I was distracted by her Lt. Ripley presence the whole trip across country. I wish I knew more about casting history.

  2. One thing I noticed the other night in terms of absolutely indispensible casting was how irreplaceably great Tim Curry was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  3. Connie O'Kane says:

    David Bowie was once considered for the Acid Queen in Ken Russell’s “Tommy” (instead of Tina Turner). Liam Neeson was supposed to be Lincoln. I can’t see him doing Daniel Day-Lewis’ reedy voice. I would sort have like to see what Laurence Olivier would have done with Don Corleone.

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