Famous Characters: Recast

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 31st August 2010.

The Australian Box Office figures for the past week have Salt, starring Angelina Jolie, in the top spot, grossing a very healthy $5200000 in its first week of release. Directed by Australia’s Phillip Noyce, who knows his way around a spy thriller having previously helmed Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Patriot Games (1992), Salt features Mrs Pitt as a CIA agent who must run for her life when a KGB defector names her as a Russian sleeper assassin.

Whilst Australian cinema goers clearly appreciate Jolie’s assets, that is, her ability to jump off bridges onto moving vehicles and smash her enemies in the face with various objects, looking beautiful the whole time, something inside of me still wonders what Salt may have been like if its original star had actually agreed to make the movie.

Originally, the titular character was supposed to be a man. That’s right, Salt was written to be a vehicle for Tom Cruise. Ultimately, he jumped ship to make Knight and Day with Cameron Diaz instead. By the way, does anyone know what the title Knight and Day is supposed to mean? There’s also talk of a third Mission: Impossible sequel that may have been a little too close to Salt in terms of its spy on the run storyline for Cruise’s liking. So the producers simply rewrote Mr Salt into a Mrs Salt and a box office hit was born.

There are several iconic film characters that were originally slated to be portrayed by a different actor. No matter the reason for the recast, it must be difficult as a performer to see someone else rise to fame in “your” role.

It is hard to imagine anyone else as adventuring archaeologist and snake hater Indiana Jones. In 1981, at the time of casting Raiders of the Lost Ark, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the man in the hat was Tom Selleck. Lucas wasn’t keen to work with Harrison Ford so soon following their collaborations on American Graffiti and the first two Star Wars films (or fourth and fifth if you want to be a nerd). The producers of Selleck’s hit TV series, Magnum P.I. would not release him, so Ford got the gig three weeks before shooting was to begin.

A similar situation occurred in 1986 when Pierce Brosnan was slated to replace Roger Moore as the new James Bond in The Living Daylights. Brosnan’s commitments to his TV series, Remington Steel, appeared to have concluded with its cancellation that year, so the timing seemed perfect. Unfortunately, a spike in interest in Brosnan with the announcement of the Bond offer led to NBC renewing Remington Steel for another year and the contract bound Brosnan had no choice but to decline the role. Of course, he eventually did get to play Bond a few years later, following on from Timothy Dalton in GoldenEye and three other film adventures.

Whilst on the subject of Bond, is he the same man in every film, or is “James Bond” a code name that gets passed on between different 007’s? Just thinking out aloud…

Finally, can you imagine anyone else as time travelling Marty McFly? How about Eric Stoltz? Star of Mask (1985) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Stoltz filmed Back to the Future for six weeks before being recast by director Robert Zemeckis. According to Zemickis, Stoltz lacked the humorous feel that was required for the role. With short notice, Michael J. Fox, the director’s first choice for McFly but initially unavailable, was able to split his time between the film and TV sitcom Family Ties.

For the trivia buffs, Fox’s middle name is Andrew but chose “J” when he discovered that Michael Fox was already registered with the Screen Actors Guild and he disliked Andy Fox as a stage name.

For the record, a similar thing has happened to me. Way back in 1998, I auditioned for the role of Choi in The Matrix. Choi is the character who buys illegal software from Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo. This scene then leads Neo to start his awakening by “following the white rabbit.” Unfortunately, there is no great scandal or controversial recast to be found here, I just did a truly terrible audition.