When looking back at a film you love, it’s often hard to imagine anyone other than the stars you see in front of you in the lead roles.
After all, what would Titanic be without Kate and Leo? Could anyone other than Reese Witherspoon have brought Elle Woods to life?
Once you’ve scratched away the Hollywood sheen, casting is a hiring process after all – and one that’s often thrown off kilter by everything from mundane calendar clashes to personal differences.
It follows then, that the film production process is littered with “might have beens” – and so many roles you’d think could only be played by one specific star could have been very different indeed.
Here are just a handful of those missed opportunities that might have changed film history…
Once upon a time in Hollywood, Watson was lined up to take the role of aspiring actress Mia.
The film’s drawn-out production process (it took director Damien Chazelle about six years to get it made) meant that the Harry Potter star eventually decided to try her luck as a Disney Princess instead after being offered the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast.
“I knew I had horse training, I knew I had dancing, I knew I had three months of singing ahead of me, and I knew I had to be in London to really do that,” Watson later explained. “And this wasn’t a movie I could just kind of parachute into.
“I knew I had to do the work and I had to be where I had to be. So scheduling conflict-wise, it just didn’t work out.”
Emma Stone was cast in Chazelle’s musical, eventually winning her first Oscar for the role.
Miles Teller – La La Land
During La La Land’s turbulent journey to the big screen, Miles Teller was initially attached to play the part of jazz aficionado Sebastian, eventually filled by Ryan Gosling.
According to a no-holds-barred 2015 interview with Teller, who had starred in Chazelle’s breakout film Whiplash, things ended pretty abruptly between actor and director.
“I got a call from my agent, saying, ‘Hey, I just got a call from Lionsgate,’ he told Esquire. “‘Damien told them that he no longer thinks you’re creatively right for the project. He’s moving on without you.’”
Touching on the controversy the following year, Chazelle said that Teller’s departure was “part of the up and down of this movie.”
Ryan Gosling – Beauty and the Beast
Who knew that La La Land and Beauty and the Beast had such intertwined histories? Reports from film industry publications in 2015 suggested that eventual La La lead Gosling was offered first dibs on the role of the Beast opposite Watson.
It seems the Disney deal wasn’t right for Gosling, who chose Chazelle’s film – which, according to Watson, was in production at the same time as Beauty and the Beast – instead. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens eventually stepped up for the fairytale part.
Emma Stone – Little Women
In a very Hollywood twist of fates, Watson later took on a role originally slated to be filled by La La Land’s Stone – that of Meg, the eldest March sister, in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women.
While she was originally announced as part of Gerwig’s cast alongside Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen, Stone’s promotional commitments for The Favourite meant that she was unable for filming in the winter of 2018. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll see Stone in another Gerwig project somewhere along the line.
Charlize Theron – Chicago
Charlize Theron had been ready to shimmy and high-kick her way through the film adaptation of Chicago as Roxie Hart – until a new director was brought onto the project.
“He didn’t want to make the movie with me,” she told Howard Stern in 2017. “I was going to play the Renee Zellweger role – which by the way, she did an amazing job […] I fantasise to be in that movie. I just think it would have been different.” Here’s hoping that Theron gets to live out her musical dreams some time soon…
Charlie Hunnam – 50 Shades of Grey
Jamie Dornan wasn’t always lined up to play 50 Shades’ BDSM billionaire Christian Grey – he joined the film after Charlie Hunnam left due to scheduling conflicts.
Hunnam, who couldn’t manage to fit in filming for his series Sons of Anarchy, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak and 50 Shades, has described leaving the role as “the most emotionally destructive and difficult thing that I’ve ever had to deal with professionally.”
Speaking to V magazine in 2015, he recalled how he and director Sam Taylor Johnson “both cried our eyes out on the phone for 20 minutes,” adding: “I just got myself so f***ing overwhelmed and I was sort of having panic attacks about the whole thing.”
Emilia Clarke – 50 Shades of Grey
Similarly, Dakota Johnson was not producers’ first choice to play Anastasia Steele. Emilia Clarke was offered the role first, but turned it down as she felt that discussions about her on-screen nudity in Game of Thrones had started to dominate conversations about her work – and she didn’t want the same questions to keep coming up.
“I did a minimal amount [of on-screen nudity] and I’m pigeonholed for life,” she told the Hollywood Reporter in 2019.
“So me saying yes to [50 Shades], where the entire thing is about sensuality and sex and being naked and all of that stuff, I was just like, ‘No way am I going to voluntarily walk into that situation and then never be able to look someone in the eye and be like, ‘No, you can’t keep asking me this question.’”
Julianne Moore – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The Academy Award-winning star was originally slated to star as literary forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a role which eventually earned Melissa McCarthy a Best Actress Oscar nomination of her own.
She was attached to the project when screenwriter Nicole Holofcener, later replaced by Marielle Heller, was set to direct – but it seems like it was a classic case of creative differences on set.
“I think she didn’t like what I was doing,” Moore told Andy Cohen last year. “I think that her idea of where the character was, was different than where my idea of where the character was, and so she fired me.”
Co-star Richard E. Grant later claimed that Moore had wanted to wear a fat suit and a prosthetic nose to play Israel.
Beyoncé – A Star Is Born
Bringing the most recent iteration of A Star Is Born (there have been four film versions so far) to the big screen was far from straightforward.
Clint Eastwood was attached to direct the film as early as 2011 – and one of his first moves was to get Beyoncé on board as the lead. She signed up soon after, but producers struggled to find a male lead and the singer welcomed her first child Blue Ivy shortly before filming was slated to start, eventually deciding to step down.
Bradley Cooper later picked up the directorial reins, intending to make it his first feature film, and approached the singer again. Just a few months later, reports said she’d decided to pass on the role again. Cooper then watched Lady Gaga perform at a charity fundraiser, and the rest is history.
Gwyneth Paltrow – Titanic
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are surely one of film’s most iconic on-screen pairings, thanks to their indelible turn as Jack and Rose in Titanic.
But that “I’ll never let go” moment could have looked very different, with Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly originally in line to play Rose. She’s remained coy on the topic since, but in a 2015 interview with Howard Stern she admitted she was “really in contention for it” and “couldn’t change the past.”
“I look back at the choices I’ve made and think, ‘Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?’” she said. “And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There’s a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?”
In a reversal of fortune similar to the Emma Stone / Watson saga, Winslet was reportedly later offered the role of Viola De Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love ahead of Paltrow, but is thought to have turned it down to devote her time to smaller indie productions.
Anne Hathaway – Silver Linings Playbook
It’s hard to picture anyone other than Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as Silver Linings Playbook’s lead duo (especially given that they’ve become an on-screen partnership to rival Stone and Gosling since then). Originally, though, Anne Hathaway and Mark Wahlberg were pencilled in for their roles.
Speaking in 2014, the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein explained that director David O. Russell and Hathaway did not work well together.
“We had Annie and then we had Mark… then whatever happened, happened,” he said. “David and Annie had some creative differences, they didn’t see eye-to-eye.”
Lawrence eventually won her first Oscar for the part (a moment etched into our collective memories by that infamous fall on the way to accept the trophy) but Hathaway wasn’t exactly short-changed – she picked up the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Fantine in Les Miserables on the same night.