Actors Just Say ‘No’: A Story of What Could Have Been

Rob Lowe’s new book, Love Life, comes out this week and just like his first memoir, he reveals a lot about his personal life and career. One of the new revelations is about how he passed on the role of Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy. Not only did he turn the part down, he turned it down to star in Dr. Vegas. Yeah, exactly.

He writes: “I got an urgent call from the producers of a potential new show for ABC called Grey’s Anatomy. I agreed to meet with the people making Grey’s Anatomy. I had read it and loved it. The writing was crisp, real and very entertaining, and it’s always been a good idea to hear out talented people. ‘We would be thrilled if you would play Dr. Derek Shepherd,’ they said right off the bat. I was torn. Grey’s was a much better script; in fact, there was no comparison… (but) I chose Dr. Vegas. The odds were just too stacked.”

Patrick ‘McDreamy’ Dempsey was offered the part instead, who is obviously still roaming the halls of Seattle Grace Mercy West Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, while Dr. Vegas was cancelled after five episodes.

So in the spirit of ‘what could have been’, here a look at some other celebs who either turned down or were considered for an iconic role, but never came to fruition. Also please note my *superior* photoshopping skills

Jennifer Love Hewitt as Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother)

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Finale controversies aside, just think about Robin Scherbatsky played by anyone else but the talented Cobie Smulders. She’s gorgeous but still has that ‘hang with the guys’/tomboy attitude in her that was obviously instilled at a young age. Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas did a Reddit AMA back in February and they revealed that Jennifer Love Fefferman Hewitt was originally offered the role (which would have also made the whole cast extremely 90s throwback TV), but she decided to do The Ghost Whisperer instead. Thank GOD she declined the offer, because can you imagine if Robin Scherbatsky wasn’t Canadian?!

Katie Holmes as Buffy Summer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)

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To be honest, I’ve never watched a single episode of Buffy (I know, I know), but as avid readers of this blog, you might be familiar with my recent viewings of Dawson’s Creek, which is why it’s fascinating to me that Katie Holmes was almost chosen to be a kick-ass heroine. Katie turned the role down to go to high school, which was for the best. Besides getting a solid education, I bet it helped her to prepare to play a moody, annoying teen on TV.

Craig T. Nelson as Jay Pritchett (Modern Family)

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Do you watch Parenthood? If not, WHY and you should. Coach alum Craig T. Nelson plays the patriarch of the Braverman family, aka the family I would want to be in if ever given the option. That or the Taylors from another Katims show, Friday Night Lights. Anyways, before Parenthood, Craig was offered the role of Jay Pritchett, the patriarch on Modern Family. He apparently asked for too much money that ABC wasn’t willing to hand over, and ended up passing and taking Parenthood instead. While Craig is fantastic as Zeek Braverman, Ed O’Neill used his role as Jay to prove he’s not an idiot like on Married… With Children – and has three Emmy noms and three SAG Awards to prove it.

Gillian Anderson as Lady Cora (Downton Abbey)

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Listen, Lady Cora is probably my least favorite character on Downton (yes, that includes Edith and Thomas). But I feel like I would have maybe disliked her even more if Gillian Anderson hadn’t turned down the role (that eventually went to Mary McGovern). Both Mary and Gillian fall under the category of ‘American actresses or spend so much time in England they might as well be British’ (see: Madonna), but I don’t know, I just can’t see Gillian living in the world of Downton.

Pamela Anderson as Dana Scully (The X Files)

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Speaking of which, Chris Carter and the rest of The X Files team were originally looking for what  Gillian describes as “someone bustier, taller, leggier than me. They couldn’t fathom how David and me could equal success… At the beginning, nobody trusted that I could do anything”. Who knows whether Pamela Anderson went as far as auditioning but that show would’ve been completely different than what it turned out to be. And maybe even Californication: the Prequel.

Henry Winkler as Danny Zuko (Grease)

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Because, obviously.

John Travolta as Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

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Luckily Henry Winkler’s pass was a win for John Travolta, but later in life, he would be the passee (?) when he turned down the iconic movie role of Forrest Gump. John later admitted it was a mistake. Ya think? Apparently Bill Murray and Chevy Chase also turned down the role, which is just boggling to me, because like Pam Anderson as a possible Dana Scully, it would have completely changed the tone of the film. Not to mention, I don’t think the film winning so many Oscars – including Best Picture – would’ve been possible.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Cher Horowitz (Clueless)

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SMG had her chance to be the fashionable, lovable ditz of the 90210 zip code but had to turn it down because of scheduling conflicts with her stint on All My Children. Let’s be real, she would have been great in this role.

Bette Midler as Sister Mary Clarence (Sister Act)

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People make mistakes, as seen from pretty much everyone above. But I imagine it would be that much harder if you turn down a role that was not only written for you in mind, but went on to spawn a sequel and a classic for 90s kids everywhere.

I’ve made so many (mistakes). Oh my God, it’s all so tragic. But it’s best to forget those and put them behind me. Unfortunately, my husband never lets me forget them. There was Sister Act, which was written for me, but I said: ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.’ I don’t know where I got that from. Why would I say such a thing? So Whoopi [Goldberg] did it instead and, of course, she made a fortune. Then she went on and did Sister Act 2. I also didn’t do Misery and Kathy Bates won an Oscar for it. That’s not to say I would have. It was so violent and I had no relation to it. I was afraid. – Bette Midler {x}

Hey, like Tim Riggins says, No Regrets, y’all.

Tom Hanks as Jerry Maguire (Jerry Maguire)

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You know you’ve hit at least a moderate level of success when screenwriters write an entire movie with you in mind as the lead role. By the time Jerry Maguire came out in 1996, Tom Hanks had long-been an A-lister with two (consecutive) Oscars for Best Actor. So when you’re Tom Hanks, you have the luxury of turning down roles that are exceptional. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Tom Cruise) the timing wasn’t right for Hanks, as he was busy directing That Thing You Do (GREAT MOVIE) at the time. But everyone’s fave celeb admitted that the role was perfect for Tom Cruise, telling Access Hollywood, “I think you look at it now and it couldn’t have been anybody other than Tom Cruise. It’s the way the movie’s operated. I don’t think anybody would look at that now and say, ‘That movie was not perfect.'”

Tom Cruise as Ren McCormack (Footloose)

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Scheduling conflicts tend to be the big problem for high-demand actors, as Tom Cruise could’ve been Ren in dance musical Footloose, if it were not for his movie All the Right Moves. You know who had all the right moves? Kevin Bacon. God Bless America.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Dirk Diggler (Boogie Nights)

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Oh man this is probably the most disappointing of all, in terms of what um… is revealed in Boogie Nights. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some Mahky Mahk, but it could’ve been Leo. In 1997. That’s Titanic era, you guys. But Leo recognizes his mistake, admitting it’s the worst decision he made in his career to turn that role down. He told GQ, “I’m a huge fan of (director) Paul Thomas Anderson but the first time I met him for that role I hadn’t really seen much of his previous work. Now I love that movie.” At least these two were able to bring the hotness later in life to The Departed.

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Unexpected Stars of Elf

In November of 2003, I was a teenaged movie theater employee. In addition to sneaking ‘courtesy cups’ of popcorn and Oreo Cream Blast (TM) every shift and taking my friends to free movies, I’d pop into theaters during my breaks to watch some of the better films [ and sometimes, you know, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen or whatever.] I probably saw Elf five times during that ’03 holiday season – albeit in 15-minute snippets. Ten years on, I still love it just as much. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but Elf — eminently charming, extremely quotable, and in my view, one of the best Christmas movies of all time — was released ten years ago this month.

Everyone knows that Elf had some amazing writing and a great soundtrack, but I think the ensemble cast is a big reason that it holds up so well a decade later. Everybody knows Will Ferrell’s Buddy, of course. Elf was also one of the first times anyone noticed a pre-bangs Zooey Deschanel. There are others that everyone will remember: James Caan, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner, and Mary Steenburgen. But did you realize that all of these folks were in Elf, too? Some of them have been around for decades, and others became famous since Buddy took the journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.

Peter Dinklage — Miles Finch

In Elf: Dinklage played Miles Finch, a grumpy children’s book author and – in Buddy’s view – an “angry elf.”

Outside of Elf: These days, Peter Dinklage is earning major accolades for his work in Game of Thrones. You may also know him from his work as Marlowe Sawyer on Nip/Tuck, Stewart on 30 Rock, and my favorite, Peter Drunklage on SNL.

Faizon Love – Buddy’s Manager

In Elf: He’s the hardworking, exacting Gimbel’s manager who insists on six inch ribbon curls and wants to know why Buddy’s smiling like that. He would like Buddy to make work his new favorite.

Outside of Elf: Love has an extensive resume, mostly character work. Shane in Couples Retreat? That was him. The Perfect Holiday (a Queen Latifah vehicle)? Jamal. Reaching back to pre-Elf times, Faizon Love was Wendell Wilcox on The Parent ‘Hood and Big Worm in Friday.

Amy Sedaris — Deb

In Elf: Deb is Walter’s secretary, who likes to whisper and has such a pretty face, she should be on a Christmas card.

Outside of Elf: Sedaris, of the Comedy Sedarises, has a delightfully nutty sense of humor. My favorites are her Jerri Blank on Strangers with Candy, her great books on entertaining, and all of the stories in her brother David’s books where she wears wacky wigs and fatsuits to freak out their father.

Meghan Black — Elf

In Elf: Brief but memorable role in the Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins sequence.

Outside of Elf: She’s Atlanta on Clash of the Titans, Misty on Dead Like Me, and Kat on Edgemont. I don’t watch any of those, but a lot of people do.

Michael Lerner — Fulton

In Elf: The children’s book editor who affirms that even with those two pages, the book would have sucked.

Outside of Elf: You’ve definitely seen Lerner in one of his roles as a classy older guy. For instance: Mel Horowitz in the TV show version of Clueless, Rollie Simone on Hill Street Blues, and Arthur in Hart to Hart.

Will McCormack — Witness

In Elf: Just “Witness.” I seriously cannot remember Will McCormack being in Elf, for all the times I’ve seen it. Time for a re-watch!

Outside of Elf: Ethan in Brothers & Sisters, Skillz in Celeste and Jesse Forever (which he co-wrote with his ex, Rashida Jones), Robert O’Connor in In Plain Sight, and he’s directing an upcoming Chris Messina flick. Not too shabby for an unnamed Elf character.

Andy Richter — Morris

In Elf: Morris worked for Greenway Press, which between James Caan, Amy Sedaris, Peter Dinklage, and Andy Richter, is probably a lot more fun than the publisher I work for (which is GREAT don’t get me wrong fire me).

Outside of Elf: Andy Richter is best known as Conan’s sidekick (/Amy Poehler’s older brother). He’s also been a recurring actor on Arrested Development, voiced plenty of animated projects, appeared as Stan on The New Adventures of Old Christine, and had a memorable role on 30 Rock’s Ludachristmas episode (/Tina Fey’s older brother).

Leon Redbone — Snowman

In Elf: A snowman in the style of 60s Christmas specials, who keeps it real (“You’re 6’3 and had a beard since you were 15,” he tells Buddy).

Outside of Elf: You probably already know that Redbone wears a felt hat and big sunglasses, and has an oldtime-y, Vaudeville-y vibe, But did you know that his real name is Dickran? Dickran, is his name. Rough.

Jon Favreau — Doctor

In Elf: The doctor who doesn’t have any cotton balls any more.

Outside of Elf: I guess this is technically still quite Inside of Elf, but he directed it.

Peter Billingsly — Elf

In Elf: He informs Buddy that he’s pretty off-pace with that Etch-a-Sketch business. It’s almost like he was b0rn to be in Christmas movies.

Outside of Elf: Ralphie in A Christmas Story; an adult man who has to hear “you’ll shoot your eye out kid!” every time he is just trying to run to the grocery store to buy a damn carton of milk.

Actors That Have Tricked You Into Thinking They’re American

Listen, we can’t all have a keen ear about these things. It happens to the best of us. One minute, you’re trusting the hardass CIA deputy director to Claire Danes, and the next thing you know he’s a classically trained British chap, who (semi-spoiler?) may or may not be a bad guy . What’s with all these actors and their constant lying? Shouldn’t we have a right to know if the people on my TV are American citizens?!?

Well my friends, I’m here to help you find out the truth. We don’t deserved to be lied to any longer and it’s coming to an end right now.

Hugh Laurie

British <- click to reveal their real accents!

Let’s start off with a pretty obvious one. Most people know him from House. I didn’t really watch House, but I had seen him and his convicing dribble as a psychopathic doctor. But when House became really popular, I realized I had seen Hugh Laurie before his breakout role. BECAUSE – he was the guy who sat next to Rachel Green on the plane when she was heading to London to break up Ross’s wedding. Hugh Laurie saying “Pheebs” is all you need in life.

Idris Elba

British

tall drink of water, amirite ladies??

First of all, smokeshow. Second of all, I was introduced to Idris when he was guest starring on The Office as Charles Miner. Incidentally, the gals of the office all fawned on him, especially Kelly & Angela (for some reason) that it was like they were thinking exactly what every woman at home was thinking. Then I found out he is British and it made him even hotter.

Ed Westwick

British

“I’m Chuck Bass.” Now imagine that with a British accent. The part was always an American, but when Ed came in, as seen in the video linked above, they asked him to use his natural accent as well. And for some reason, it’s just so much better as an America.

Damian Lewis

British

Nick Brody, terrorist? If you’re not caught up with Homeland, I won’t answer that question. But one thing we d know is that while he may not be a terrorist, he’s most certainly not originally from the U.S. And to make your mind blown even more, he’s married to Helen McCrory, the woman who played Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter!

David Harewood

British

This lit’rally blew my mind when I found out he wasn’t an American. I mean the deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism department isn’t actually from the U.S.?! Isn’t that illegal or something? This dude went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. No wonder he’s successfully tricked us into thinking he’s one of us.

Matthew Rhys

Welsh

Oh Kevin Walker. You were 1/2 of one of my fave gay TV couples of all time with Scott MacFarlane’s Scotty Wandell. After five seasons with the crazy Walker family in California, he moved on to being a Russian spy in the 1980s with Felicity in The Americans. He’s played such convincing Americans that I still can’t believe his accent when he starts talking.

Rachel Griffiths

Australian

Speaking of Brothers and Sisters, Matthew’s on-screen sister is also not born and bred in Southern California. Her other iconic roles in Six Feet Under and the cousin in My Best Friend’s Wedding were so flawlessly American that I legit almost forgot to to put her on this list.

Kevin McKidd

Scottish

McDream, McSteamy, McKidd? Surprise – Cristina Yang’s on-again, off-again hubby has a seriously thick Scottish accent. Like they recruited him to be a voice in Brave.

Jesse Spencer

Australian

Hugh Laurie wasn’t the only trickster on House. Smokeshow Jesse Spencer is now off being a smokeshow in Chicago Fire. He doesn’t even have to talk to get my attention. SIDENOTE: JESSE PLAYS VIOLIN.  AND SINGS. LIKE LEGIT. HELLO?!

Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen

British & Australian

What’s more American that being a country music star? Nothing (ok, maybe being President.). Which is why I feel jipped knowing that Nashville’s power couple are BOTH not ‘Mericans!

Tammin Sursok & Sasha Pieterse

Australian & South African

These two don’t really get along on Pretty Little Liars,  but they do have one thing in common – they’re not originally from the U.S. Maybe that’s part of the reason why they’re toururing the PLLs??! Could they actually be working together? OMG  I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON IN THIS SHOW.

Georgia King

British

Most convincing American accent by a female actress goes to Georgia King in The New Normal – RIP. You should’ve watched it when we told you to.

Dominic West

British

I’m currently watching The Wire for the first time, and did not put it together that Dominic West, who plays Jimmy McNulty on the show, is the same guy from 300, John Carter, and The Hour. AND he’s British? Never would’ve guessed.