Regret You Turned Down a Role? Or Glad You Did?

September 7, 2015

Ouch! Sometimes it’s gotta hurt when in retrospect you realize you’ve made a potentially career-impacting mistake by turning down a role. But it’s virtually impossible to sidestep mistakes when it comes to accepting or declining roles. Taking a part because it pays well may prove to be costly in the long run if the project dramatically tanks; type casting might be a blessing in your career, but in some cases accepting an ongoing series of type-cast roles could threaten to pigeon-hole your job path; and turning down a low-paying job could be the one that paves your acting competitor’s prolific career. In other words, you just never know what is the best career decision until time passes, and it becomes clear one way or another. If it’s any comfort at all, you are not alone in this challenge. Indeed, many actors regret passing on iconic roles. And then there are the actors who are grateful they didn’t grab everything that came their way. Here are some examples of actors who either regret or celebrate the decisions they’ve made.

Actors who regret passing on roles

Well, this list is quite long, if not endless. But let’s just mention a few.

Christina Applegate regrets her decision to pass on the desirable role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. She said, “The script came along my way, and it was right after I just finished ‘Married [with Children]’ and it was, you know, a blonde who…ends up going to Harvard. And…I got scared. I got scared of kind of repeating myself.” After playing the infamous Kelly Bundy, she hesitated in getting type cast as a ditzy blonde. Reese Witherspoon went on to land the part which is considered her breakthrough role.

Will Smith had mixed feelings after he’d passed on the role of Neo in The Matrix. Although he was the director’s first choice, eventually the part went to Keanu Reeves. Smith admits he “didn’t understand” the pitch of the film, insisting he would have “absolutely messed up ‘The Matrix.'” But the megastar was minimally hurt by his decision overall as he went on to star in several blockbuster films, and has been ranked as the most bankable star worldwide by Forbes magazine.

Tom Selleck passed on the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark because he signed a contract to star in Magnum P.I. and he wasn’t ready to do a Hollywood movie at that time. Sadly, after choosing to stick with Magnum,  Selleck admits he was “haunted” by his decision because the writers’ strike delayed the production of the popular TV show for several months which, in hindsight, would have provided Selleck time to finish filming the action-adventure film. The part, however, went to Harrison Ford and is ranked among the greatest films of all time in its genre. (You can see Selleck’s screen test below.)

Denzel Washington turned down the part of David Mills in Se7en which later went to Brad Pitt. When offered the role, Washington explains he thought, “Ah, this is so dark. Then, I saw the movie, and cried.”

Burt Reynolds considers passing on the role of Hans Solo in Star Wars as the biggest mistake in his career. In his case, he blames it on his agent. That being said, years later he went on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Boogie Nights–a role that Warren Beatty passed on. Beatty likewise passed on lead roles in Misery, Wall Street, and The Sting.

Actors who are glad they passed on roles

Game of ThronesEmilia Clarke was considered a fan favorite to play the controversial Anastasia Steele in the highly anticipated film Fifty Shades of Grey. But when offered the part, Clarke declined. She stands by her decision, asserting, “I’d done nudity before, and was concerned with being labeled for doing it again.” Taking her chances on Games of Thrones proved to be a good move; the HBO series went on to be network’s most successful show in its history.

If Aaron Eckhart had known 34 actors had passed on the role of the monster of I, Frankenstein, maybe he’d have passed on the part as well. The action-horror film took $65 million to make, but brought in a measly $8.6 million in the first weekend’s box office. The 34 actors who listened to their instincts and passed on the part are surely happy with their decisions. Whereas Eckhart, who was falsely assured that he was production’s first and only choice to play Frankenstein in their film, confessed to “never feeling this depressed.” He stated, “I should have suspected the producers were lying, since they also told me Frankenstein’s monster helping gargoyles fight demons was a good idea.” Among the actors who passed on playing the iconic monster are Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Matthew McConaughey, Daniel Day Lewis, and Chris Hemsworth.

Mark Wahlberg was reportedly “creeped out” by the sexual content in Brokeback Mountain, and thus turned down the role that Heath Ledger went on to play. But does he regret it? Apparently not; he once told Larry King, “I don’t really have the one role [that got away.] Actually, I have dodged more bullets. I passed on things that were tempting–especially for the money.”

An actor who came ever so close to turning down a role, but now is celebrating that he took it

Chris Evans was very hesitant to sign on the line of his Marvel contract. When the Marvel studio was being formed, the idea that the company was going to produce its own movies triggered skepticism. It goes without saying that the company succeeded brilliantly with record-setting box office returns. Now reflecting how close he came to turning down the lead role of Captain America, Evans says, “Listen, if Marvel wants me, they got me….I’ve never had such a relationship where you have such–I mean look at my resume, I’m used to being on set being like, ‘Ah, is this movie gonna be terrible?’ Marvel just can’t stop making great movies….It’s like a playground as an actor.”

Actors are celebrated for not just their talent, but for their overall body of work. Part of the actor’s job is to choose roles wisely–not always such an easy task. This is where strong intuition and good, old-fashioned luck come into play. Of course, when you’re starting out pretty much any job is worth grabbing. But there comes a time when refining your decisions and strategy come into play. Should you take or pass on that part in a particular student film, theater piece, soap opera, or commercial? Are you always being cast as the same type? That may or may not be working for you. And are you comfortable with the roles being offered to you? Only you can answer these questions along your acting journey.

Here is a list of actors ranked by their body of work in the entertainment industry.