Star Wars famously takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and this week we found out about a parallel universe of casting in the film series. Neil Calloway looks at the actors who didn’t star in films, but could have…
The news that Michael Jackson wanted to play Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels is bizarre, and I can’t quite decide whether he would have improved the character or completely ruined the franchise with his appearance. Perhaps the most interesting part is that Jackson wanted the character to be created with make up and prosthetics – he worked with make up genius Rick Baker on the video for Thriller – rather than the CGI preferred by Lucas. There are many, many issues with the Star Wars prequels, but one of them is the over reliance on computer effects on practical effects. So maybe Jackson had a point and he would have saved the franchise.
Oddly, he wasn’t the only musical artist rumoured to have been lined up for a role in the films. You have to search dusty, forgotten corners of the internet, but there are remnants of the false story that Bono – yes, the artist formerly known as Paul Hewson, lead singer of U2 – was going to play a poet at the Royal Court of Alderaan – in the prequels. No doubt his character would be arguing for rich planets to give more money in aid to poor planets in the Outer Rim territories.
NSync – or a few of their members, at least – were given cameos in Attack of the Clones, but these didn’t make the final cut, whether this was because of the negative reaction when the news was leaked, or because their cameos just didn’t fit, is unclear. George Lucas has committed worse crimes against his own series than putting a boyband in one scene.
As well as the alternative universe where Michael Jackson plays the most reviled character in the galaxy, the original Star Wars could have looked very different. Christopher Walken auditioned to play Han Solo, which would have led to a very different film. Next time you’re having a drunken late night YouTube session, check out Kevin Spacey’s impression of Walken doing Han Solo’s speech about how the Millennium Falcon can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Kurt Russell’s audition for the part has made its way on to YouTube. Snake Plissken frozen in carbonite does sound like it might have worked.
Elsewhere in this parallel universe of alternate casting is a world where The Terminator films star OJ Simpson; he was considered for the role before it was decided that he wasn’t believable as a cold blooded killer. In 1995, a jury would agree with them. In Last Action Hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger finds himself in a video store, looking at an advert for Terminator 2 where the title role is played by Sylvester Stallone.
Eric Stoltz was actually cast as Marty McFly in the first Back to the Future film, but was replaced after a few days, which begs the question if he had completed the film would Michael J. Fox have played a drug dealer in Pulp Fiction? If Matthew Modine hadn’t turned down the role of Maverick in Top Gun, would he have become a Scientologist?
Recasting parts in animated movies is obviously easier; Colin Firth was originally cast as the animated title character in Paddington, before being replaced by Ben Whishaw. More recently almost the entire cast of the forthcoming The Good Dinosaur were replaced, with only Frances McDormand surviving the extinction event that wiped out the rest of the original cast.
It’s entirely possible that Bill Murray as Han Solo would have worked, or Tom Selleck would have been great as Indiana Jones (looking into alternative casting possibilities you realise just how lucky Harrison Ford has been), but it feels like the films that do exist are the right ones; the best possible films that could have been made.
If you ever fancy winning a drink from your friends, just bet them that they cannot name the first actor who was offered the role of John McClane in Die Hard. If they say Schwarzenegger, they’re wrong. He was the second. The answer comes when you realise that the book the film is based on, Nothing Lasts Forever, is a sequel to a 1966 novel called The Detective, which was made into a film in 1968 that starred Frank Sinatra, and the studio were contractually obliged to offer him the role, even though he was over 70 at the time. Bruce Willis must be glad he turned it down.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.