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Top Ten Almost Cast TV Roles

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Posted March 1, 2013 by Dave Higgins in Ramp Lists

In an alternate world, every movie or show you ever watched had a different cast. OJ Simpson was The Terminator and Tom Selleck was really Indiana Jones. Most sane people wouldn’t want to live in these Bizarro Worlds, but it sure is fun speculating about what could’ve been. Or what nearly was, as some of the most iconic roles on modern TV were originally bookmarked for some very big, very surprising names. Here are our nine Top Ten Almost Cast TV Roles.

 

9. Michael Keaton is Dr. Jack Shephard on Lost

 

Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice was actually just one long audition tape for the role of Dr. Jack Shephard and Michael Keaton nailed it, and the Jackface, with visage-bending aplomb.

The above sentence may be pure fabrication but Keaton was genuinely due to play the resident gurning spinal surgeon back when J.J. Abrams had planned to channel his inner Hitchcock by killing his leading man in

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the pilot. Studio ABC guffawed in horror at the idea, and Keaton, who didn’t want to be in a TV series, bowed out.

Hindsight can be a cruel mistress and it certainly was for Keaton here. He sputtered through performances in Herbie: Fully Loaded and Cars before starting a mini-revival as Ken in Toy Story 3 and a TLC quoting captain in The Other Guys. And while we got the best TV drinking game of all time out of Matthew Fox’s flexi-face, we were denied the verbal sparring of Keaton’s Shephard and Josh Holloway’s Sawyer. Not cool.

 

8. John Hawkes is The Governor on The Walking Dead

 

This writer doesn’t watch The Walking Dead, having checked out after the first season when the challenge of separating actors from the extras shuffling around became too tough, and the plot holes were bigger than the voids left in the back of the walkers’ skulls from a point blank shotgun blast.

But if John Hawkes had been added to the roster, it would have been a different story. Originally earmarked to take the position of The Governor, maniacal leader and resident bit-of-a-shit, Seth Bullock’s former hardware store partner passed it up, stating, ‘They offered me the role, and I just felt that someone there would be someone else who could do it better.’

Really, John? Do you own a copy of Winter’s Bone on Blu-ray? Have you seen yourself in Martha Marcy May Marlene?

 

7. Thomas Jane is Don Draper on Mad Men

Here’s a grim universe to contemplate: one without Hamm. No Jon Hamm’s John Ham. No Hamm and Bublé.

Baffling as it to comprehend, Hamm was once the archetypal actor waiting tables and trying to make it in Hollywood — a lot of his early roles came through his partner Jennifer Westfeldt. When AMC decided to start their own original programming with Mad Men, they wanted a big name for the lead, and Hamm was far from that.

Hamm auditioned eight times before people started to get it, but the studio wanted Thomas Jane. Luckily for the world they were told that Tom Jane ‘doesn’t do TV.’

Thomas Jane was last seen as a male prostitute on cancelled HBO show Hung. But hey, it wasn’t TV, it was HBO. Loophole.

 

6. John C. Reilly is Jimmy McNulty on The Wire

Strangely, considering just how good he was in The Wire, Dominic West was the third in line to play everyone’s favourite womanising, Jameson-swigging cop. The role was first offered to Ray Winstone — he turned it down to avoid uprooting his family from England — before being passed on to John C. Reilly.

At that time, Reilly was a staple in early Paul Thomas Anderson movies and other dramas, and hadn’t really branched out into the comedic juggernaut we know today. Had he decided to join rank with Bunk, Freamon, Kima and Daniels in the Special Case Unit in Baltimore, there’s every chance there’d be no Walk Hard, Dr. Steve Brule, Step Brothers or Wreck-It Ralph. I don’t want to know what that world looks like, and I hope you don’t either.

 

5. Pamela Anderson is Dana Scully on The X-Files

You may challenge the veracity of this one, but RTÉ and The Times say it’s legit so we’re willing to go with it.

This is probably the most farcical of them all. Pam was choice du jour with producers to partner with David Duchovny. Yes, Pam was to play the play the hyper-intellegent sceptic Dana Scully. The same Scully who received a medical doctorate from Stanford and whose thesis was called Einstein’s Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation. This would have been pushing it even by Denise ‘I thought Christmas only comes once a year’ Richard’s nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough standards.

 

4. Ed O’Neill is Al Swearengen on Deadwood

Deadwood creator David Milch apparently knows something we don’t about Ed O’Neill. The man we recognise as Al Bundy and his slightly paunchier, mellowed out reincarnation on Modern Family was originally earmarked to play the rusted silver tongued whore-house entrepreneur and de-facto leader of the South Dakota camp, Al Swearengen.

Powers Boothe ended up being a more satisfying choice for HBO but had drop out due to illness, leaving the world’s premier scampish antique dealer to trade bargain hunting for bloodletting and verbosely vulgar soliloquies.

 

3. Anthony LaPaglia is Tony Soprano on The Sopranos

When David Chase was shopping around his crime epic The Sopranos, he almost made a deal with CBS, home of CSI and NCIS, but for one snag. Too violent? Nope, they welcomed the blood and beatings. If only Chase could’ve knocked all that psychiatry mumbo jumbo on the head.

Had he conceded the crux of his show to get green-lit, Anthony LaPaglia was waiting in the wings to play the baron of the Bada Bing. Praise be the CBS execs so. Gandolfini’s performance as Soprano — so wonderful at endearing you to him and then punishing you for doing so with a sick act — became the blueprint for Don Draper, Nucky Thompson, Walter White, Vick Mackey and Nicholas Brody.

 

2. Tom Selleck is Mitch Buchannon on Baywatch

This, strangely, really works. Selleck was no stranger to strolling around in his all glory on the island of Oahu in Magnum, P.I. An early retirement for him and that phenomenal flavour saver patrolling the beaches of LA would’ve made sense. After being offered the role, the man with the majestic mouth mane declined, offering this excuse that he didn’t want to be considered a sex symbol. I think it was a bit late for that, Tommy.

Side note, imagine for a moment Selleck dons the red trunks and helps C.J Parker and Eddie Kramer thwart sharks, serial killers and even nuclear bombs. Does this mean that The Hoff follows Selleck’s post Magnum, P.I. trajectory? Does he co-star as dreamy Dr. Richard Burke in Friends? How badly does this affect Monica’s future relationship issues when she comes home to find Richard and Joey drunk, shirtless and eating meatball subs on her bathroom floor?

 

1. Matthew Broderick is Walter White on Breaking Bad

Ferris Bueller is the danger? Inspector Gadget is the one who knocks? Simba grows up to sport a pathetic tache and a porkpie hat? Sacrilege.

Much like HBO who shied away from casting Ed O’Neill as Al Swearengen in Deadwood, AMC executives were terrified of the idea of casting Hal from Malcolm In The Middle, frequently seen in hideous tightey-whities while having his back shaved, as the man who would one day become the Albuquerque Tony Montana.

Where the usually pugnacious Milch was KOed, Vince Gilligan threw up his dukes — highlighting an episode of The X-Files he wrote where Cranston played an anti-semitic man whose head would explode if he didn’t head West at a very fast pace — and got lucky when both Matthew Broderick and John Cusack bowed out on the role of a lifetime.

No doubt deliberately, and wonderfully, Cranston’s beastly briefs that made AMC so apprehensive became the go-to attire for RV meth-cooking White in early seasons.


About the Author

Dave Higgins


  • http://www.landigan.com/ Landigan

    John Hawkes is one of the best actors working. I think the Walking Dead might have ruined him. (I also dropped it after one season.)

    • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

      I can’t speak for The Walking Dead, but I’m 100% with you on John Hawkes. Ridiculously talented, versatile actor.

    • Dave Higgins

      Very true and I fully agree. It might well just have been the egregious blot on an otherwise immaculate copybook.

  • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

    I think Ian McShane was a revelation as Swearengen, but I reckon Ed O’Neill wouldn’t have been bad in the role. There’s something quietly deranged about him.

    I’m surprised they didn’t just get Garret Dillahunt to do it. He played two roles in Deadwood as it was; a third would have been nothing to him.

    • Dave Higgins

      Garret Dillahunt needs to start a one-man show. The guy is absolutely phenomenal. One of the top 27%ers around.

      • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

        Garret Dillahunt Appreciation Society badges for all!

  • http://twitter.com/jennyfoxe Jenny Foxe

    I want to see an episode of the X-Files with Pamela as Scully. Mulder’s frustration would amuse me.

  • Brian

    There was a rumour going around a few years ago that Edward James Olmos had declined the role of Capt. Janeway in Star Trek:Voyager (imagine Cmdr. Odama in the Delta Quadrant, series wouldn’t have lasted past the pilot). Turns out that was wrong, he turned down the captain’s chair in TNG (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Performers_considered_for_Star_Trek_roles#Edward_James_Olmos). Can’t decide what would be more awesome, the Picard we got, or Capt. Gaff.

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