Urban myths abound around many roles that were offered to and turned down by any number of Hollywood actors-from major players to virtual unknowns and everybody in between. According to the very entertaining and well-researched book The Greatest Movies Everhere are a few of the more notable role reversals.
Marlon Brando was first choice over Peter O'Toole for Lawrence of Arabia.
Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson all turned down the role of Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. The role eventually went to Martin Sheen and garnered him critical acclaim---and a heart attack.
Now here's a stretch---Frank Sinatra instead of Brando in On the Waterfront. Given the Chairman's known affiliation with the mob this might have been too much a case of art imitating life. Brando took home the Oscar for his performance.
In my opinion one of the reasons that Dustin Hoffman works so well in the title role of The Graduate is he is so ordinary, so 'everyman'. He seems like he really could have got into this situation without knowing how. The original choice for the role was the genetically blessed Robert Redford. Even with Redford's fine acting skills I would have found it hard to see him as the bemused and befuddled Ben Braddock.
Imagine a brunette Lara in Dr. Zhivago---Sophia Loren was considered by David Lean to be too tall for her co-star Omar Sharif and the role went instead to the petite Julie Christie.
Author Peter Benchley wanted an all star cast including Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen in the film adaptation of his book Jaws. Spielberg wanted Lee Marvin as shark hunter Quint. I'm not sure where they would have put all that star power. There were only three major roles (four if you count the shark). The roles as we know, went to Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfus.
Can you imagine anybody else other than Jack Nicholson as McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? James Caan anybody?
Harrison Ford became one of the most iconic heroes of our time as Indiana Jones after Tom Selleck could not get time away from his Magnum P.I. duties.
Alec Baldwin turned down the title role in The Fugitive and Harrison Ford stepped in. Not the first time that Ford took over a role from him. Baldwin also declined to reprise the role of Jack Ryan from The Hunt for Red October. Ford played the role twice more in Patriot Games, and a Clear and Present Danger.
At the age of 60 Cary Grant turned down the role of - wait for it ---James Bond!
A role which as everybody knows, went to Sean Connery.
But did you know that Sean was first choice for Gandalf? Rumor has it they wanted him so badly they offered him 15% of world wide sales, an amount that could have been in the low 9 figures! That's 300 to 400 MILLION dollars!!! Mr. Connery, who has never read the LOTR trilogy, is quoted as saying 'he didnt understand the script'. He is also quoted as saying of his refusal ' it was a big mistake'.