11 Notable Actors' Screen Tests for Famous Roles
Thanks to the miracle of concept art and screen tests, there’s an alternate dimension of blockbusters where Nic Cage was Superman, Jeremy Sisto has Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, and a Sam Kinison biopic dominated the box office.
1. Nicolas Cage, Tim Burton’s Superman
Tim Burton tried to make a Superman feature starring Nicolas Cage with a script by Kevin Smith (the film had a number of scripts over the years, most of which—including Smith’s—drew from the classic Death of Superman storyline). The failed feature was set to be called Superman Lives.
2. Eric Stoltz, Back to the Future
Eighties hunk Eric Stoltz didn’t just screen test for Robert Zemeckis’ beloved Back to the Future franchise—he was actually cast in the role of Marty McFly and filmed for several weeks. Stoltz’s work as Marty ultimately didn’t work for the film, and the creative team decided to replace him with Fox. Some of Stoltz's footage was included on the film’s 25th anniversary home release.
3. Tom Selleck, Raiders of the Lost Ark
Tom Selleck was all set to play Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but had to turn the part down because of Magnum PI's filming schedule. The eventual 1980 writers' strike pushed back the Magnum shoot all the way to December, meaning that Selleck could have done both.
4. Kurt Russell, Star Wars
Harrison Ford is a lucky man. Four years before he took up Indy’s hat and whip, he beat out yet another big star for one of his calling card roles. Kurt Russell was once in the mix to star in Star Wars as Han Solo, but director George Lucas was already stuck on Ford’s talents—discovered when Ford was working as a carpenter at Lucas’ house, leading to Ford's roles in American Graffiti and the Star Wars series.
5. Robert De Niro, The Godfather
While Robert De Niro went on to snag a part in The Godfather Part II and win an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone, the actor was first up for a pair of roles in The Godfather. The then-unknown actor auditioned for both Sonny Corleone and Michael Corleone. He was, however, close to taking on the role of Carlo, before having to back out to star in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Director Francis Ford Coppola didn’t hold it against him, though, and allowed him back for the second film.
6. Marlon Brando, Rebel Without a Cause
Though Rebel Without a Cause now seems like the definitive James Dean performance, the role could have gone to Marlon Brando. Well, sort of. While James Dean starred in the 1955 Nicholas Ray film, the drama made the rounds in Hollywood for years before it finally morphed into the version we know today. When Rebel was first getting passed around Hollywood, Warner Bros. tried to drum up interest in both the unfinished script and Brando’s acting acumen, using a short screen test with Brando working his way through the material to get some buzz going.
7. Jeremy Sisto, Titanic
Somewhere, somehow, there exists a world where Jeremy Sisto has starred in all of Leonardo DiCaprio’s blockbuster film roles. Hey, it could have happened, especially if Sisto had won the role of Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s monster ship hit. Sisto’s take on the hero of the film was a bit more, well, sweet than DiCaprio’s spin on the material, but that’s not what really mattered in the end—it was Kate Winslet’s insistence that DiCaprio be cast opposite her.
8. Brad Pitt, Backdraft
Brad Pitt’s star-making turn in Thelma & Louise almost didn’t happen, simply because it was actor William Baldwin who was originally set to play the role of JD. Baldwin, however, jettisoned his Thelma role to take on the part of Brian McCaffrey in 1991’s firefighting brother drama, Backdraft, a part that almost went to Pitt. (Pitt auditioned for the part, as did Robert Downey, Jr., but Baldwin emerged victorious. Both Pitt and Downey made out okay.)
9. Dan Fogler, Sam Kinison Biopic
Tony Award-winning actor Dan Fogler has made a nice big screen career for himself with supporting roles in funny films, but Fogler would have been aces playing the ill-fated comedian in a planned biopic that never quite panned out. Fogler is electric in this screen test for the film (called Brother Sam back when it was actually going to happen), as he nails Kinison’s manic energy and in-your-face style in a way that never seems like a basic impression or parody.
10. Scarlett Johansson, Jumanji
Scarlett Johansson and Kirsten Dunst were both up for the same tween role in Jumanji, with Dunst eventually getting the part. Johansson’s test for the role is surprisingly serious and mature, and she sure doesn’t seem as flighty and terrified as Dunst’s Judy ended up being in the final film.
11. Henry Cavill, Superman: Flyby
Let's bring it all back to the Man of Steel. Brit actor Henry Cavill may be the big screen’s newest Superman, but before he starred in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, he almost starred as the same be-tighted superhero in McG’s Superman: Flyby, which never actually got off the ground. Cavill was first attached to star in the film in 2004, but the feature was eventually reworked into Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. He'll star in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel alongside Ben Affleck’s Batman.
Primary photo courtesy of NY Daily News