Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for 100 LIVES
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for 100 LIVES

11 Movies That Could Have Starred George Clooney

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for 100 LIVES
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for 100 LIVES

Today, George Clooney is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. But that wasn’t always the case. Clooney—the son of anchorman/television host Nick Clooney, and nephew of singer/actress Rosemary Clooney—spent years toiling in what he considered the semi-obscurity that was television in the 1980s and early 1990s. After playing handyman George Burnett for 17 episodes of The Facts of Life and Wellman Plastics foreman Booker Brooks on Roseanne, his big break came with the role of Dr. Doug Ross on ER. But even in the years since then, not every role has worked out for Clooney, as evidenced by these casting tales.

1. THELMA & LOUISE (1991)

Clooney auditioned multiple times for the part of J.D., but lost the role to Brad Pitt. Clooney was so upset about losing the part that he went out of his way to not see the movie. “The funniest thing is, I didn’t watch that movie for a long time,” Clooney remembered 20 years later at a Telluride Film Festival Q&A in 2011. “I was really stuck doing a lot of bad TV at that time. And I had auditioned and auditioned, and it got right down to Brad and I, and he got it. And I just couldn’t watch that movie for a couple of years.” When Clooney finally saw the film, he concluded that Pitt "was really good in it, and I would have f***ed it up somehow.”


Quentin Tarantino had specifically asked for Clooney to audition after seeing him in the straight-to-video film Red Surf (1989), in which Clooney played a drug dealing surfer. The actor admitted that he blew it, saying: “I didn’t get it because I gave a bad audition.” It couldn’t have been too terrible; in 1996, Clooney got the opportunity to star alongside Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn, from a script by Tarantino.

3. DRACULA (1992)

Clooney told Esquire that he auditioned for Francis Ford Coppola in the voice of a Kentucky hillbilly (he was born and raised in Kentucky): "This goddamn Dracula thing's comin' in here, comin' down this here slide and blowin' up like a ball-a-fire!” Coppola called Clooney’s agent and asked if there was something mentally wrong with him.


Guarding Tess starred Shirley MacLaine as a former First Lady and Nicolas Cage as an exasperated Secret Service agent. Clooney remembered auditioning for the film as a humbling lesson when he spoke to The New York Times in 2002: “You can't help it sometimes. I was on ER and I was trying to not just do TV. For years, before ER, I was very successful in television. I was making $40,000 a week, and still I could not get an audition for two lines in a movie called Guarding Tess. All along, I had thought of myself as a film actor doing television, but at some point you have to face reality: I was a TV actor.”

5. JACK FROST (1998)

Originally, the plan was for Clooney to star as the titular musician who dies in a car crash on Christmas and comes back to life as a snowman. But Clooney and director Sam Raimi dropped out, and Michael Keaton and director Troy Miller stepped in. Clooney left so late in the process that there wasn’t enough time for the snowman’s head to be completely changed to resemble Keaton instead of Clooney. "Once it became Michael Keaton, we didn't change the head completely," one of the movie’s puppeteers and designated ‘performance coordinator’ explained. “We did some signature things to the chin and to the lips because Michael Keaton has this little mouth and talks out of the front of his mouth."

6. WILD WILD WEST (1999)

Clooney signed up to play Artemus Gordon in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed film alongside Will Smith. Kevin Kline ended up playing Gordon in the critically-panned movie. Clooney was diplomatic in his official explanation for why he changed his mind. “We knew going into this that to make it work would be a stretch, but the opportunity to work with Will [Smith] and Barry [Sonnenfeld] was too exciting to pass up. Ultimately, we all decided that rather than damage this project trying to retrofit the role for me, it was better to step aside and let them get someone else.”

7. SIDEWAYS (2004)

Writer/director Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt) met Clooney when he was casting for Sideways, a movie which was destined to star Thomas Haden Church as Jack, the unsuccessful actor, and Paul Giamatti as the writer/wine connoisseur Miles. Clooney wanted to play Jack. Payne liked Clooney, but didn’t think anyone would believe that “the most handsome and successful movie actor is the most loser TV actor. I didn’t want that to be the joke.” Clooney recalled Payne telling him he was under serious consideration before never calling. In 2011, Payne cast Clooney in The Descendants.


In Garrison Keillor’s introduction to the published screenplay, he wrote that Robert Altman (MASH, Gosford Park) opted for the public radio host and Lake Wobegon creator over Clooney. “I put in the announcer, pulling his pants on, trying to tell a story of how he got into radio and being interrupted by others. I wrote the part for George Clooney, who I thought was interested and who moviegoers would have enjoyed watching put his pants on, but Mr. Altman had let me know that he had cast me in the role.”

9. ARGO (2012)

Clooney ended up winning his second Oscar (the first was for Best Supporting Actor for 2005's Syriana) for producing 2013's Best Picture, but he had initially intended to star as CIA agent Tony Mendez, before scheduling conflicts with The Ides of March (2011) forced him to hand the project over to Ben Affleck. "I was doing Ides of March and gave [Argo] to Ben because we were ready to shoot," Clooney told the New York Post's Page Six.

10. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

While director Steven Soderbergh was still involved with the film adaptation of the 1960s spy series, Clooney was forced to drop out because he needed back surgery. Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) ended up behind the camera.


Because Batman & Robin (1997) was a critical and commercial failure, the intended next installment in the superhero series was canceled. Clooney had signed on for Triumphant; however, he said he approached Adam West (star of the original Batman TV series) at the 2015 New York Comic-Con and apologized for “ruining” Batman, and for the nipples on his Batsuit.

Getty Images
10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
Getty Images
Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.


After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”


In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.


When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.


“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”


Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...


Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."


When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.


In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.


For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.


Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

Evan Agostini, Getty Images
15 Wonderfully Wise Quotes From Judy Blume
Evan Agostini, Getty Images
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Judy Blume was the queen of the YA novel before the concept even existed, inspiring generations of passionate fans—and a fair share of dissenters—in her nearly 50-year career. Here are just a few of our favorite thoughts about books, writing, and life from the iconic author, who turns 80 years old today.


“I’ll tell you what I make of that—that censors, those who want to censor, they don’t come after books until they know that kids really like them, and once kids like a book, it’s like, ‘There must be something wrong with this book, because why do the kids like it.’ You look at the banned books and you’ll see that they’re popular books with kids.”

— From a 2012 interview with PBS


“But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

— From Blume's official website


“Yes, I was a great daydreamer. You know what I worry about? I worry that kids today don't have enough time to just sit and daydream. I was a great pretender, always making up stories inside my head. Stories and stories and stories, but I never told anyone.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


"Everybody who writes fiction draws from their own life, but if it ended there, it would be very boring. When I talk to kids and they say, 'How do you become a writer?', well, I don't know that you become a writer: you just are. I always had stories, they were always there inside my head."

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian


"Writing saved my life. It saved me, it gave me everything, it took away all my illnesses.”

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian


“I don't understand the creative process. For years I would say one thing when kids would ask where I got my ideas. Because I was forced to think up something even though I don't really know. And now I'm just saying to people, 'I don't know. I don't understand how it works. How do I know?'”

— From an interview with January Magazine


"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in—the first couple of times, anyway—and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going."

— From a 2011 interview with NPR


“[My husband] George and I listened … to the first Hunger Games and we loved it. And we couldn’t wait to get my car and come home. And when we came home, I’m not sure if we’d quite finished, and we sat in the car until we finished. I did not read any of the others. I had no interest in Twilight. But I did see the first movie.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCRW


“I like it. It’s a tremendous—I don’t want to say waste of time, but it also … what can I say? I enjoy reading the people I follow and discovering new people. It’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of laughs from it. And it connects you; it’s nice.”

— From a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair


“Whatever gets them excited about reading is good! If you want them to read my books don't tell them so. Maybe just leave around a paperback with a new cover and say, 'I'm not sure you're ready for that.'"

— From a 2013 Reddit AMA


“I was so inspired by Beverly Cleary's funny and wonderful books. And also, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. And E. L. Konigsberg's first book, Jennifer Hecate. And my favorite books from when I was young, the Betsy-Tacy books.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


“Margaret is fiction, but based on the kind of twelve year old I was. Growing up, we did have a club like The PTKs. And Margaret's interests and concerns were similar to mine. I was small and thin when thin wasn't in. I was a late developer and was anxious to grow like my friends. Margaret was right from my own sixth grade experience. I wanted to tell the truth as I knew it.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


“I’ve never really thought in terms of taboos. I think that books can really help parents and kids talk together about difficult subjects. I’ve always felt that way. The parent reads the book. The kid reads the book and then they can talk about the characters instead of talking about themselves. You know there’s a connection even if you don’t talk about it when you read the same books.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCR


“I’m phobic about thunderstorms. Writing is incredibly hard for me. I’m not the world’s best mother, though kids always assume I must be. And I love a good cupcake. (I know, that makes four things, but I’m hungry and wishing I had that cupcake.)”

— From a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine


"I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, 'Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is.' No, I don't want to rewrite any of them."

— From a 2018 interview with NPR


More from mental floss studios