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15 Surprising Actors Considered for Star Wars

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It’s been more than 40 years since George Lucas and director Brian De Palma opened their communal casting sessions for Star Wars and Carrie, pooling their resources in a combined search for actors who could carry either Lucas’s space opera or De Palma’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel.

Obviously, the Lucas cast—led by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher—worked out just fine. But those inaugural sessions led to a line of performers in the next decades who either auditioned or were strongly considered for roles across the multi-part franchise. With the eighth feature film, Rogue One, arriving in theaters this week, we're taking a look at 15 performers who once had a chance at co-starring with a Wookiee.

1. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN

Droll, droopy-eyed character actor Christopher Walken first garnered notoriety for 1978’s The Deer Hunter, where he played a psychologically immobilized Vietnam veteran. Prior to that, he was one of several actors who visited with Lucas to read for the part of Han Solo, by some accounts doing so well that at one point Lucas narrowed his choice to between Walken and Ford: Ford, who had been in Lucas’s American Graffiti and was helping feed lines to auditioning actors, got the part.

It wouldn’t be Walken’s only flirtation with sci-fi: Decades later, his name was batted around for the part of James Kirk’s great-great grandfather in a Star Trek prequel film project that never got off the ground.

2. AL PACINO

Already a huge star thanks to a string of 1970s hits including The Godfather, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino apparently had the luxury of being offered the role of Solo without having to audition. “Star Wars was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script,” Pacino admitted in 2013.

3. JODIE FOSTER

Jodie Foster's role as a teenaged prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver apparently impressed Lucas enough that the 15-year-old actress was brought in to read for the role of Princess Leia. Discounting the awkwardness of any possible flirtation with a 30-something Solo, she was passed up in favor of 19-year-old Carrie Fisher, who had only one movie credit (Shampoo) to her name at the time. 

4. ORSON WELLES

Although Lucas needed a complete cast assembled for the start of principal photography in 1976, he had the comparative luxury of deliberating on how best to personify respirator enthusiast Darth Vader. David Prowse was in the suit on set, but his lines could be dubbed over later. For a time, mercurial director and former radio star Orson Welles was considered. Deciding Welles’s voice was too recognizable, Lucas opted for James Earl Jones instead.

5. MEL BLANC

As with Vader, Lucas was free to mix a physical performer with a voiceover artist for the role of C-3PO. Unlike Vader, he opted to use one man to accomplish it. Anthony Daniels voiced the chirping droid, although animation legend Mel Blanc was considered for a time. It was Blanc who told Lucas that Daniels had a better take on the robot.

6. ROBERT ENGLUND

Before landing the part of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Robert Englund tried his luck at auditions for the role of Han Solo. He didn’t get it, but he did tell his roommate about the space film that was about to start shooting, and that he should try out for a part: Mark Hamill decided he was right and paid Lucas a visit.

7. JIM HENSON

After conceiving of a wizened old Jedi who would train Luke Skywalker in the squalid swamps of Dagobah for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas asked Muppet creator Jim Henson to perform the Yoda puppet for his cameras. “I thought he was the best puppeteer,” Lucas once said. But Henson’s schedule didn’t allow for it, so the job went to a colleague at the Muppet Workshop, Frank Oz, instead.

8. GARY OLDMAN

The brooding British actor has been in some of the biggest franchises of the past 20 years, including Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the Harry Potter films. Lucas wanted him to voice General Grievous in 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Oldman was apparently agreeable—until he found out that Lucas was shooting the movie as a non-union project. In a press release, Oldman’s management company stated that the "snag that made it impossible … is that this film is being made as a non-SAG (Screen Actors Guild) film. George Lucas and gang agreed to hire Gary Oldman if he in fact would become a union buster, and perform work illegally overseas. As a resident of America, and also a member of SAG, out of respect and solidarity with the other members, he could not and would not consider violating his union's rules."

9. SYLVESTER STALLONE

During auditions for the original Star Wars, Lucas seemingly had few reservations about who he might consider for the roles. Fatigue, however, would sometimes get to him. At one point, Sylvester Stallone walked into the room and walked right back out after assessing that a tired Lucas wasn’t going to be a receptive audience. “Guys in space don’t have this kind of face,” he said. “I get it.”

10. LEONARDO DICAPRIO

Leonardo DiCaprio had just come off starring in the then-highest-grossing film in history, Titanic, when George Lucas approached him to a play a young Anakin Skywalker in 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He declined. “I just didn’t feel ready to take that dive, at the time,” he said. The actor might have struggled a bit with the decision, since he’s an avowed fan of the series who once auctioned off a toy collection valued at over $100,000. He was even in line at 1 a.m. for the release of Phantom Menace figures in 1999.

11. *NSYNC

The 1990s boy band *NSYNC is an anomaly on the list, in part because they were more than just considered for small roles in Star Wars—they actually filmed them. Lucas’s daughters were so enamored with the group at the time their father was shooting Attack of the Clones that he invited them to the set to appear as background characters. Justin Timberlake and Lance Bass declined, but Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, and JC Chasez showed up for fittings. All three played Jedi Knights during the battle on Geonosis. The parts were cut for reasons unknown, although fan backlash may have played a part; Fantone’s family later insisted he could still be seen during the fight sequence.

12. MICHAEL B. JORDAN

In 2013, Creed and Fantastic Four star Michael B. Jordan told press that he had gone on an audition forEpisode VII: The Force Awakens. Jordan had previously worked for Lucas in 2012’s Tuskegee Airmen drama Red Tails, but the creator was not involved in the Disney-produced sequel.

13. TUPAC SHAKUR

Although it hit theaters in 1999, filming on The Phantom Menace began in 1997, with pre-production and auditions taking place in 1996. That’s reportedly when rapper Tupac Shakur pursued the role of Mace Windu, the Jedi Knight role that ultimately went to Samuel L. Jackson.

14. EDDIE REDMAYNE

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar in 2015 for the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, but that honor didn’t do him much good during auditions for The Force Awakens. Aspiring for the part of Kylo Ren, Redmayne says the production was so secretive that he really had no idea who the character was or how he fit into the story. To compensate, he tried doing a Darth Vader imitation. “That’s a childhood dream crushed,” he told Moviepilot.com earlier this year.

15. MICHAEL JACKSON

As the most contentious character in the entire Star Wars saga, bumbling Gungan sidekick Jar Jar Binks has been a mixed blessing for Ahmed Best, the actor cast for his voice and motion-capture work in 1999’s Episode I: The Phantom Menace. According to Best, though, Jar Jar could have been even more infamous. Discussing the role with Vice in 2015, Best said Lucas had taken him to a Michael Jackson concert and told him that Jackson was toying with the idea of playing the alien. “[Lucas] said, ‘Well, Michael wanted to do the part but he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup like Thriller. George wanted to do it in CGI. My guess is ultimately Michael Jackson would have been bigger than the movie, and I don't think he wanted that.”

All images courtesy of Getty Images.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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