Odd ways famous roles were cast

There are certain fictional characters that are so synonymous with a specific actor, it's hard to imagine anybody but that actor playing them. But casts aren't just created overnight, and sometimes, stars find their way to a memorable project in ways you'd never expect. Here are some of the more unusual ways actors secured their most famous roles—or were tempted to accept them by a particularly dedicated director who, like audiences today, couldn't see anyone else playing the character.

Wayne Knight - Jurassic Park

The character of Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park will forever be associated with Wayne Knight, and it's hard to imagine anyone could top his performance as the sweaty, ruthlessly sneaky IT technician who meets his end at the gaping maw of a dilophosaurus. It was definitely difficult for director Steven Spielberg to imagine anyone else—according to Knight, the director offered him the role personally based on the strength of his performance in the infamous interview scene in Basic Instinct.

As Knight tells it, Spielberg was impressed with the fear he showed in response to Sharon Stone's character, and thought to himself "what if that was a dinosaur?" We'll never look at a dilophosaurus the same way again.

Hugh Laurie - House

House is a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes story—only despite Holmes being a quintessentially British character, director Bryan Singer absolutely insisted to his casting director that he wanted an American actor for the part.

Thankfully this news never reached British actor Hugh Laurie, who decided to audition anyway, reportedly sending in an audition tape recorded in the bathroom of his hotel wearing yesterday's t-shirt and five days worth of stubble because the actor reasoned a character like Dr. House wouldn't care. Laurie also effected a very convincing accent during his audition—so convincing, in fact, that Singer reportedly pointed to it and told his casting director, "See, this is what I want: an American guy."

Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston is Walter White to a lot of people, and the stack of awards the actor earned during his tenure as the character speaks volumes about how perfectly he was cast. However, according to writer and director Vince Gilligan, AMC were initially hesitant to give Cranston the role, mostly because they associated him so strongly with the goofball character Hal Wilkerson from the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle.

Gilligan had seen firsthand that Cranston was an actor capable of playing a oddly sympathetic but fundamentally unlikable character when he directed an episode of The X-Files in which Cranston played an anti-Semite whose head explodes. To sell AMC execs on his star's suitability for the role, he showed them a copy of the episode; needless to say, they quickly came around.

Robin Williams - Mork and Mindy

Robin Williams' big break came as Mork the alien on an episode of the long-running sitcom Happy Days. Although the episode itself isn't among the series' best, William's performance was strong enough that executives greenlit a spinoff show that turned into a hit in its own right. 

Mork and Mindy launched Williams' screen career and introduced audiences worldwide to his particular brand of irreverent, rapid-fire comedy. He famously improvised much of his dialogue and was known to try and slip curse words past censors by screaming them in a high-pitched voice and claiming he was just speaking an incomprehensible alien language they didn't understand. This resulted in ABC hiring a censor who spoke 4 languages just to stop Williams doing this. 

According to people present on the day Williams auditioned, he blew away producer Garry Marshall by staying in character the entire time and was given the role on the spot when, upon being asked to take a seat, walked up to a chair and did a headstand on it. As Marshall would later say, "He was the only alien to audition."

Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Terminator

A little-discussed aspect of Arnold Schwarzenegger's career is that he was a multi-millionaire years before he appeared in a movie. Being independently wealthy allowed Schwarzenegger to basically pick and choose which roles he accepted, which led to him initially turning down the role of the Terminator because he didn't want to be typecast as a villain.

James Cameron, however, was undeterred, and continued trying to convince the actor that the Terminator would be the star of the film—only if he played it. As a last-ditch Hail Mary, the writer-director sent Schwarzenegger a painting of his own face with half of his flesh removed to reveal the now iconic Terminator endoskeleton. In the words of Schwarzenegger himself, he took one look at the picture and said out loud "I am the Terminator" before calling his agent to take the role.

Mila Kunis - That '70s Show

Although Mila Kunis had landed numerous bit parts in ads, films and shows as a child actor, That '70s Show represented her first real big break. There was just one problem: when she auditioned for the part of Jackie, the producers were only considering actors who were at least 18. At the time, Kunis was 14.

Thinking quickly when asked by a producer how old she was, the actress responded that she'd be 18 on her birthday without specifying exactly which birthday she was talking about. By the time the ruse was discovered, it was already agreed she was the best person for the part, and producers let the lie slide.

John C. McGinley - Scrubs

The character of Dr. Perry Cox was a role literally written with actor John C. McGinley in mind: the description of the character described him as a "John C. McGinley type." Knowing this, McGinley felt like he was pretty much a shoo-in to get the part, especially considering that Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence was a longtime friend.

According to McGinley, he confidently strolled into the audition fully expecting to get the part, immediately only to be told by Lawrence that the final decision for casting didn't rest with him and he'd need to audition separately for both Disney and NBC—which he did five times. So just to sum up, John C. McGinley had to audition—repeatedly—to prove he was capable of playing a character based on himself.

Frank Silva - Twin Peaks

Frank Silva, arguably one of the most unlikely success stories in all of television, accidentally stumbled into one of the most critically acclaimed series of all time.

The story goes that Silva was originally a set dresser on the pilot of Twin Peaks, and director David Lynch thought it'd be funny to shoot a reaction shot of him at the base of a character's bed. Lynch never originally intended to do anything with this footage—he just shot it because David Lynch does what he wants and nobody can stop him.

Later, Lynch noticed that Silva was briefly visible in the mirror during a scene in which a character notices something horrifying just offscreen and screams in terror. Rather than re-shoot, Lynch decided to make Silva a character in the show, splicing in that very same footage he'd shot earlier. Originally what the character saw offscreen was never specified in the script, so Lynch decided to make it Silva—and that's how he was promoted from set dresser to a primary antagonist on the show.

Peter Mayhew - Star Wars

At the apex of his career, Peter Mayhew stood an imposing 7' 3"—a stature that made him perfect for portraying Han Solo's right-hand Wookiee Chewbacca in the Star Wars saga. As it turns out, the role almost went to actor David Prowse who instead opted to play Darth Vader because, as he put it, "people always remember the bad guy."

According to Mayhew, his audition lasted roughly three seconds—as he tells it, he was cast on the spot after he stood up to shake George Lucas' hand. The director, immediately recognizing how imposing Mayhew would be in costume, instantly awarded him the role. As good as the other actors who auditioned to play Chewbacca surely were, you can't teach being seven feet tall.