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Actors Who Refused Roles In Ben Stiller Movies

Over the span of the last 30 years or so, Ben Stiller has become one of the most powerful people in Hollywood as a bankable name associated with TV shows and movies that earn critical acclaim, commercial success, or both. He's multi-faceted, too, evolving from a maker of short comic films to star of his own sketch comedy series to A-list comic actor, headlining classic, crowd-pleasing movies like "There's Something About Mary," "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," "Zoolander," and three blockbuster "Meet the Parents" movies. Stiller is also a cameo machine, popping up in his friends' and collaborators' movies all the time, even as he's scaled back on major acting work to focus on writing and directing movies and TV shows, from both comic and dramatic projects — notably, he created "Severance," one of 2022's most acclaimed shows.

Stiller is such a force for highly visible and high quality entertainment that it seems foolish or ill-advised for an actor of any level to turn down the chance to appear in a movie starring or made by the actor. And yet, they have their reasons for those casting near-misses. Here are all the times that actors could've taken on a big part in a Ben Stiller movie but passed instead.

Chris Farley, The Cable Guy

In 1995, according to Variety, Columbia Pictures paid $750,000 for first-time screenwriter Lou Holtz Jr.'s script for "The Cable Guy," a dark comedy about a mysterious TV installer whose friendship with a customer turns obsessive. While Jim Carrey would star, the film was originally intended as a vehicle for Chris Farley, then the toast of comedy Hollywood for his work on "Saturday Night Live" and "Tommy Boy." According to The A.V. Club, Farley was on board when Columbia hired creative partners Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow to work on the movie to direct and produce, respectively. Apatow heavily reworked the script while Stiller decided to take on the minor, double roles of Sam and Stan Sweet, twins on trial obviously guilty of murdering their parents whose trial airs live on cable TV.

The cameras would never roll on Farley as "The Cable Guy." After the success of "Tommy Boy," Paramount Pictures exercised an option on Farley's contract to make him act in another movie right away, and quickly built the movie "Black Sheep" around him. That delayed his involvement, as did an agreement that Farley would start on "The Cable Guy" whenever he left "SNL," for good, but the comedian didn't want to say yes to a movie that would film at some nebulous point in the future, leading him to say no to the film altogether.

Andy Dick, Zoolander

Although it lasted just one season and aired to dismal ratings — it was the least-watched show of the 1992-93 TV season — "The Ben Stiller Show" proved highly influential in that it created lasting creative partnerships among its four main cast members. In the years after the sketch show's cancellation, Ben Stiller frequently cast his costars in his directorial projects — Janeane Garofalo starred in "Reality Bites" and Bob Odenkirk appeared in "The Cable Guy," for example. And when Stiller co-wrote and ultimately directed the geopolitical-meets-male-modeling farce "Zoolander," he did so with "The Ben Stiller Show" alumnus Andy Dick in mind. "Andy Dick was supposed to play Mugatu," Stiller told Esquire, referring to the film's villain, a campy and extremely ridiculous fashion industry stalwart who hatches a scheme to brainwash models into killing the prime minister of Malaysia, who wants to end the sweatshop labor on which Mugatu's industry relies. "Now it's impossible for me to picture anybody but Will doing it," Stiller added — obviously, Will Ferrell played the memorable part in the 2001 film in one of his first major movie roles since becoming a star on "Saturday Night Live." 

So what's the reason Dick had to pass on a role written and earmarked for him? Well, he was busy. At the time that "Zoolander" entered production, Dick was committed to the short-lived NBC sitcom "Go Fish," which was then canceled after five episodes.

Yasiin Bey, Tropic Thunder

Dante Terrell Smith Bey burst on the rap scene in the late '90s under the name Mos Def (though he now goes by Yasiin Bey), both as a solo artist and as half of the duo Black Star with Talib Kweli. He started making music as a kid and acting as a teenager, and the latter dominated the performer's professional life in the 2000s, which included a starring role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Topdog/Underdog" and big parts in notable flicks, including "Be Kind Rewind," "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the remake of "The Italian Job," and "Talladega Nights." 

Bey nearly also starred in "Tropic Thunder," a high-concept action comedy co-written and directed by Ben Stiller who also led the cast as an actor filming a war movie who wanders into a real war zone alongside other actors. Stiller and collaborators created the character of Alpa Chino, a popular rapper attempting an acting career, and producers approached an actual rapper-turned-actor for the role — Yasiin Bey. He declined that role, however, because he had objections to the nature of the character as it was written. "It was a conflict in how we saw the character. They wanted it to be a rap character, I wanted it to be an R&B character," Bey told The Ecstatic Breakdown. "For me to do a character that was a rap parody, I wasn't exactly hyped to do that."

Robert Redford, Tower Heist

There are a lot of big-name actors in the 2011 heist comedy "Tower Heist," the story of a bunch of wronged workers learn that their boss has swindled them out of their money via a Ponzi scheme who then decide to rob his luxury condo in a fancy New York skyscraper. The movie features an all-star cast including Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, and Michael Peña, but it does not feature all-time cinematic superstar Robert Redford, an A-lister from the 1960s well into the '90s who took a long break from acting in the mid-2000s. After his 2007 drama "Lions for Lambs," Redford didn't appear in another film for five years, focusing on directing "The Conspirator" and "The Company You Keep."

"Tower Heist" was produced and released during that hiatus, and director Brett Ratner approached Redford about playing the role of evil boss and robbery target Arthur Shaw. But he passed. "I think he was finishing his movie or whatever, I don't know exactly what happened," Ratner told Collider. Alan Alda got the part instead.

John C. Reilly, Anchorman

Movie comedy in the year 2004 virtually belonged to Ben Stiller. The actor starred in five major funny films that year — "Along Came Polly," "Starsky and Hutch," "Envy," "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," and "Meet the Fockers" — and turned in a memorable, surprise cameo in a sixth: "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." One of that film's silliest and most memorable scenes depicts an over-the-top, no holds-barred, dismemberment-filled battle amongst '70s San Diego's various news teams. Stiller — in a turn that would now likely be considered problematic — portrays Latino anchor Arturo Mendes, head anchor at the Spanish language news network.

Tim Robbins, Luke Wilson, and Vince Vaughn also appear in the fight scene, and while John C. Reilly would show up in another news team brawl in "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," he didn't appear at all in the first "Anchorman." According to Vulture, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's screenplay included casting suggestions, and they penciled in Reilly to play unhinged sportscaster Champ Kind (a role that ultimately went to David Koechner). Reilly participated in a table read for the movie, and impressed its creators. He was eager to take the role, but he'd been already booked on another movie. "I think I was doing 'Gangs of New York' at the time," he told GQ.

Greta Gerwig, While We're Young

Indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach frequently grapples with modern relationships, and in his 2014 dramedy "While We're Young," he explores what happens to a solid and content marriage between two middle-aged people when they meet a cool, hip young couple that make them feel old and stodgy. It took nearly four years for the film to get made, with IndieWire reporting casting news in 2010, that Stiller was set to star as the male half of the older couple, married to a character played by Greta Gerwig,  according to The Hollywood Reporter. Gerwig is a frequent collaborator of Baumbauch, as well as his romantic partner, so this casting made perfect sense in the moment.

Pairing Stiller and Gerwig together would've represented a re-teaming of the leads from Baumbach's 2010 movie "Greenberg," but it wouldn't come to pass. Gerwig left the film over scheduling issues, leaving the role to Cate Blanchett... but that wasn't the end of the casting changes for this movie. When the film debuted in theaters in 2014, it was Naomi Watts who played Stiller's on-screen spouse.

Kevin Costner, Happy Gilmore

There are two villains in Adam Sandler's cult-classic golf comedy "Happy Gilmore." First, there's Shooter McGavin, the snooty old school golfer who so hates competing with populist upstart Happy Gilmore that he does everything he can to sabotage his rival's chances. Happy's in this competition in the first place so he can win enough money on the golf tour to free his beloved grandmother from a nursing home lorded over by a cruel and manipulative orderly named Hal. In the 1996 film, Christopher McDonald portrayed Shooter McGavin, while an uncredited Ben Stiller played mean Hal.

Stiller nearly wound up starring in the same movie as early 1990s superstar Kevin Costner. According to Golfweek, he was the producers' first choice to play Shooter McGavin. Costner turned down the chance to play a bad guy in "Happy Gilmore," because, as coincidence would have it, he was too busy shooting a different golf comedy — the 1996 hit "Tin Cup."

Dana Carvey, Madagascar

The "Madagascar" films have proven to be a popular and lucrative franchise for DreamWorks Animation, with the three flagship films and the "Penguins of Madagascar" spinoff raking in more than $2.2 billion at the global box office. They're star-driven, too, with a cast headed up by the recognizable voices of David Schwimmer, Chris Rock, and Ben Stiller, who plays a lion named Alex.

Stiller got his big acting break in 1989 when he joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live," but he left after three episodes, at a time in which Dana Carvey dominated the sketch show. Carvey nearly had a leading role in "Madagascar," too, which would have represented a big part of a comeback attempt. In the late 1990s, Carvey took an extended break from Hollywood to raise his two young children and to convalesce from a series of heart surgeries, according to People. In that time, he passed on two voice acting roles in what would be two of the most notable animated features of the mid-2000s: "Ratatouille," and "Madagascar." As Carvey told People, "I was very, very busy raising kids at that time."

Robert Downey Jr., Megamind

In 2010, two animated action comedies hit theaters, very similar in premise and casting choices. "Despicable Me," a comic book-style movie told from the point of view of supervillain Gru, starred "Anchorman" cast member Steve Carell. "Megamind," a comic book-style movie told from the point of view of supervillain Megamind, starred "Anchorman" cast members Will Ferrell (as Megamind) and Ben Stiller as Bernard, one of the bad guy's main victims. Robert Downey Jr., best known for his role as Iron Man in the comic book-based Marvel Cinematic Universe of films (and a "Saturday Night Live" veteran, like Ferrell and Stiller) nearly also played a big role in "Megamind." 

In 2008, Entertainment Weekly (via IGN) reported that Downey was about to land the title role in an animated film that at the time was called "Master Mind." He would have squeezed in recording his dialogue amidst a schedule packed with other projects, including "Sherlock Holmes" and "Iron Man 2." It would seem Downey was just a little too busy for the movie ultimately renamed "Megamind." According to Entertainment Weekly, Will Ferrell was a late addition to the movie after Downey, the first actor cast as Megamind, left the film over scheduling problems.

David Duchovny, Permanent Midnight

By the late 1990s, Ben Stiller was known almost exclusively as a comic actor, what with his acclaimed sketch comedy series "The Ben Stiller Show," and roles in "Reality Bites," "Happy Gilmore," and "The Cable Guy." In 1998, he branched out into much darker and much more dramatic fare with "Permanent Midnight," which tells the true story of Jerry Stahl, a TV sitcom writer (best known for "ALF," "Moonlighting," and "thirtysomething") who grappled with an addiction to heroin.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Stiller prepared extensively and seriously for his dramatic turn, hanging out with Stahl and losing 30 pounds to more effectively get into character. Still, Stiller wasn't producers' first choice for the part. Another up and coming actor of the era looking to prove that he could do more than just the one thing for which he was known previously landed the lead in "Permanent Midnight." David Duchovny, attempting to forge a movie career outside of the hit TV show "The X-Files," signed on to portray Stahl, but pulled out in order to make the flop "Playing God" instead.

Drew Bledsoe, There's Something About Mary

In "There's Something About Mary," the 1998 movie built around hilarious surprises — Ben Stiller's sad sack character Ted taking a fish hook in the mouth or getting himself caught in his pants zipper, for example — perhaps the most unexpected twist comes when Mary (Cameron Diaz), object of affection and desire for every man with whom she comes in contact, reveals that her mysterious ex-boyfriend referred to only as "Brett" is actually Brett Favre, the real-life star quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Favre had won a Super Bowl by the time "There's Something About Mary" hit theaters, making him probably the most well-known football player on the planet at the time, and yet he wasn't co-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly's number one choice to play Mary's former flame.

The Farrellys hail from the Boston-adjacent New England state of Rhode Island, and so they originally wanted the then-quarterback of the New England Patriots, Drew Bledsoe, to do the cameo. The athlete agreed to do the movie, but before he filmed his scene, he dropped out, according to the Boston Globe. That followed a public incident at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, per the Associated Press (via the Los Angeles Times), in which Bledsoe and two Patriots teammates leapt from the stage during an Everclear concert and one of them landed on a woman, seriously injuring her. After San Francisco 49ers QB Steve Young turned down the role, the Farrellys asked Favre, and he accepted.

Laura Bush and Karl Lagerfeld, Zoolander 2

Ben Stiller's "Zoolander" is a silly movie, but its 2016 sequel, "Zoolander 2" is even sillier. Extraordinarily stupid male models Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) reunite in Rome and find themselves embroiled in another deadly international conspiracy which they somehow solve and survive — in spite of their staggering lack of intelligence. The standout scenes in the movie, however, involve Hansel's personal life, in which he's in a polyamorous relationship with a relative horde of people, both men and women... all of whom he manages to impregnate. That arrangement is depicted in a wildly over-the-top, heavily populated group-love scene played for laughs, and in his capacity as "Zoolander 2" director, Stiller tried and failed to a very famous and very unlikely face in the mix.

"I was going to ask her to be a member of that group," Stiller told NBC's "Today" (via the Washington Post) regarding former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush. He didn't provide Bush or her reps with the details of the part, but she declined anyway. "She was so smart to politely say no," Stiller said. The "Zoolander" movies send-up the world of high fashion, and Stiller sought out a real-life representative of that subculture, asking designer and Chanel creative chief Karl Lagerfeld to participate. According to Hello!, that was absolutely out of the question for Lagerfeld.