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Actors Who Refused Roles In The Transformers Franchise

It's not often that a children's cartoon can be catapulted into one of Hollywood's biggest blockbuster franchises. But in 2007, that's exactly what happened when legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg turned producer and teamed up with director Michael Bay to bring the '80s phenomenon "The Transformers" to the big screen. The big-budget special FX extravaganza ended up spawning a global billion-dollar franchise that continues today.

However, the film saga has done more than just dazzle audiences of all ages with incredible action and adventure. Through a half dozen films, the "Transformers" franchise has also managed to attract some of Hollywood's biggest stars, despite being largely regarded as mere popcorn entertainment. In fact, the series has prominently featured A-list actors like Mark Wahlberg alongside celebrated actors like Frances McDormand and John Malkovich. Still, over the years there've been even more who declined the chance to fight alongside the Autobots and Decepticons. 

Quite a few big names have said 'no' to offers for roles in the "Transformers" films. For some, it was a scheduling conflict. For others, it was simply disinterest. For one, it was a principled decision. So if you've wondered who almost starred in your favorite giant robot film series, look no further. This is a list of actors who refused roles in the "Transformers" franchise.

Dwayne Johnson

For all his success, it's surprising that Dwayne Johnson – aka The Rock – doesn't have a long-running signature franchise role of his own. The man who Forbes once called "franchise Viagra" has used his star power to reinvigorate other film sagas, joining sequels to "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "G.I. Joe," "The Fast and the Furious," and even an episode of "Star Trek: Voyager" early in his career when the show needed a rating bump. In 2013, Johnson almost joined the "Transformers" series when it needed a boost.

At the time, producers knew that Shia LaBeouf wasn't coming back for the fourth installment, and so the film needed a new lead. Before Michael Bay settled on Mark Wahlberg, however, he had a different man in mind. Given Johnson's mix of beefy brawn, earnest charm, and loads of charisma, it's no surprise he was Bay's first choice. "Michael Bay offered me 'Transformers,' but I was unavailable due to 'Hercules,'" the star said on Twitter in April of 2013, referring to his then in-production movie based on the mythological Greek hero. "Then Wahlberg was offered the role."

When Johnson missed out, Wahlberg was rewarded with a pair of films, including "Transformers: The Last Knight." Unfortunately, both movies underperformed, forcing the studio to pivot to a prequel, leaving us to wonder if Johnson could have saved the "Transformers" franchise had he accepted the role. Don't feel too bad for Johnson, as he was made an official part of the franchise when he voiced an Autobot named Cliffjumper in an episode of "Transformers Prime" in 2010.

Jonah Hill

Before Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg were considered to lead the fourth "Transformers" film, the series was less focused on brawny musclebound heroes. Instead, it focused on more ordinary everymen like Shia LaBeouf, so it makes sense that producer Steven Spielberg came very close to casting a young Jonah Hill in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Hill was hot off "Superbad" at the time and a major rising star, known for goofball comedies and still years away from serious dramas like "Moneyball" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." Appearing in "Transformers" could have altered the trajectory of his career had he not turned it down.

Enter Seth Rogen, writer, actor, and close friend to Hill, who evidently was responsible for convincing Hill to pass up a role in the first "Transformers" sequel. "You want to make a movie about fightin' robots? Make your own movie about fightin' robots," Rogen told Hill according to an interview with The New York Times in 2021. With Hill a hot name, Rogen suggested he didn't have to take the first big franchise movie that came along and shouldn't be tempted just because a legendary filmmaker came calling. "I can see if Steven Spielberg's calling you, asking you to do something, how that's hard to turn down," Rogen acknowledged.

Ultimately, the role Hill was being considered for went to actor Ramon Rodriguez and Hill chose instead to have a cameo in Ben Stiller's "Night at the Museum" sequel (per Entertainment Weekly). Thankfully, passing on the "Transformers" franchise didn't wind up much of a regret, as Hill went on to star in plenty of hits — even getting a pair of Oscar nominations along the way.

Aziz Ansari

Many actors over the years have passed up opportunities for roles in iconic franchises and come to regret it, whether that's Will Smith in "The Matrix" or Gwyneth Paltrow in "Titanic." However, sometimes an actor has no regrets at all and turns down a part out of principle. That's exactly what happened in the case of Aziz Ansari, star of "Master of None" and "Parks and Recreation," who passed on an offer to play a small but racially-objectionable role in the very first "Transformers" film in 2007.

"It was a role for, like, a call-center guy who has an accent," Ansari revealed to Vulture in 2015. The actor wasn't happy about the role's stereotyping and wasn't willing to fake the accent for the job. "And I was like, 'No, I'm not doing it.'" Eventually, the role wound up being played by Ansari's friend and future "Master of None" co-star Ravi Patel. "And Ravi did it and made some decent money," Ansari admitted. "And I don't have anything against someone who does the accent. I understand. You got to work."

Though he harbored no ill will, Ansari still isn't happy with Hollywood's racial stereotyping and token diversity. "That's a real thing that happens. When they cast these shows, they're like, 'We already have our minority guy or our minority girl.' There would never be two Indian people in one show." Thankfully, passing on the part didn't harm his career, with his breakout role in "Parks and Recreation" coming just two years after the first "Transformers" movie.

Howard Stern

When it comes to radio shock jocks, the undisputed king is Howard Stern. Known for his raunchy radio antics and wild, raucous guests, he went from a nationally syndicated morning show to an anchor of satellite radio. Along the way, he wrote a memoir that he turned into a big-screen movie when he starred as himself in the 1997 biopic "Private Parts." Stern even had a well-publicized run for governor (per the Los Angeles Times). However, he also came close to adding the role of a Transformer to his lengthy resume.

While he's famous for his outsized attitude and personality, Stern is also notable for his distinctive voice. So when Michael Bay was looking for actors to lend their vocal talents to the roles of the Transformers themselves, Stern was a natural fit, especially for the role of Frenzy. Vulture reports that Stern was offered the role of the slippery, skittish, Decepticon spy who disguises himself as a radio, and it seems no coincidence that Stern — a famed radio shock jock — would be the pick to play the part.

After turning down the role, Stern talked about why he passed it up, as reported by Dark Horizons. "My agent gets a hold of me. It's almost like he shakes me up and smacks me. I said to him: This movie, 'The Transformers,' it could be a really big movie. And he goes ... 'you don't want to be in the movie as an f'n voice on the radio,' And I said, you know, you're right."

Lester Green

Despite the obvious synergy and Howard Stern's vocal talent, Michael Bay's choice of the shock jock as the voice of a Decepticon radio may have been more than a good casting decision. The director may have been swayed by his love of Stern and his radio program, and we say this because after Stern passed, Bay offered a role to Lester Green, an entertainer and frequent guest of "The Howard Stern Show." If you don't recognize the name that's because he usually goes by the name Beetlejuice, and he uses the moniker across numerous spots on Stern's radio show, before appearances on "WCW Monday Nitro," as well as in movies like "Bubble Boy" and "Scary Movie 2."

As chronicled by SlashFilm in 2013, the actor's manager Bobby Rooney talked about how Green had been approached for a role in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" years before. "We get there, they put us in a room and Michael Bay pulls up in a golf cart and he has a laptop with him," Rooney said, reminiscing about the initial meeting between Green and the famed director. "[Bay] opens up the laptop and he has one of the robot characters with Beetlejuice's voice."

Unfortunately, the famously mercurial comedian was "in one of his moods," according to Rooney, and it was a non-starter. As Rooney recalled, Bay was eventually put off by Green's flippant attitude and realized it probably wouldn't be fun working with him anyway.

Corey Burton

Corey Burton is a veteran voice artist who has contributed to a number of "Transformer" cartoons over the years, with his most notable role being the voice of the villainous Shockwave in the original animated series from 1984. Fans may also know him as Brainiac from "Superman: The Animated Series" and the bounty hunter Cad Bane in both animated and live-action "Star Wars" projects, among many others. He was also nearly recruited for the live-action "Transformers" films.

According to Burton himself on his website, where he regularly answers questions from fans, the actor was asked if he was ever approached for the big-screen adaptations. Surprisingly, despite his character Soundwave appearing in the third film, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," that's not the character he was asked to play. "I was given the opportunity to audition for Jazz (a totally incomprehensible request for me to even attempt), and Brawl (you might recall I was Brawn in the early series), but it was just a one line 'cameo' bit that didn't seem worth jumping through all the audition hoops, just for a 2-second bit of scale rate 'incidental' VO work."

Beyond turning down an offer to appear in the first "Transformers" film, it doesn't sound like Burton ever really wanted to be involved with the live-action series and was happy to stay in the animated corner of the saga. "I wish them nothing but the very best for the wildly successful franchise; and have practically no interest in that kind of mega-budget movie enterprise involvement."

Ashley Walters

Actor and rapper Ashley Walters may not have the high profile of Dwayne Johnson or Howard Stern, but he's a highly respected star with plenty of big projects under his belt. In addition to four studio albums, Walters has had a long acting career stretching back to the 1990s. He's appeared on television in hits like "Hustle" as well as "Doctor Who" and starred in the lead role of Dushane in the British crime drama "Top Boy." In the mid-2000s, he was also offered a starring role in the first "Transformers" film.

In a 2017 interview for Your Cinema, Walters was asked about roles he turned down in his career. "Not a lot of people know this," the actor started with a knowing smile, about to make a major revelation about what could have been in his career. "I did a movie called 'Life and Lyrics,' [and] just before I was about to shoot that movie I flew to LA to meet my manager and my agent and I had a meeting at Steven Spielberg's office ... for "Transformers.' They offered me Tyrese's role."

Unfortunately what would have been a major role for the up-and-comer just wasn't in the cards." I'd signed this deal for this independent movie in the UK ... I had to say no." Still, Walters didn't seem too regretful and has plenty of perspective. "Obviously, that could have been a life changing thing. But at the same time, if I did that I wouldn't have done 'Top Boy.'"

Shia LaBeouf

Young actor Shia LaBeouf had practically made a career out of playing sidekicks, with roles next to the likes of Keanu Reeves and Will Smith in movies like "Constantine" and "I, Robot." In 2007, he'd finally play the action hero himself, starring as bumbling teenager Sam Witwicky in Michael Bay's "Transformers," a film that turned him into a superstar. He'd reprise the role in a pair of sequels, and each was more successful than the last. However, when the time came for a fourth installment, Shia turned it down.

"I just don't think right now there's anywhere to take Sam," the actor told MTV not long after the release of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" in 2011 (via The Hollywood Reporter). "I was seventeen when I met Michael, and I'm sort of Michael Bay-raised. I've learned a great deal from Michael, as a person, as an actor, as a person on set. And it's not that I don't enjoy working with Michael. I love working with Michael. I would do any movie Michael wants to do."

Yet, the one movie he wouldn't do with Bay was the franchise's next film, "Transformers: Age of Extinction," forcing Bay to hire Mark Wahlberg to succeed LaBeouf as the series lead. In the fifth film, "Transformers: The Last Knight," the fate of LaBeouf's Witwicky is finally explained. It's said that Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) is the last surviving member of his family line, suggesting that Sam died at some point after the third film.