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Actors Who Refused Roles In Christopher Nolan Movies

Today, Christopher Nolan is one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, a filmmaker who stars big and small clamor to work with. His 2023 magnum opus, the biopic, "Oppenheimer," assembles a stacked roster of talent that includes veteran A-listers like Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon, hot up-and-comers like Jack Quaid and Florence Pugh, and even some of his favorite returning collaborators like Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. Known for much more than his blockbuster "Batman" trilogy, Nolan has been lauded for sci-fi masterpieces like "Inception," historical epics such as "Dunkirk," and thrillers like "Memento."

Over the years, Nolan has had a knack for casting; he often falls back on familiar names and re-teams with former stars for subsequent projects. This makes starring in a Nolan film an industry unto itself that can sometimes be hard to break into. But even the biggest directors in Tinseltown get turned down now and then, and "The Dark Knight" director has been no exception. 

From famous young faces who passed on offers to play Batman, to superstars who didn't like the part they were asked to play, you may be surprised who pops up on our list of actors who refused roles in Christopher Nolan movies.

Josh Hartnett in Batman Begins

In the early 2000s, Nolan was given the reigns of a major blockbuster for the first time with "Batman Begins." To play a more brooding, serious version of the hero, the director zeroed in on young star Josh Hartnett, who had impressed in "Black Hawk Down" a few years earlier. But Hartnett feared being typecast and turned it down. Believe it or not, he was concerned Nolan's new "Batman" movie would stain his career.

"I didn't want to be boxed into that superhero type," Hartnett told The Metro in 2020. "Back then a lot of actors had to fight really hard to get their career back after they played those characters." What makes it all the more tragic is that the actor had just had one of his biggest flops, "Hollywood Homicide" in 2003, and working with Nolan could have been just the shot in the arm his career needed. But Hartnett stuck to his guns and even turned down a role as the Man of Steel in "Superman Returns" not long after.

To make matters worse though, passing on "Batman Begins" also hurt his relationship with one of Hollywood's greatest new filmmakers. "Then [Nolan] didn't want to put me in 'The Prestige,'" Hartnett told Playboy in 2015. "They not only hired their Batman [Christian Bale] for it, they also hired [Scarlett Johansson] my girlfriend at the time." Thankfully things have been smoothed over, and Hartnett snagged a major role in Nolan's 2023 biopic, "Oppenheimer."

Brad Pitt in Memento

Nolan loves casting big Hollywood names as much as he seems to enjoy turning lesser-known actors into stars. He's worked with the likes of Leonard DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Al Pacino, and Hugh Jackman, not to mention his sprawling cast of "Oppenheimer" that's packed wall to wall with huge stars. But there's one major modern A-lister Nolan has never worked with: Brad Pitt. But early in Nolan's career, he actually had a chance to cast him for what would become his breakout hit. 

During the development of his 2000 thriller, "Memento," a copy of the script found its way to Pitt who seemed to like what he was reading. Ultimately, however, the star chose not to pursue the lead role of Leonard Shelby, though it's never seemed to bother Nolan. "He met with me about it when he didn't have any reason to know who I was or anything about it," Nolan said at the 2014 Slamdance Festival (via Yahoo! Movies). Noting that while Pitt liked the script, it was lesser-known Aussie actor Guy Pearce who showed greater interest and "got the ball rolling." 

The movie would star Pearce alongside a pair of "The Matrix" alum, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. Ultimately, the film didn't need Pitt's star power. The real strength of "Memento" was Nolan's mind-bending screenplay (co-written with his brother Jonathan) and combined with Pearce's powerful performance, it was enough to earn it a pair of Academy Award nominations.

Anthony Hopkins in Batman Begins

The role of Alfred Pennyworth in "Batman" films has long been held by some pretty big British stars, from Michael Gough in the 1990s to Andy Serkis in "The Batman" in 2022. In the mid-2000s, Nolan cast arguably the biggest of the bunch, with one of the U.K.'s most famous faces filling the role of Bruce Wayne's faithful servant: "Alfie" star Michael Caine. But if you can believe it, the role almost went to an even bigger British star, Anthony Hopkins (via Digital Spy), known best for his role as the slimy serial killer Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs."

But while Hopkins had made his name as Lecter helping do-gooding justice-seeker Clarice Starling, he wasn't quite as eager to help the Dark Knight. Neither the actor nor the director has commented on why Hopkins turned down an offer to star as Bruce Wayne's butler over the years. But unlike Hartnett, the Academy Award-winning star has never expressed any regret for missing out. We can hardly say that passing up the role harmed his career either, as he's since been nominated for a pair of Oscars, winning a second award for the 2020 film, "The Father."

Al Pacino in an undisclosed role

In 2002, Nolan was riding high from the success of his breakout film "Memento." He followed it with "Insomnia," an American remake of a Norwegian hit, and was able to secure a cast that included a pair of Hollywood legends: Al Pacino and Robin Williams. While the movie did well with critics, Nolan and Pacino's relationship seemed to deteriorate thereafter, with the actor even claiming that the director was angry with him. 

Nolan, who has a habit of re-using his favorite actors, had apparently offered the "Heat" actor a major role which was turned down, sparking what Pacino claims became some kind of longstanding grudge. "He hasn't offered me a film in a while," the actor told The Telegraph in 2014. "You know why? I'll tell you why: He asked me to be in this movie and I didn't do it." While Pacino has never commented on what the role might have been or even what movie, he admits he may be jumping the gun. "I think that might have miffed him a little bit, but I'm being presumptuous myself." 

Nolan has never mentioned any feud with Pacino, so we're left to wonder what it could have been and it's anyone's guess what movie or role Nolan had eyed for his former "Insomnia" star.

Matt Damon in The Dark Knight

Matt Damon's role in "Interstellar" almost wasn't the first time he'd star in a film helmed by Nolan. While working on the follow-up to "Batman Begins," Nolan offered a major part in the sequel to the "Jason Bourne" actor who was then fresh off a string of hits that included "Syriana," "The Departed," and "Ocean's 13."

Despite a lengthy search that included Paul Bettany and Adrien Brody, Damon wasn't considered for the part of The Joker. Instead, he was picked to play Harvey Dent, the Gotham DA who would become the villainous Two-Face, which was ultimately played by Aaron Eckhart. The revelation was made while Damon was a guest on the "Happy Sad Confused" podcast (via The Playlist), though he at first tried to minimize the missed opportunity. "Well, 'Dark Knight' was a small role that I was offered," he said. But despite Harvey Dent being a major force in the film, it sounds like the actor may not have realized that fact when he turned it down.

"There was some other big movie, some big part that I was doing where I was like, 'Well, I can't play Harvey Dent, this is a relatively small role, but I am headlining this other thing.' But you gotta be sanguine about it and go, 'It all works out.'" Some six years later, Damon would accept a small role in "Interstellar," and re-teamed with the director for 2023's "Oppenheimer."

Will Smith in Inception

Thanks to directing a pair of "Batman" movies, Christopher Nolan was a major force in Hollywood by the late 2000s, and he used his newfound clout to get a passion project off the ground. An original sci-fi story that came to Nolan in a dream, "Inception" had no ties to any established brand or character, and Warner Bros. reportedly wanted Nolan to cast a recognizable name to lead the film (per Los Angeles Times). Eventually, he'd settle on Leonardo DiCaprio as dream agent Dom Cobb, but before the "Titanic" star signed on, the role was actually offered to a pair of big names first, with Will Smith leading the charge.

That news was revealed by The Hollywood Reporter in late 2010, just a few months after "Inception" had become a box office smash. According to the report, Smith was one of the top choices, but the former "Fresh Prince" star wasn't biting, though no reason was given. Potentially a scheduling conflict, or perhaps he didn't grasp the confusing story, but the role ultimately landed in DiCaprio's lap, and few critics seemed to mind. 

Totaling more than $800 million at the worldwide box office, the film was a massive hit with DiCaprio, though Smith has never commented on missing out. But thanks to its haul, it finally put to rest any possible notion that Nolan was a product of mere circumstance, and he's seemingly had free reign over casting ever since.

Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight

Famous for her leading role in the early 2000s series, "Dawson's Creek," actress Katie Holmes quickly transitioned to blockbuster films. Just two years after the teen drama ended, Holmes would nab the leading role of Rachel Dawes in Nolan's high-profile reboot of the "Batman" franchise, and receive plenty of praise for her performance as Bruce Wayne's love interest. But when the time came for the sequel, Holmes flat our rejected an offer to return.

While speculation ran rampant that Nolan recast the role because he wasn't happy with Holmes, that turned out to be far from the truth. "Katie wasn't available for the role, which I wasn't very happy about, but these things happen," Nolan was quoted saying by Business Insider. Eventually, the director turned to Maggie Gyllenhaal to supplant her as Dawes, which worked out for everyone and seemed to please the director: "I was very, very fortunate that Maggie was able to take it over."

As for Holmes, it seems circumstances just didn't allow the reprisal. "You know, I really enjoyed working on the first one and I wish I could have worked with Chris Nolan again," she told Business Insider in a separate interview. "It was a decision that I made at that time and it was right for me at that moment, so I don't have any regrets. I think that Maggie did a wonderful job. But I really hope that I get to work with Chris some day."

David Bowie in The Prestige

Wait a minute, didn't David Bowie star in "The Prestige" alongside Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman? Well, you're absolutely right, and if you're wondering why he's on our list of actors who refused roles in Nolan movies, then it might surprise you to learn that Bowie actually turned down "The Dark Knight" director when first approached. This proved a real problem for Nolan, who was interviewed in the wake of the music icon's death in 2016, because Bowie was the only person he had in mind for the part of real-life inventor Nikola Tesla.

"When we were casting 'The Prestige,' we had gotten very stuck on the character of Nikola Tesla," the director told Entertainment Weekly. "As someone who was the biggest Bowie fan in the world, once I made that connection, he seemed to be the only actor capable of playing the part." With an offer in hand, Nolan went to the man once known as Ziggy Stardust, only to be rebuffed.

"It took me a while to convince him, though — he turned down the part the first time," Nolan revealed. "It was the only time I can ever remember trying again with an actor who passed on me. I petitioned to let me explain why he was the right actor for it. In total honesty, I told him if he didn't agree to do the part, I had no idea where I would go from there. I would say I begged him."

Adam Rodriguez in The Dark Knight Rises

If you're a journeyman TV actor, an offer from a Hollywood heavyweight like Nolan to star in a long-awaited sequel to an Oscar-winning film might seem like a dream come true. It might even be hard to imagine any such actor passing up the chance, but that's exactly what happened when "CSI: Miami" star Adam Rodriguez refused a part in Nolan's "Batman" trilogy capper, "The Dark Knight Rises." Initially, it was reported that Rodriguez had joined the cast at the same time he signed up to star with Channing Tatum in "Magic Mike" (per a report in Deadline in 2011).

Unfortunately, Rodriguez was forced to drop out of the film at the 11th hour, and a few months later explained his reasons for leaving the film in an interview with Celebuzz (via ComicBookMovie.com). "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to work on 'Dark Knight' because it directly conflicted with the shooting schedule for 'Magic Mike,'" Rodriguez said. "There was no way around it. I'm sure it would have been an incredible experience, but I know it worked out for the best." 

Of course, the fact that both films announced his involvement on the same day has led many to believe he preferred the role in "Magic Mike." At first glance, that may seem strange, but even Deadline noted his part in the "Batman" threequel was a small one, and it's possible it wasn't as big a role as he saw in the male stripper story.

Heath Ledger in Batman Begins

Before Heath Ledger was controversially announced to play the Joker in Nolan's acclaimed sequel, "The Dark Knight," he was actually slated for a major part in "Batman Begins." How major, you ask? Well, Nolan had an offer out to him to play the title role. It's clear Nolan always had a soft spot for the young actor who'd made a name for himself in movies like "The Patriot," "A Knight's Tale," and "Ned Kelly." But Ledger's reasons for rejecting the role in hindsight are more than a little ironic.

"He was quite gracious about it," Nolan told an audience at the Lincoln Film Center in New York in 2012. "He said, 'I would never take a part in a superhero film'." With the part ultimately going to Christian Bale, Ledger had little to regret, as he immediately moved on to star in Ang Lee's cowboy romance drama, "Brokeback Mountain," for which he would be nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. As for Nolan, he believes that Ledger's mind was changed about comic book movies after seeing "Batman Begins."

"I explained to him what I wanted to do with 'Batman Begins' and I think maybe he felt I achieved it," Nolan said on what made him accept the offer to play the Joker for "The Dark Knight." In the end, Ledger would earn his only Oscar for his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, though he sadly wouldn't live to see it.

Irrfan Khan in Interstellar

Nolan has been known to look far and wide for talent, and in the late 2000s, he looked to India, where Irrfan Khan was a movie legend. Though his career stretches back to the late '80s with a long and varied filmography, Khan appeared in just a handful of American films, and nearly counted a Nolan masterpiece among them. 

Despite taking small roles in Ang Lee's "Life of Pi," "The Darjeeling Limited," and "The Amazing Spider-Man," Khan actually turned down an offer to appear in Nolan's sci-fi drama "Interstellar." Nolan confirmed the news himself in a 2020 interview with Times of India, not long after Khan's passing from pancreatic cancer, in which he discussed wanting to work with the Indian superstar. "Yes. I did meet Irrfan for 'Interstellar,'" the director said. "I was looking forward to working with him. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to do the film. He was a great actor."

We'll likely never know why Khan passed on the part, but it's possible he would have been required to be away from his native India for too long. He once told the Hindustani Times just how important his homeland was to him, and why he never made the jump to America. "I never really felt like leaving India. My people are here and so are my stories. Today, small and unconventional films are redefining cinema in India. And I am happy to be part of this brave, new world. Hollywood is just a bonus."

Orlando Bloom in Batman Begins

By the time Christian Bale was officially cast, nearly every hot young actor in Hollywood had been considered, with a rumored short list including Jake Gyllenhall, Joshua Jackson, Cillian Murphy, Hugh Dancy, and yes, even a 20-year-old Henry Cavill. But it's still somewhat surprising to learn that Bale wasn't the first actor to receive an offer, nor was he even the second or third, as we know both Josh Hartnett and Heath Ledger were given the chance to take the role. There's at least one more actor who passed on the part: "Lord of the Rings" alum, Orlando Bloom.

In 2019, Bloom appeared at San Diego Comic-Con where he spoke to MTV News and divulged the juicy tidbit that he'd turned down the part of Batman. "I did meet with Christopher Nolan," Bloom said. "But I didn't audition, and it was more of a conversation of ... I was in the midst of all this other stuff, and I was like, 'I can't,'" he told interviewer Josh Horowitz. "I love Christopher Nolan so much, I'd run, not walk, to work with him." Though he may have briefly considered it, Bloom eventually told Nolan 'no,' feeling he was overwhelmed with other franchises at that time. 

"It was like, 'Lord of the Rings,' 'Pirates [of the Caribbean]' was happening ... I need to be off the grid for a while because I don't know which way is up."