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Actors Who Refused Roles In Al Pacino Movies

An icon of stage and screen, Al Pacino was an instant movie star thanks to his casting as Michael Corleone in the 1972 mafia masterpiece, "The Godfather." He'd reprise the role in a pair of sequels, which would comprise one of the greatest film trilogies in cinema history, but it's far from his only memorable role. His part as the eponymous drug lord in "Scarface" led to even more legendary movie moments, while he'd join the other side of the law for films like "Serpico" and "Heat." And into the 20th century, Pacino hasn't slowed down, teaming with Christopher Nolan in "Insomnia" in 2002 and Martin Scorsese for "The Irishman," and starring in the Amazon original series, "Hunters."

With so many famous films in his long career, Pacino may also have one of the finest groups of co-stars of all time. He's worked with Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Helen Mirren, and so many more. But as long a list of great co-stars as he has had, there's more that actually turned down roles in some of his most famous movies. From "The Godfather" to "The Irishman," we've collected a list of movies with roles where actors refused to star alongside the great Al Pacino ... though not all of them necessarily regret it. Wondering why? Read on to find out.

Gene Hackman in Dick Tracy

From "Superman" to "Batman," the '80s saw several big-name comic book heroes hit the big screen, and when the decade rolled over, the trend only increased. It started in 1990 though with the lavish, big-budget adaptation of "Dick Tracy," a pulp comic book detective directed by and starring Warren Beatty. Decked out in bright solid hues of red, yellow, and blue, and populated by colorful, cartoonish heroes and villains in live-action, the film was a feast for the eyes, but it was also loaded with A-list stars. Pacino played Tracy's arch nemesis, "Big Boy" Caprice, with Dustin Hoffman, Madonna, Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin, and James Caan also in memorable roles.

But one actor who refused to take part in the action was Lex Luthor himself, Gene Hackman. This news comes to us courtesy of the book "Hollywood Hellraisers" which profiled the likes of Beatty, among others. In it, it's revealed that the director and star had called on Hackman to appear in a small role in the comic book adaptation. 

According to the book though, Hackman had not enjoyed working with Beatty on another film, "Bonnie and Clyde," some years earlier, with Beatty insisting on more than 50 takes of a single scene. Perhaps soured on working with him, Hackman's response to the call for "Dick Tracy" was "I love you, Warren, but I just can't do it."

Winona Ryder in The Godfather Part III

Director Francis Ford Coppola had resisted studio efforts to get him to helm a third "The Godfather" film for years, but after a string of disappointments, including filing for bankruptcy, the director was lured back behind the camera for one more film (per The Guardian). Set years after the previous movie, Sofia Coppola — the director's daughter — plays the now-adult offspring of Pacino's Michael Corleone. 

But Sofia wasn't the first choice for the role, with Francis Ford actually having a very different name in mind. Originally, after a lengthy audition process, the part was given to young actress Winona Ryder, who had just shot to stardom off the back of Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands." According to a 1990 Vanity Fair feature, Ryder was all ready for the role and arrived on set with her then-boyfriend Johnny Depp, ready to shoot her first scenes. But Ryder never made it in front of the camera, with Depp phoning producers to say she was unwell, and examining doctors determining that she was suffering a mental health crisis. 

Though the actress was fortunate to have a strong support system of family and friends, she was forced to bow out of the production at the last minute. This prompted a mad scramble for a replacement, but there was one more name who turned it down before they turned to Sofia Coppola.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Julia Roberts in The Godfather Part III

Following the unexpected but unavoidable departure of Ryder from the role of Mary in "The Godfather Part III," Coppola was left seeking an immediate replacement. To play the role of Michael Corleone's daughter, he went through his earlier list of potential stars, and it seems he landed on Julia Roberts, who had just missed out on the role before it had been given to Ryder. 

Unfortunately, Roberts had to pass on the part, as at that point she was already engaged in another project. Though it's not been said what film got in the way, given the timing, it's possible that it was "Pretty Woman," one of the most iconic films in Roberts' catalog, so it's unlikely she laments saying no. Whatever film it was though, delaying production to accommodate the star wasn't possible, and Coppola was forced to look elsewhere to fill the role (The Guardian).

Madonna, who was nearly a decade older but had already auditioned, was considered, but casting her would have meant substantial rewrites. Finally, the role fell to Sofia Coppola, who had already served as a stand-in during early rehearsals according to a 2020 interview with actor Andy Garcia published in Insider.

Alison Doody in Carlito's Way

In 1993, Pacino re-teamed with his "Scarface" director, Brian de Palma, and produced another crime classic, "Carlito's Way." Pacino starred in the titular role of Carlito Brigante, an ex-con recently released from a long stretch behind bars who struggles to escape his violent life. Like many films in Pacino's catalog, the supporting cast is stellar, including future two-time Oscar-winner Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Leguizamo. But one name that almost joined in was Alison Doody, who audiences are likely to remember best from her role opposite the whip-wielding relic hunter in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

Though it was never revealed what role she turned down, the news of her passing on the part comes from Dread Central. The horror outlet spoke with producer Jonathan Sothcott regarding a potential remake of the 1972 film, "Asphyx," in which Doody was planned to star. During their chat, he spoke of her role in the film, which he hoped it might make up for the actress passing up roles in so many iconic films, like "Basic Instinct" and indeed, "Carlito's Way." 

Though Doody will forever be iconic for her role as the Nazi spy Elsa Schneider in "Last Crusade," her career never did get hot the way it could have had she starred in bigger, better movies in the succeeding years. Who knows what may have been had she accepted a part in the 1993 classic.

James Cagney in The Godfather Part II

When it comes to movie gangsters, few could rival the toughness and steely-eyed sinister streak of James Cagney. Once described by Orson Welles as "the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera," Cagney was famous for his roles in "The Public Enemy," "White Heat," and "G-Men." By the 1970s, Cagney was well into his 70s and very retired, but that didn't stop Coppola from reaching out when he was working on his "Godfather" films.

Unconfirmed rumors have circulated for years that Cagney had earlier been offered the role of Vito Corleone that wound up going to Marlon Brando, but one role we know he was considered for was in its sequel, "The Godfather Part II." As mentioned in the Yorkshire Post in 2010, Cagney was still being offered numerous roles into the 1970s despite his last film role being in 1961's "One, Two, Three." But he declined just about every project, and that includes a part in the first "Godfather" sequel. 

It seems that Coppola wanted him for the role of Hyman Roth, the aging gangster, and partner of Vito Corleone. But just like every other role he'd been offered to that point, Cagney declined, happy to stay retired. Ultimately the role went to Lee Strasberg, and Cagney's lone on-screen appearance before his death in 1986 was in the 1981 musical adaptation, "Ragtime."

Tom Cruise in Donnie Brasco

In the early 1990s, Pacino had arguably his best run of hits, with "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Scent of a Woman," "Carlito's Way," and "Heat" between 1992 and 1994. But he followed them up in 1997 with another new classic, "Donnie Brasco," where he co-starred alongside Johnny Depp in the true story of Joseph Pistone, an FBI agent who went undercover in the Italian mafia in the '70s and '80s. But thanks to a lengthy period in development, there was a time when it almost starred Tom Cruise instead of Depp.

In 1995, two years before its eventual release, Variety reported that the film was finally ready to roll with Pacino and director Stephen Frears (who would later be replaced by Mike Newell). But in their report, they discuss previous efforts to get the film off the ground, including an earlier version directed by Frears, with none other than "Top Gun" star Cruise in the title role.

But Cruise eventually walked away from the role that Depp landed when things couldn't come together. Funny enough, the Variety report also says John Travolta was in mind at the time to replace Cruise, though in his case, it was actually the studio who backed away from his deal, leading to a lawsuit that was settled out of court. In the end, with Pacino and Depp, the film was a box office hit

John Leguizamo in Donnie Brasco

Arguably Hollywood's most underrated actor, John Leguizamo has had quite the career, from Luigi in "Super Mario Bros." to LGBTQ icon Chi-Chi in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar!" But none of it may have been possible without his iconic role as Benny Blanco opposite Pacino in "Carlito's Way," which is why it's surprising to learn that he refused to play the role more than once before signing on.

In a 2022 interview, Leguizamo suggested that the reason he initially turned it down may have been related to his discomfort with Pacino playing a Latin lead character. "It's an odd experience to be a Latin man in a Latin story written by a Latin man and the lead guy's a white guy pretending to be Puerto Rican," the actor told Insider. "I'm not going to lie, it's surreal. It was surreal. I turned the part down a few times and then eventually I decided to do it."

Though Leguizamo didn't specify what changed his mind, he suggested that the lack of opportunities for minorities at the time may have played a part. "It has always been 'Holly-wouldn't'. And I knew this going in. When I went to college and alongside some great actors the white guys would get five auditions a day and I would have one every five months." He was also understandably unhappy that Latin actors were typically cast as criminals, even murderers. "Those were my opportunities."

Joe Pesci in The Irishman

In hindsight, it seems like a crime that Pacino and Martin Scorsese had never worked together until 2019's "The Irishman," a gangster epic packed with wall-to-wall stars. Pacino was back on-screen with his "Heat" co-star Robert De Niro, and they were joined by a veritable who's who of actors known for parts in iconic crime dramas. 

This includes "The Wire" star, Domenick Lombardozzi, "Reservoir Dogs" actor Harvey Keitel, and of course "Goodfellas" great, Joe Pesci. But it might come as a shock to learn that Pesci actually turned down the role initially. And if you think Leguizamo's four refusals were surprising, wait until you hear that Pesci refused the role of Russell Bufalino an astonishing 40 times. Retired by the time "The Irishman" was ready for filming, Pesci wasn't interested, fearing that it would be too similar to movies he'd done in the past. "There was a lot of persuasion," Scorsese told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. 

But despite being denied over and over, the director didn't give up. Eventually, Scorsese turned to De Niro to do the recruiting, as revealed in a piece by Entertainment Weekly. "A lot of what I was saying was, 'Come on, who knows if we're ever going to have this chance again?'" De Niro told the outlet. While his reasons have varied, different factors all coalesced, and after 40 refusals, Pesci finally gave in.

Chris Tucker in Any Given Sunday

The 1990s saw several iconic sports dramas including Tom Cruise's "Jerry Maguire" and Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Basketball Diaries." The end of the decade saw one more, with  Pacino starring as beleaguered football coach Tony D'Amato in "Any Given Sunday." The supporting cast included Dennis Quaid, Lawrence Taylor, and LL Cool J as players on his team, with Cameron Diaz starring as the team's owner and general manager who wants D'Amato gone. There was one other actor who nearly joined the cast, though: Chris Tucker.

Having started his career in comedies like "Friday" and "House Party 3," Tucker made the jump to dramas in "Dead Presidents" and a small role in "Jackie Brown." Shortly thereafter he'd have his breakout role in "Rush Hour" alongside Jackie Chan, but according to Vulture, Tucker almost added "Any Given Sunday" to his list, as he was offered the role of third-string quarterback Willie Beamen. While turning it down probably didn't do his career much damage thanks to his "Rush Hour" franchise, it did boost the profile of Jamie Foxx, the actor who did land the part. 

The first major drama for Foxx, it helped showcase his talents in a high-profile film. Just two years later he'd co-star alongside Will Smith in another sports drama, the boxing biopic, "Ali," and his Oscar-winning career was off and running.

Brooke Shields in Scarface

Pacino had success throughout the 1970s in gritty dramas like "Serpico" and "Dog Day Afternoon." But into the early '80s, he also had a string of misses, including the somewhat misguided murder movie, "Cruising," and the Sidney Pollack disaster, "Bobby Deerfield" (though he claimed a Golden Globe nomination for his performance). Then in 1983, Pacino came back with a vengeance in his return to gangster movies, starring in the title role of Brian De Palma's "Scarface." 

A gritty remake of a 1930s classic, it also starred Michelle Pfeiffer in a career-altering performance as Elvira, the young lover and eventual wife of Pacino's Tony Montana. But things could have been very different — for Pfeiffer and the film — had it not been for another actress turning down the part. Unlike Pfeiffer, who had appeared in just a few films to that point in her career, young actress Brooke Shields was already something of a star. Though just 17 at the time of filming, she already had a lengthy filmography, with leading roles in "Endless Love," "The Blue Lagoon" and the polarizing "Pretty Baby."

As noted by The Guardian, Shields was the first choice for the role of Elvira, which could have changed the tenor of the film, as she was nearly a decade younger than Pfeiffer. But when she passed, Pfeiffer used it as something of a springboard to her own career, with "Ladyhawke" and "The Witches of Eastwick" following within a few years.

Richard Castellano in The Godfather Part II

As Peter Clemenza in "The Godfather," Richard Castellano was something of a mentor to Pacino's Michael Corleone. But over the years it's become clear that the actor had problems with the film's director which may have played a part in his refusal to star in its sequel.

In an interview with the New York Post reporter Lou Lumenick in 1981, he revealed tension on the set between himself and the director, claiming Coppola resented his hands-on approach to filmmaking. According to the actor, Coppola hit back by forcing the heavy-set actor to climb four flights of stairs for a scene. "We shot the scene over and over,” Castellano said. "He was going to run the beast. Well, I can take it. I got myself up 75 flights of steps ... and if we wanted to go for 100, I was ready."'

Whether it was bitterness or simply good business, when the time came for a sequel, Castellano then had some demands for his return. But while rumors have persisted that he'd wanted to write his own dialogue, the actor claims it was a salary dispute, and physical demands he didn't feel comfortable meeting. "I had settled on a price and everybody else's was settled upon mine. [Coppola] had me losing weight to play Clemenza as a young man. I was down to 194 pounds. When I received the script five minutes later, it had me rolling in at 300 pounds.”

Ving Rhames in Any Given Sunday

Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" boasted an all-star cast as we've seen, but there was one more name that was almost in the middle of it all: "Mission: Impossible" and "Pulp Fiction" star, Ving Rhames. This time though, the actor didn't actually refuse initially and was actually signed up to play a leading role as one of the players on Pacino's team. But at the last minute, Rhames was forced to leave the production, turning down the chance to star alongside "The Godfather" star Pacino due to a commitment to another film.

According to a 1998 Variety report, the exit from the film, then titled "On Any Given Sunday," was announced in the trades as the result of delays that pushed back production. As reported, Rhames was already signed up to begin filming on the "Mission: Impossible" sequel being directed by Hong Kong filmmaker, John Woo. Though Rhames has since returned several more times in the action series, he may regret missing out on the football film, as "Mission: Impossible II" is generally regarded as the worst in the franchise.

Interestingly though, the report also mentions that Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs had also left the film, citing possible concerns about his ability to convincingly portray a professional football player. There were no such worries about Rhames however, considering his towering size is one of his most noticeable attributes.