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Actors who didn't have to audition for iconic roles

From established A-listers to the brightest of up and coming no-listers, any actor in in Hollywood will tell you that "making it" in showbiz is nothing short of a 24/7 hustle to get to the summit of some metaphorical mountaintop. That climb is beset by an endless string of auditions and rejections that could send even the most ardent of dreamers packing for the hills. Those who do make it are likely to tell you that it was one specific role that helped them get to the top, and that the hustle doesn't exactly end when you get there.

For actors who really make their mark in the entertainment business, there are plenty of perks — one of which is the possibility of skipping the dreaded audition process for some of cinema's most coveted roles. While this is fairly rare (even bona fide movie stars still have to win the part on occasion), it's a reward that any actor would gladly claim — especially to play a character that happens to become their calling card. Here's a look at a few actors who were lucky enough to skip the audition for memorable movie roles.

Uma Thurman — The Bride (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2)

Throughout Quentin Tarantino's lauded career as Hollywood's modern grindhouse auteur, he's developed a reputation for reinvigorating the careers of faded stars (see John Travolta, Pam Grier, and Don Johnson) and giving big breaks to up and comers (see Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Fassbender, and Christoph Waltz). You can slot Uma Thurman's name into the latter category. Though she'd already made a name for herself in Hollywood prior to appearing in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, she undoubtedly shot to stardom in the wake of that film's surprising success.

The pair famously bonded while making Pulp Fiction and reportedly spent some of their time on set kicking around ideas that would inform Thurman's best known role, that of the Bride in Tarantino's Kill Bill films. Nearly a decade later, we finally got a glimpse at what the pair's spitballing had spawned, and Kill Bill turned out to be the kung fu/grindhouse/western fantasia that even Tarantino's most ardent fans didn't know they needed.

It was also a film that wouldn't have been made with any other actor in the lead. While Tarantino wrote the screenplay himself, the ideas were both conjured and inspired by Thurman. Tarantino spent years tweaking the story, offered her the role sans audition, and even delayed production over a year to accommodate her pregnancy. While the legacy of the film has been tarnished of late, it remains a singular achievement in style and substance, and stands as the most memorable performance in Thurman's fascinating oeuvre.

Alan Rickman — Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

By now, we're all familiar with the rigorous casting search that the producers of the Harry Potter film franchise underwent to find just the right youngsters to portray the young wizards Harry, Hermione, and Ron. That search saw producers sorting through thousands of young British faces and organizing dozens of auditions before settling on Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint for the coveted roles; even then, those faces had to be approved by author J.K. Rowling herself.

Seems Rowling had quite a bit of sway over who appeared in the adaptations of her bestselling book series. She even issued a "British actors only" edict before the casting process started, ensuring that no phony accents could spoil the magic. She used her influence even more when it came time to select the actors who would portray the professors at Hogwarts, guiding producers towards certain actors she thought would ably fill key parts. When it came down to casting the pivotal role of Severus Snape, Rowling insisted that the great Alan Rickman was the only actor who could play the part; it's even rumored that she had him in mind while writing the books. If you've seen the films, well, it's impossible to argue her opinion. It's impossible to imagine another actor as Snape, and the franchise is all the more accessible for Rickman's deeply nuanced performance.

Adam Driver — Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Adam Driver's ascent to the A-list been over the past decade has been as surprising as it has been fascinating. The actors' awkwardly rugged good looks certainly set him apart from the pack, but it's his fierce commitment to his craft that garnered attention from some of the biggest directors in Hollywood. Those attributes landed him impressive supporting turns in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. They also scored Driver his first real break when Lena Dunham cast him as her romantic interest in HBO's hit series Girls.

It was Driver's work on Girls (not to mention indie hits like Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis) that helped get the attention of J.J. Abrams, who was looking to cast a relative unknown as the villain in his new movie. That movie was none other Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the role was the new trilogy's central baddie Kylo Ren. After a casting period that apparently also involved one of the worst auditions of Eddie Redmayne's career, Abrams eventually decided that Driver was his Kylo, flew him out to Bad Robot headquarters, and straight up offered him the part. Wary of boarding such a big project, Driver almost passed on the choice role. Luckily he took the part, became the villain the next generation of Stars Wars fans deserved, and is now all but punching his own ticket around Hollywood. 

Chris Evans — Captain America (Captain America: The First Avenger)

Marvel Entertainment has inarguably produced some of the biggest and boldest superhero films Hollywood has ever seen. They've accomplished that feat by thinking outside the blockbuster box when choosing directors to guide those tentpoles through production — a habit that started when they tapped Jon Favreau to helm Iron Man, and has continued with other inspired picks like Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Ryan Coogler, and the Russo brothers.

Still, Marvel doesn't always get enough credit for making inspired choices in their casting. Lest we forget, they opened the MCU by hedging bets on Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Marvel made Downey jump through hoops to prove he was right for the job, but Chris Evans had a much easier time landing the lead in Captain America: The First Avenger. In fact, he didn't even need to audition to score the coveted role.

Turns out Evans' absurdly all-American looks had already caught the eye of Director Joe Johnston, who convinced Marvel to cast the actor without so much as a screen test. Don't forget, Evans' record in superhero flicks (including a flop in Push and two forgettable Fantastic Four outings) didn't exactly scream "face of a franchise," even if his actual face did. While Evans has become one of the most recognizable stars in the world since landing the role, his casting felt like a metered risk at the time, one we're grateful to Marvel for taking.

Bill Murray — Bob Harris (Lost In Translation)

By the time Bill Murray agreed to star in Sofia Coppola's sophomore film, he already had a dozen or so unforgettable roles to his credit. Throughout the '80s and '90s, the legendary funnyman was practically delivering iconic work for every film he appeared in. While filmmakers were quick to utilize Murray's razor-sharp wit over that span, not many — save for Harold Ramis on Groundhog Day — had taken full advantage of Murray's charms as a romantic lead.

Seems Coppola was paying attention, and she was adamant about casting the actor as the lead in her romantic drama Lost in Translation. She even wrote the screenplay specifically with Murray in mind, and claims she wouldn't have made the film if he'd turned down the role, so there was no audition process to be had.

It actually seems more like Coppola was the one who auditioned for Murray. As the story goes, the indie auteur had a mutual friend pass an early draft of the Lost in Translation script along to Murray, who then set up a meeting. The pair hit it off, and Murray agreed to do the film — only he never signed a contract to that effect. On Murray's word alone, Coppola took her cast and crew to Tokyo and started production, unsure whether he'd even show up. Luckily for her — and movie lovers in general — Murray showed. He also delivered an Oscar-nominated performance that stands among the finest of his career.

Chadwick Boseman — T'Challa/Black Panther (Captain America: Civil War)

For many, Hollywood is the place where dreams of stardom go to die. For a chosen few, it's where they go to blossom. Prior to joining the MCU as the future king of the tech-rich African nation of Wakanda, Chadwick Boseman was already well on his way to becoming a star. In the years leading up to his MCU debut, he steadily worked his way from bit parts on established TV shows (ER, Lie To Me, Justified, Fringe) to starring in a couple of the better biopics produced in the past decade (playing Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up).

Those choice roles aside, it still seemed like not enough people knew who Boseman was. Turns out that while not many people knew Boseman's work, the right people did — including Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, MCU producers Nate More and Louis D'Esposito, and Captain America: Civil War directors Joe and Anthony Russo. Seems that when the crew behind Civil War were tossing around story and character ideas, they decided it was finally time to bring Black Panther into the mix, and when they did, the crew (who'd been following Boseman's career) almost instantly/unanimously decided he was not just right for the part, but the only actor who was. They had Boseman on the phone the next day, offering him the role without an audition.

Viggo Mortensen - Aragorn (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Timing is everything in the movie business. Take Viggo Mortensen's casting as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy as a prime example. By all accounts, Mortensen was never supposed to be in the film at all. Not that he wouldn't have been an intriguing choice for the role. Leading up to LotR, Mortensen had made a reputation for himself as one of the more intensely dedicated actors around, though that also meant that he tended to gravitate toward smaller, more character-driven projects. Something as big as Jackson's super-trilogy just didn't seem to match up.

That may be the reason Jackson went into production with Stuart Townsend in the coveted role. Just days into the shoot, it became clear that Townsend was simply too young to portray the weariness Aragorn required, and the actor was let go. With his mammoth production on the line, Jackson needed an established actor who could get to New Zealand ASAP and commit to the trilogy's extended shooting schedule. An audition was a luxury they simply couldn't afford. So a call went out to Mortensen, who apparently didn't know much about the source material, except that his son was a fan. He took the role at his son's urging, and days later was in New Zealand and beginning his journey to becoming the king of Middle-earth. He was also well on his way to delivering what many believe to be the strongest performance of the trilogy, though a certain Oscar-nominated wizard might disagree.

Mickey Rourke - Randy "The Ram" Robinson (The Wrestler)

Film directors are typically creative obsessives who aren't usually willing to deviate from the vision they have for whatever film they're trying to get made, and indie auteur Darren Aronofsky is arguably more obsessive (and creative) than most. For proof, read the story behind the production of his epic sci-fi mind-bender The Fountain. For further proof, see how far he went to cast Mickey Rourke in his masterful micro-budget drama The Wrestler.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Rourke was reportedly always Aronofsky's first choice to play Randy "The Ram" Robinson in the film, and Rourke (a faded star who was himself on the comeback trail in Hollywood) seemed an obvious choice to carry the role of a past-his-prime wrestler sacrificing everything to get back into the spotlight. Producers couldn't get the film properly financed with Rourke attached, so Nicolas Cage stepped into the role instead. But being the obsessive he is, Aronofsky just couldn't see anybody but Rourke as "The Ram." So depending on who you talk to, Cage was either unceremoniously replaced in the film, or walked away of his own accord.

Either way, Aronofsky cut The Wrestler's budget, gave Rourke the part without so much as a table read, and made one of his strongest films to date. He also guided Rourke in an unforgettably heartbreaking performance that remains a career high point for the actor, netting him a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination to boot.

Sylvester Stallone — Rocky Balboa (Rocky)

If getting your big break in showbiz is a hustle, then Sylvester Stallone should go down as one of the entertainment industry's all-time greatest hustlers. With eight films making up the RBCU (Rocky Balboa Cinematic Universe, or "Rocky-verse" for short), it's almost easy to forget that the O.G. Rocky was a decidedly homegrown affair that went on to make history with 10 Oscar nominations and wins for Best Editing, Best Director, and Best Picture.

Though Stallone went home empty-handed on Oscar night, two of those 10 nominations belonged to him — the first for Best Actor, and the second for Best Original Screenplay. That's right: Stallone actually wrote the script for Rocky himself. He explicitly wrote it for himself, and when Sly shopped his underdog epic to studios, the largely unknown actor did so under the condition that no one else would play the lead. Of course, that made the idea of Stallone auditioning for the part all but absurd. It also ruffled the feathers of a few producers who loved the script, but wanted to cast a big name in the lead. Stallone stuck to his guns, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Peter Dinklage - Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones)

Many actors have heard the phrase "you were born to play that part," and it's a safe bet that Peter Dinklage has heard it more than most. After all, his 4'5" frame uniquely qualifies him for a very specific set of characters — although we prefer to think that Dinklage's fierce eyes, wicked sense of humor, and uncanny ability to breathe humanity into even the most sketchily written characters has played a bigger role in his ascent to stardom. It's those qualities that caught the eyes of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss when they were casting the role of Tyrion Lannister for their smash hit HBO series Game of Thrones.

According to Benioff and Weiss, Dinklage was the first and only pick to play the part of the Lannisters' cavalier but brilliant black sheep, and unlike most of his Game of Thrones costars, he didn't have to audition to win the part. Once the show premiered, even those unfamiliar with the source material came on board, proclaiming Dinklage as the unofficial star of the series and even bestowing him this grandest of YouTube honors. Emmy voters seem to agree, and have now honored Dinklage's work with an impressive seven nominations and three well-deserved wins, which makes it pretty clear that Tyrion Lannister is a part Peter Dinklage was absolutely born to play.

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