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Roles Nicolas Cage actually turned down

If you give Nicolas Cage the right part, the man will give you an incredible performance. Just see Mandy, Adaptation, or Wild at Heart for proof. And don't forget that Cage won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. On the flip side, he has a really bad habit of picking awful parts and winding up in horrible movies. 

For every Joe or Bad Lieutenant, the man has shown up in a dozen cinematic atrocities like Left Behind, Season of the Witch, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and of course, the infamous remake of The Wicker Man. Take a look at his filmography, and it's tempting to think that he'll just say "yes" to any script that comes along. But believe it or not, Cage actually puts some thought into the parts he picks, which means there are quite a few iconic characters that he's passed on. From bumbling idiots to sadistic cult leaders, these are the roles that Nicolas Cage actually turned down.

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Cage passed on a dumb (and dumber) role

With his frazzled hair and goofy grin, it's impossible to imagine anybody besides Jeff Daniels playing that lovable Dumb and Dumber doofus Harry Dunne. But as it turns out, Daniels wasn't the first pick to play Jim Carrey's sidekick. Speaking with The Huffington Post in 2012, Nicolas Cage revealed that he he used to be good friends with Carrey (evidently, they don't talk much these days; they just went separate ways), and as he put it, "Well, we talked at length about trying to do a movie together."

Sure, they both appeared in Peggy Sue Got Married, but the duo wanted to make a film where they were both the leads, acting alongside one another. And Carrey actually had a very specific movie in mind. "In fact," Cage elaborated, "he wanted me to be in Dumb and Dumber with him." However, Cage turned down the part of Harry Dunne for Leaving Las Vegas, the film that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. Still, it's pretty wild imagining what Cage's take on the character would've been like, and based on his bathroom freakout in Mandy, you know Cage would've done something truly crazy with that infamous toilet scene.

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Nicolas Cage was not The One

Some actors were just born to play a certain role. Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. And Keanu Reeves is Neo from The Matrix. With his martial arts skills and zen-bro attitude, Reeves is the only actor who could have dodged all those bullets and saved humanity from evil A.I. But hindsight is 20/20, and in the early days of Matrix pre-production, the Wachowskis considered pretty much every single actor in Hollywood before finally getting around to Reeves.

It's been reported that Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, and Will Smith were all considered for the role, but fortunately, none of them worked out. You can also add Nicolas Cage to that impressive list. The man had established some serious action cred with movies like The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off, so you can see why the Wachowskis were interested. 

Cage turned down the opportunity to learn kung fu because a lot of the filming was going to take place in the Land Down Under. As the actor explained, he didn't want to spend that much time in Australia because he had "family obligations," before going on to say, "I'm glad I stayed [home], and I had those experiences with my family." Still, as perfect as Reeves was for the part, it would've been pretty fun watching Cage go full-blown psycho on Agent Smith.

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He was scared of Shrek

Nicolas Cage is no stranger to animation, having lent his voice to movies like The Ant Bully and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. However, the actor missed an incredible animated opportunity when he turned down the chance to voice everybody's favorite ogre, Shrek. The reasons why he passed on the big green guy are a little confusing, as Cage has given conflicting accounts.

Speaking with The Daily Mail, Cage said he that turned down Shrek because he "just didn't want to look like an ogre." So was there a bit of vanity at play? Or was Cage only joking? Well, the actor changed his story during an interview with TODAY, pointing out that he's played unattractive characters before, like the Kaufman twins in Adaptation. He then described his thought process behind turning down Shrek by explaining his decision to play the caveman Grug in The Croods. "I want kids to look at Grug [and think], 'Well, he's a little scary, but he's a big teddy bear. And I wasn't sure I could do that with Shrek."

So was he just too vain to play an ugly-looking ogre, or was he simply unsure of his acting abilities? Whatever the reason he said no, Cage did admit to The Daily Mail, "Maybe I should have done it looking back."

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Cage turned down the crown

When it comes to fantasy films, there's one franchise to rule them all: The Lord of the Rings. From its emotional heft to the incredible action scenes, Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth trilogy is practically perfect. That's especially true when it comes to casting. Ian McKellen kills it as Gandalf. Andy Serkis earns his title as motion-capture king playing Gollum. And, of course, Viggo Mortensen is irreplaceable as Aragorn, bringing such a quiet strength and nobility to the part that it's almost blasphemous to imagine Nicolas Cage in his stead.

However, Cage was almost the guy helping Frodo get to Mount Doom. He later admitted that Lord of the Rings is one of those movies that he "probably would have benefited from" if he'd taken the role. However, the trilogy was filmed in New Zealand, and Cage didn't want to spend so much time working overseas. Talking with Newsweek, Cage explained, "There were different things going on in my life at the time that precluded me from being able to travel and be away from home for three years."

But for Cage, there's a silver-lining here: he gets to watch the movies as a fan. According to the actor, he genuinely loves the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but never watches his own movies. If he'd starred as Aragorn, he wouldn't be able to enjoy the adventures of Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf. Still, even though Mortensen was perfect casting, we wish we could hear Cage trying to speak Elvish.

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Cage was too busy for this sci-fi flick

Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a gorgeous and haunting sci-fi film that features one of Jim Carrey's all-time best performances. Carrey drops his over-the-top comedy shtick to play a shy, heartbroken man named Joel Barish who wants to use some state-of-the-art equipment to wipe his ex-girlfriend from his memories. Carrey brings a mix of agony and quiet humor to the role, and he's perfectly balanced out by Kate Winslet's exuberant yet angry performance. However, long before Carrey came on board, Gondry had his eye on Nicolas Cage for the part of Joel.

In fact, the French filmmaker actually offered Cage the part, but as he explained to The Daily Beast, "Every independent director who wanted to make a commercial movie asked Nicolas Cage to be in their movie after Leaving Las Vegas, except that he would only do one out of ten of those projects." Fortunately, Carrey came along and saved the day, and while Cage can definitely deliver when it comes to heartache, Eternal Sunshine needed someone who would sob quietly, not explode like a volcano of red hot emotion.

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He wasn't ready to step into the ring

After a couple of really rough decades, Mickey Rourke made his big Hollywood comeback with The Wrestler. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, this 2008 film follows the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler struggling with a broken family, an aching body, and a bad ticker. With his greasy hair and wrinkled face, Rourke perfectly captured a man whose entire life has been spent inside the ring, and his amazing performance got him an Oscar nod for Best Actor.

It's kind of shocking, then, to think about Nicolas Cage leaping off the ropes for a "Ram Jam," but he was actually connected to the project for a brief period of time. According to Aronofsky, he really wanted to make the film with Rourke, but couldn't find any studios to sign on with the troubled actor as the lead. He considered recasting the part with Nicolas Cage, who "really liked the script." However, as Aronofsky explained to Slashfilm, he could never really give up on Rourke, and Cage was totally cool with that. "Nic was a complete gentleman," the director said, "and he understood that my heart was with Mickey, and he stepped aside."

The film eventually got studio backing and went on to bring audiences around the world to tears. However, Cage has offered a slightly different explanation as to why he didn't take the wrestling role. Speaking with Access Hollywood, Cage claimed he "resigned" from the project because he didn't have "enough time to achieve the look of the wrestler who was on steroids." It's entirely possible that both stories are accurate, but whatever the reason, Mickey Rourke is probably pleased that Cage decided to tap out.

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Cage narrowly missed a major bomb

After passing on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Nicolas Cage got a second opportunity to work with whimsical director Michel Gondry. Instead of making a mind-bending sci-fi romance, this time Gondry was directing a superhero comedy: The Green Hornet. With Seth Rogen in the lead, Gondry wanted Cage to play Benjamin Chudnofsky, the pistol-packing gangster going through a midlife crisis. It looked like Cage was actually going to step in front of the cameras when he suddenly left at the last minute.

So what prompted Cage to swat away The Green Hornet? Well, it seems he clashed with Gondry over Chudnofsky's motivations. As Cage explained (via Screen Rant), he "wasn't interested in just being a straight-up bad guy who was killing people willy-nilly." Cage went on to say that, "I had to have some humanity and to try to give it something where you could understand why the character was the way he was, but I don't think there was enough time to develop it." Christoph Waltz stepped in shortly before filming began to fill Cage's shoes, but as The Green Hornet was an absolute disaster, it seems like this was one instance of Cage actually saying no to a bad movie.

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He passed on playing a serial killer because he was tired of being crazy

Inspired by the real-life story of serial killer Robert Hansen, The Frozen Ground follows an Alaska state trooper who's just stumbled upon a truly disturbing murder case. As he digs deeper, he realizes there's a crazy man on the loose, a guy who gets his kicks by hunting women in the woods. If you've seen the film, you know Nicolas Cage plays the world-weary trooper, but when the filmmakers approached him about starring in this 2013 thriller, they had a very different role in mind for the Oscar-winning actor.

As it turns out, Cage was originally offered the part of woman-hating Robert Hansen. Cage would've probably been a phenomenal serial killer, but when he was offered the Frozen Ground gig, he gave the role the cold shoulder. As he explained to Film Freak (via Film School Rejects), "Originally they wanted me to play Hansen, but I just didn't want to go there." Instead, he wanted to play the part of the heroic cop, which would give him the opportunity "to return to a more minimal, documentary style of film performance." In turn, an understated character would provide a nice contrast to his crazier roles and make his "more operatic" performances "look a little better." No joke, that's what he actually said. With Cage as the lead, the part of Robert Hansen went to John Cusack, which means we were all deprived of seeing Cage go total psychopath.

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Cage turned down the chance to become a god

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, American Gods is a gorgeous, gory, and boundary-pushing show that follows an ex-convict who stumbles into a world full of jinn, leprechauns, and scheming deities. And none of these gods are quite so cunning as the manipulative Mr. Wednesday. Played by the inimitable Ian McShane, Wednesday is a larger-than-life con-man with a legendary past. And McShane is perfect in the part, just oozing with coolness and confidence. That's exactly how Wednesday comes off in the book—a player who's always in control and who never loses his head. 

In other words, that's kind of like the exact opposite of Nicolas Cage, who specializes in playing volatile characters who could fly off the handle at any second. But before McShane came into the picture, the folks at Starz thought Cage might be the right guy to work Wednesday's magic. In an interview with the L.A. Times, Cage admitted it was "a great part, beautifully written," but thankfully, the man said no. We're not exactly sure why he turned down the opportunity, but we're going to send him a prayer of thanks for allowing McShane to accept the role.

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Cage wasn't ready to play a cult leader

In 2018, Nicolas Cage reminded everybody that he was awesome by starring in Mandy, a horror film filled with Cenobite bikers and chainsaw battles. Directed by Panos Cosmatos, Cage gives a powerful performance as Red Miller, a lumberjack whose life is torn apart by the world's creepiest cult. Fueled by anger, coke, and a whole lot of vodka, Red goes on a mission of revenge, resulting in several bloody battles and a whole lot of acclaim for Cage's acting abilities.

Red Miller is such a perfect Cage role that you might assume the part was written with him in mind. But in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cosmatos revealed that he originally had very different plans for Mr. Cage. As it turns out, Cosmatos desperately wanted Cage to play Jeremiah Sand, the hippie-cult leader who kidnaps Red's wife, Mandy. However, when Cage was offered the part, he crushed Cosmatos' dreams by saying he wanted to play Red instead.

According to Cage, he didn't have "the emotional resource to connect with the Jeremiah Sand character." However, he felt an immediate link with Red, saying he "had the memories and the life experience to inform Red in a way that I felt would be authentic." For a while, Cosmatos just gave up on having Cage in the movie at all. He was so invested in the Oscar-winner playing the villain that it took him a while to consider Cage as the blood-splattered hero. A few weeks later, Cosmatos admits that, "I woke up and I thought to myself, 'Were we stupid for turning that down?'" Fortunately for film fans, Cosmatos quickly fixed his mistake by casting the incredible Linus Roache as the cult leader and giving Cage his much-deserved chainsaw.