Actors Who Were Almost Cast In Quentin Tarantino Movies

Many A-list actors see the opportunity to work with prestige directors like Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson as both an honor and a privilege. However, a lot of pressure comes with the opportunity to act under the direction of Quentin Tarantino, considering the director's commitment to only directing 10 films. Pre-production had already commenced on his tenth film, prior to the start of the 2023 Writers' Guild of America and Screen Actors' Guild strikes.

One can hardly even imagine some of the iconic roles from Tarantino's movies, like Jules from "Pulp Fiction" or Django from "Django Unchained," played by any actors other than the ones who were finally cast. Nevertheless, the casting process for Tarantino's films becomes a rigorous effort, and despite the input of movie studios and producers, Tarantino always gets the final say. 

Even though Tarantino often works with the same actors on numerous projects, including Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, and Uma Thurman, plenty of A-list actors sadly missed out on opportunities to act in one of his films. Although there's still time for them to appear in the director's final film, these 12 actors failed to earn iconic roles throughout Tarantino's filmography thus far.  

Adam Sandler

A director with as much creative control over his movies as Tarantino often achieves his dream casting. This is especially true of 2009's "Inglourious Basterds," which centers on an assassination plot against German dictator Adolf Hitler during World War II. Though Tarantino fulfilled his casting aspirations for characters like Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, others proved more difficult to cast, such as Christoph Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa. However, one major casting choice didn't come to fruition.

For the role of Sergeant Donny Donowitz, a member of the titular team of Nazi killers assembled by Raine, Tarantino originally envisioned the character being played by Adam Sandler. This would've been quite a departure for Sandler, who by the late 2000s gained notoriety for performances in films like "Billy Madison" and "The Wedding Singer," though the actor previously stepped into drama with "Punch-Drunk Love." Still, playing the role of "The Bear Jew," who executes Nazis with a baseball bat, might've been a big leap for Sandler.

By the time Tarantino approached Sandler to play the role, the comedian had already committed to Judd Apatow's 2010 comedy-drama "Funny People." The job wound up going to Eli Roth, who also directed the six-minute film-within-a-film, "Nation's Pride," which plays an integral role in the story of "Inglourious Basterds." 

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds probably takes the cake as one of the few would-be actors in a Tarantino movie who the director was likely starstruck working with. Reynolds rose to prominence as one of the biggest stars of the 1970s, and in 2018 he joined the cast of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" as George Spahn, the elderly owner of Spahn Ranch, where the Manson Family notoriously lived prior to the Sharon Tate murders that Tarantino's film centers around. 

Spahn was technically Reynolds' final performance, as the actor attended a rehearsal and script reading before dying in September 2018, prior to filming his scene. As Tarantino told CBS Sunday Morning, "The night he died, what he was doing before he passed on was he was running lines with his assistant." The director also credited Reynolds with coining a line for Bruce Lee, the one in which Lee calls Brad Pitt's character too pretty to be a stuntman. 

Bruce Dern, who previously worked with Tarantino in 2015's "The Hateful Eight," stepped in to portray Spahn. 

Jennifer Lawrence

Tarantino considers himself a massive Jennifer Lawrence fan, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2015, "I think I've been on record of saying that her and David O. Russell's relationship is very William Wyler-Bette Davis like, and that's a good thing to be like." Tarantino personally sought out Lawrence to play the foul-mouthed Daisy Domergue in "The Hateful Eight," although the young actress declined due to her commitments to Russell's  "Joy" and the final "The Hunger Games" films. 

The role went to Jennifer Jason Leigh, which Tarantino approved of due to Leigh being closer to the character's age as originally scripted. Leigh later netted a nomination for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards and BAFTAs for her performance as Daisy, which many critics cited as the highlight of Tarantino's ensemble film. 

Tarantino later courted Lawrence for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Lawrence visited Tarantino at his house to read the script and discuss her joining the cast as Squeaky Fromm. Scheduling didn't work out, and Dakota Fanning won the part. Maybe Tarantino's upcoming tenth film will finally be his opportunity to direct Lawrence. 

Will Smith

Though many audiences know Will Smith for his comedic performances in "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" or "Bad Boys," the actor has taken on quite a number of dramatic roles over the years. Smith won an Oscar (and sullied his career during the ceremony) in 2022 for "King Richard," playing the father of Venus and Serena Williams. Perhaps this would've happened sooner if Smith accepted the opportunity to work with Tarantino in 2011, as he was one of the top choices to play the role of slave-turned-bounty hunter Django in 2012's "Django Unchained." 

Although Smith expressed admiration towards the final film, he told Entertainment Weekly in 2013 that he refused the role because "Django wasn't the lead," believing Christoph Waltz's character to be the better part. Smith later clarified in 2022 that his reasoning actually also involved the reaction of his kids upon learning that he'd be playing a slave, though he later overcame that fear with the 2022 film "Emancipation." 

Tarantino ultimately cast Jamie Foxx, who even brought his own horse to ride in the movie, and spoke highly of his experience collaborating with Tarantino. 

Michelle Pfeiffer

"Pulp Fiction" remains one of Tarantino's most iconic films, featuring many of his most famous characters, from John Travolta's Vincent Vega to Bruce Willis' Butch Coolidge. However, Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace, the wife of gangster Marsellus Wallace, stands above them all. The role marked the first team-up between Tarantino and Thurman, who received a best supporting actress Academy Award nomination for her performance.

Interestingly, many other actresses were considered for Mia Wallace during the casting process. Tarantino's distributor, Miramax Films, preferred proven stars in the early '90s like Holly Hunter or Meg Ryan, while Tarantino personally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, who auditioned for the part. It would've been quite the A-list choice for "Pulp Fiction," given Pfeiffer's previous success in films like "Scarface" and "Batman Returns."

As the story goes, Tarantino cast Thurman after their first meeting, though it's likely Pfeiffer would've approved of this final choice. Pfeiffer and Thurman starred together in the 1988 period film "Dangerous Liaisons," one of Thurman's first roles. So, hopefully, no hard feelings occurred between the two actresses. 

Sylvester Stallone

Many movie stars put a lot of thought into the types of characters they portray on screen, especially old-school stars like Sylvester Stallone, who rose to prominence playing heroic movie characters like Rocky Balboa, John Rambo, and Ray Tango. However, Stallone's pickiness meant that he backed away from two different opportunities to work with Tarantino, starting with the director's 1997 film "Jackie Brown." 

Stallone turned down the chance to play "Jackie Brown" character Louis Gara, an ex-convict recruited by Samuel L. Jackson's Ordell Robbie to help smuggle money with the help of Pam Grier's titular character, who double-crosses them all. Stallone, in an interview with Maclean's, revealed he passed on Louis Gara as well as a role in Tarantino's 2007 film "Death Proof," claiming, "There's no way. I have two daughters, and this fellow, his hobby is putting teenagers in his car and smashing them into a wall. That's not going to work."

Robert De Niro ultimately came on board as Louis Gara, his first and only time working with Tarantino. Hey, that's more than Stallone.

Viggo Mortensen

When it came to assembling the cast of ne'er-do-wells trapped in a haberdashery during a vicious Wyoming blizzard in "The Hateful Eight," Tarantino made some very tough choices. As he told Vulture, "This is a movie where a Brad or a Leo wouldn't work. It needs to be an ensemble where nobody is more important than anybody else." Unfortunately, this kept some big names from appearing in the movie, including Viggo Mortensen, who starred in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in addition to critically acclaimed turns in "A Dangerous Method" and "Eastern Promises." 

However, Mortensen felt distraught to lose out on the opportunity to team with Tarantino on "The Hateful Eight," citing scheduling conflicts and later telling The Hollywood Reporter, "It would have been really, really fun to work with [Tarantino]. I think he's really smart and funny." Interestingly enough, it wasn't the first time Mortensen missed the chance to be directed by Tarantino. 

Mortensen also previously auditioned for "Reservoir Dogs," and though he failed to remember which role, he claims to have read opposite Harvey Keitel, so that likely makes it Mr. Orange, which eventually went to Tim Roth. Mortensen also never revealed what role in "The Hateful Eight" he was in talks for, potentially losing to Roth again, who co-starred as English Pete. Perhaps a more fitting choice for Mortensen would've been Kurt Russell's John Ruth.  

Daniel Day-Lewis

Many credit the role of Vincent Vega in "Pulp Fiction" as launching a career revival for John Travolta, who first became a star in the 1970s with "Welcome, Back, Kotter," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" before hitting a career decline in the 1980s. However, Tarantino preferred the former star for the role of Vega, infamously clashing with studio executives over, at the time, the controversial decision. 

As Tarantino later recounted to Vanity Fair, Miramax and producer Harvey Weinstein approved all of his "Pulp Fiction" demands, including control over the film's final cut, except for one caveat: no John Travolta. Weinstein suggested casting Daniel Day-Lewis or Bruce Willis, both of whom read the script and expressed interest in the role. While Willis stepped in to play traitorous boxer Butch Coolidge, Tarantino and his agent remained steadfast about Travolta as Vega. And, he eventually got his way. 

Weinstein later took credit for the casting of Travolta, and Day-Lewis to this day has never acted in a Tarantino film. And chances are he won't. Day-Lewis retired from acting following 2017's "Phantom Thread," which likely puts their potential collaboration to rest for good. 

Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh exploded in popularity over the past few years following critical acclaim for performances in films like "Crazy Rich Asians," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," and, of course, 2022's "Everything Everywhere All At Once." The latter film won her a long overdue best actress statuette at the 2023 Academy Awards. The actress kicked off her career by starring in Hong Kong action films in the '80s and '90s, and later gained mainstream attention in films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the 1997 Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies" starring Pierce Brosnan. 

Her career on the rise, Yeoh met with Tarantino for a role in the director's two-part 2003 martial arts film "Kill Bill," starring Uma Thurman as an assassin out for revenge against her former lover. However, nothing panned out, and when the actress asked Tarantino about it later, the director allegedly responded, "'Who would believe that Uma Thurman could kick your ass?'" (via Variety).

Although the director and actress charmed each other, to this day they still haven't worked together. As for the role Yeoh was up for in "Kill Bill," she most likely met with Tarantino to discuss the Yakuza leader O-Ren Ishii, who Lucy Liu portrayed in the final film.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson appears in several Tarantino films, starting with his iconic role as Jules in "Pulp Fiction." Since then, Jackson has tackled parts of varying importance in "Jackie Brown," "Inglourious Basterds," "Django Unchained," and most recently "The Hateful Eight." Despite being one of the strongest director-actor pairings in recent history, their first encounter saw Jackson audition poorly for Tarantino's first film, "Reservoir Dogs." 

Jackson wrongly assumed Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel would be his audition scene partners, but as he later told "The Jess Cagle Show" on SiriusXM, he performed alongside two strangers. He recalled, "I left that audition and went, 'Oh, I know I'm not getting this job. These dudes sucked.'" After reuniting with Tarantino at the Sundance Film Festival, Tarantino alleged that he wrote a part with him in mind for "Pulp Fiction," and that, of course,  turned Jackson into an A-list movie star.

It's unknown what part Jackson tried out for in "Reservoir Dogs," but given that he expected to perform a scene alongside Roth and Keitel, he likely auditioned for the role of Mr. Pink, a criminal portrayed by Steve Buscemi in the final movie. It's also possible Jackson auditioned for the more sinister role of Vic Vega, played by Michael Madsen. 

Charlie Day

Plenty of great actors pop up in small roles in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," from Al Pacino as agent Marvin Schwarz, to Margaret Qualley as a hitchhiker who befriends Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth. The film centers on Leonardo DiCaprio's fading TV star Rick Dalton, who lives next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Hollywood starlet murdered by the Manson Family in 1969. However, Charles Manson himself only briefly appears, played by actor Damon Herriman.

However, the producers behind "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" considered somebody else for the infamous cult leader. Charlie Day of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" apparently was offered the opportunity to audition for Tarantino, but he opted not to, later telling The Hollywood Reporter, "There was a side of me that didn't want to be watching 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' — because I was very excited about it — and then be taken out of the film by seeing myself in it."

Call it kismet that Tarantino cast Herriman as Manson, as the actor also portrayed the criminal in Season 2 of David Fincher's Netflix series "Mindhunter," which he shot prior to "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Although several scenes including Herriman's Manson ended up cut from the final film, Herriman called one of them among the best scenes he'd ever read. 

Laurence Fishburne

Even though the role of Jules in "Pulp Fiction" catapulted Samuel L. Jackson to movie stardom, another name crossed Tarantino's mind first. In 2020, Tarantino's original cast list for the film leaked online, revealing insights into what the director originally planned for the now-iconic film. Tarantino's notes for Jules reveal that he wrote the role for Laurence Fishburne, with Jackson and Eddie Murphy listed as his second and third choices.

As Fishburne later described in an interview with Vulture, his decision to turn down the role of Jules stemmed from his perception of the movie. He said, "I just had a problem with the way the heroin use was dealt with. I just felt it was a little cavalier, and it was a little loose. I felt like it made heroin use attractive."  

Nevertheless, it's for the best that the role of Jules ended up going to Samuel L. Jackson, as it began a long creative partnership between the actor and Tarantino. Hopefully, the two get to reunite for Tarantino's tenth and final film. Jules himself might even consider Fishburne's refusal to play the part an act of divine intervention.