Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Actors That Were Frightened Of Their Role Before They Even Started Filming

Imagine you're a working actor. You're hustling a hundred side jobs to make ends meet, taking classes on the other side of town, and every so often even going on auditions. One day, all the stars align, and the acting gods bestow upon you the dream job that will make you a superstar. And that, friends... is when the real fear begins. 

Once you've signed on the dotted line, you have to actually show up on set and do the weird things the script tells you to do. Suddenly, your face will be known by everyone across the country, maybe the world, which means everyone has a vocal opinion about your face. And now you're thinking, "Maybe being a professional barista isn't such a bad career path." 

If it makes you feel any better, hypothetical working actor, you're in good company. These very famous actors went through these very potent fears for these very famous roles, before cameras even started rolling. Did they conquer their anxieties and go through with production? Let's find out. Anxiety... assemble.

Why so serious?

As long as the sun rises in the sky and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy exists, we shall have dark and gritty film adaptations of Gotham City shenanigans. After the jumbled visions of the DCEU's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, we've got a more focused effort coming in October 2019, courtesy of director Todd Phillips. Joker promises to upend genre conventions, psychologically interrogate what we're most afraid of, and give a satisfying backstory to one of pop culture's most inscrutable villains. 

These promises come from the star himself, Joaquin Phoenix, who told Collider that he was interested in making a "lower budget film" that functions as a "character study" of a comic book villain. But when he took a meeting with Warner Bros. to discuss this idea and they pitched the Joker, he got nervous. "I thought, 'You can't do the Joker, because, you know, it's just you can't do that character, it's just been done.'" 

Phoenix fell into a tailspin of worry, concerned that he couldn't live up to anyone's expectations of the character. Ultimately, he took the part because of — not despite — his fear. "It feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe, mostly, it scares the f***ing s*** out of me or something. It might as well be the thing that scares you the most."


Swordfish is a bonkers movie full of bonkers scenes. It opens with John Travolta, dressed and styled like a "hip vampire CEO," delivering a meta screed against the state of the modern action film. It is simultaneously self-aware and painfully un-self-aware, and that is not even the most bonkers scene of the film. A strong contender for number one? The scene everyone thinks of when they think of Swordfish, in which Halle Berry's character sunbathes topless by a pool, reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time before she, uh, drops the book. 

Now, you may think this scene is nothing more than a gratuitous grab at a problematic male fanbase's attention. From a certain perspective, you'd be right. But from Berry's perspective, it was a way to conquer a longstanding fear. As she told Net, "I always wanted to be the kind of actress that could be free with my body in that way, and not fear exposing myself or appearing naked on camera. I've always admired actresses — or actors — who are daring enough to risk themselves that way for their art... but I was always afraid of that." Taking on Swordfish, infamous scene and all, was a therapeutic effort to conquer her fear. And she credits her experience on the film for granting herself the bravery to take on her Academy Award-winning performance in Monster's Ball.

Hooked on a (nervous) feeling

Chris Pratt's arc to movie stardom is a curious one. How does one transform from a doofy comedic supporting player to a hunky leading man? According to Pratt in an Entertainment Weekly interview, it's by navigating lots of doubt and negative thoughts. He broke out by playing the eternally optimistic Andy Dwyer in NBC's eternally optimistic comedy series Parks and Recreation, which he did in part by gaining weight, theorizing that "the fatter I was, the funnier I got." 

When he kept stealing scenes and impressing folks with his innate charisma, Hollywood called him in for bigger roles. Pratt even auditioned for Avatar, but mused that they were looking for an intangible "thing," stating, "I walked into that room knowing that I did not have that thing, and I walked out thinking I would never have that thing, probably." When Marvel came a-knocking for a Guardians of the Galaxy meeting, Pratt initially turned it down, noting his fear of rejection and low self-esteem about his body. 

Luckily for us, Pratt wound up taking that meeting. And even though some of director James Gunn's doubts were Pratt's fears personified ("I kept saying, 'That's the chubby guy from Parks and Rec — you've got to be kidding,'" he later confessed), Pratt won Gunn and the Marvel team over. He lost some weight, replaced it with a six-pack, and the rest is space history.

Saturday Fright Live

She's blown up cars and people in the Fast and the Furious franchise. She's brought the iconic Amazonian warrior Wonder Woman to life. She's even starred in a dang Disney animated feature, 2018's Ralph Breaks the Internet. Yet the role that scared Gal Gadot the most was... herself? 

She was pegged to host Saturday Night Live on October 7, 2017, and she was terrified to go through with it. As she told the crowd at an event in New York, her biggest fear was that she would "speak like a dummy," particularly with her Israeli accent. She admitted she has some comedy experience in her native country, but never in America. "I'm thinking about the monologue and I'm like, 'Ahh.' Say 'Saturday Night Live,'" she said, her voice faltering on the show's title. How'd she do? Critics were less than kind, but you can watch her opening monologue or her Wonder Woman parody sketch and judge for yourself.

Captain A-scared-ica

Chris Evans really did not want to be Captain America. Really. It was offered to him — twice — and he turned it down, both times. "I wanted to be able to go to a ball game, or down to the store and have a pretty normal life," he told The Scotsman during a Winter Soldier-era interview. "It was also the fact that they wanted nine movies, and that's a long time. I thought, 'I could be doing this when I'm 40.' My agent called me an idiot, but he went along with it." 

When the lucky third time came around, Marvel gave him a new deal: six movies instead of nine. Evans, his fears not fully assuaged, went to his therapist and dug into his anxieties about the role. "It started to kind of make sense that I was saying no out of fear," he explained on Jimmy Kimmel Live. "You can't be doing something because you're scared. So it ended up kind of clicking to me in the way of looking at it as 'whatever you're scared of, push yourself into it.'" Whatever Evans' endgame is, we're happy he followed his fear and gave us his Cap.

The Wolf of Wall Eek!

Of all the insane things that happen in The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese's fever dream comedy/critique/celebration of capitalist excess, it's remarkable that any one human stands out. Yet Margot Robbie, who plays Jordan Belfort's wife Naomi Lapaglia, made a movie-star-sized impression. Wolf catapulted the Australian Robbie into iconic roles like Harley Quinn and Tonya Harding, the latter of which earned her an Academy Award nomination. But first, she had to conquer her fear of playing Naomi.

Robbie told Wonderland there was a description baked into Terence Winter's screenplay that she couldn't shake. "I was acutely aware that the line in the screenplay was 'the hottest blonde ever' — I'm clearly not the hottest blonde ever. I was just terrified that people would see the movie and think, 'Eugh! She's not that great.'" Robbie took the role, making an effort to be in charge of her own sexual agency. Yet she admits annoyance that despite her talents as an actor, folks will still think of nothing but her appearance. "All the reading, all the acting coaching, and then someone reviews the movie or interviews you and all they do is focus on the aesthetics... You think, 'F*** you. You've totally discredited the work I did and it's not fair!'"

Frighteningly awkward

When John Krasinski was asked to audition for The Office, NBC's adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's BBC sitcom, he expressed his fears quite openly. In the interview series Off Camera, Krasinski revealed that another person in the waiting room asked him if he was nervous. His response, as he remembered: "What I'm really nervous about is this show. I just love the British show so much and Americans have a tendency to just really screw these opportunities up, and I just don't know how I'll live with myself if they screw this show up and ruin it for me." 

The person Krasinski was talking to then introduced himself: Greg Daniels, producer of the American Office, the guy deciding whether he'd get the job or not. Krasinski quickly excused himself, went outside, had a panic attack, and came back in to audition — in his mind, a futile effort. "I went into the room and everyone was laughing at me, because I was such a moron and everybody was like, 'Is this the jackass that told you the show is going to be ruined? Go for it, kid!' And weirdly, because they were already laughing, the room was really warm, really ready to go, and I just did it." If Krasinski had kept his big mouth shut, he might not have gotten the part? Take that, A Quiet Place.

Red Scare-ow

In 2014, Jennifer Lawrence was one of many celebrities whose iCloud accounts were hacked into, and nude photos were spread publicly. The incident devastated Lawrence. In a Hollywood Reporter interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey, Lawrence revealed that it was enough to make her never choose a film role involving her sexuality again. "It's taking somebody's intellectual property but also my body," she said. "It was violating on a sexual level... I just thought, 'I'll never share that part of myself ever since it got shared against my will.'" 

When she was offered Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence's spy thriller filled to the brim with intense sexual politics, Lawrence got over her initial fears, explaining, "When I said yes to Red Sparrow, I felt I was taking something back." It's thus not hard to apply a meta-narrative about Lawrence's journey during one intense Red Sparrow scene, in which her character confronts an attempted rapist with her nude body, stymieing him with her active action of agency.

I am vengeance, I am the night, I am terrified

Before Ben Affleck drama, Christian Bale growls, and George Clooney bat-nipples, there was only one big-screen Batman. Well, two, if you count Adam West (and you should). Technically, four if you count Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery, who played the Dark Knight in serials from the '40s (and you should). Anyway, we're talking about Michael Keaton, star of Tim Burton's two Batman epics that changed the superhero cinema game forever. And he, like Bruce Wayne, was absolutely terrified of the job ahead of him. 

On the interview show EPIX Hollywood Sessions, Keaton chatted with modern superhero star Robert Downey Jr. about the pitfalls of being one of the first prototypes. "I'm very claustrophobic," he began. "The first time I was locked in [to the outfit], I thought, 'This is never going to happen.'" Keaton struggled mightily with his super suit, calling himself a "guinea pig" and morosely musing that the suits "only got infinitesimally more manageable and comfortable" in the past thirty years. Ultimately, Keaton realized that "this fear ends up working perfectly for the character," and he gave us one of Hollywood's most influential performances.

Here's to the fools who scream

Emma Stone deals with fear on a regular basis. Speaking candidly with The Hollywood Reporter, Stone revealed she has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks since she was a child. She has thus been in therapy since age seven, and discovered that acting allows her the catharsis and escape she's always sought. But when director Damien Chazelle was seeking a lead capable of emotional vulnerability for his upcoming musical, La La Land, Stone initially balked, based in part on her experience on Broadway. 

"My voice was gone, and I was struggling to get through the shows — I was still doing Cabaret — and the idea of doing another musical was like, 'You've got to be out of your mind,'" she recalled. "After Cabaret, I wasn't sure I would ever sing or dance again." Though Stone did sign on to the film, her anxieties continued. "I couldn't figure out how we could possibly pull off this crazy, ambitious thing." We're sure glad that Stone navigated through the clouds and found another day of sun.

Scaredy dad

Did you see Searching, the emotional suspense-thriller told entirely on computer screens? If not, rectify that immediately, as it's a quietly revolutionary potboiler that will leave you gasping. It's all anchored by a masterful lead performance from John Cho — and wouldn't you know it, the film scared him. You may know Cho best as one half of a certain stoner comedy duo, or as a certain spaceship's iconic helmsman. But in Searching, he's playing a normal dad. "I guess it means I'm old," he admitted in an interview with Bustle

Cho had to navigate lots of conflicting personal feelings and thoughts while preparing to play the part, especially considering his context in the larger conversation of Asian representation in the media. While he has, in the past, expressed reluctance at being seen as an avatar of such a cause, in Searching he came to an important conclusion: "I don't have any experience being non-Asian and a dad." Thus, he decided to use his own experiences to inform the performance, concluding that it made the film "very specifically Asian" and labeling it a small, almost inadvertent "political act." 

It seems when it came to navigating difficult concepts of identity, Cho had to do a lot of... seeking. What? What did you think we were gonna say?

Scare-let Witch

We'll put this bluntly: Elizabeth Olsen was scared of taking on the role of Marvel's Scarlet Witch because of her "wrinkly hands." Her words, not ours. Speaking to iRadio, Olsen described her reaction to receiving the part from Joss Whedon, writer and director of The Avengers, not with joy and elation, but with fear. "When Joss told me what my powers were, I was like, 'That's really funny, because I have the weirdest hands. On one side I look like I'm a hundred years old, and then on the other side they might look like my age,'" she explained. "I was a little self-conscious about having my wrinkly hands front and center." 

Every MCU fan is undoubtedly grateful that Olsen pushed through her appendage-centered fears to take the part. In fact, she pushed through those fears so much that she literally put them front and center in a sketch on MTV After Hours called, appropriately, "Captain America's Elizabeth Olsen Has Terrifying Hands." In the sketch, Olsen tries to do normal activities wearing impractical gloves, before revealing her "terrifying" hands (again, her words, not ours). The punchline of the sketch is wonkier than any Infinity War cliffhanger.