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Actors who almost turned down their iconic movie roles

Behind every great movie character, there's a dedicated actor who picked up a screenplay, got inside a character's head, and brought that character to life onscreen. And the relationship between a truly great character and a truly great actor is mutually beneficial. The actor makes that character memorable, and the character can launch that actor into the mainstream, get her the Oscar she's always deserved, or grant him cinematic immortality. 

Seriously, can you imagine anyone besides Marlon Brando playing Don Corleone? Or how about someone besides Daniel Day-Lewis playing Daniel Plainview? These actors and characters were meant for each other. But as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. When an actor first gets the script, they might not realize what an amazing character they have on their hands. Perhaps they're worried about the role, perhaps they're just not impressed with the story, or maybe they've got something going on in their personal lives. Whatever the reason, some of Hollywood's most famous movie stars almost turned down their most iconic roles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger almost terminated his career

Can you picture Lance Henriksen or O.J. Simpson playing the T-800? As it turns out, they were the first picks, while Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally considered for Kyle Reese, the film's male lead. But when the bodybuilder met with James Cameron, the director was impressed with Schwarzenegger's thoughts about the film — particularly on the killer robot — so he offered him the bad guy part.

Schwarzenegger was a bit hesitant, though, to play the sci-fi assassin. Firstly, the T-800 had barely any lines — even less than his previous role, Conan the Barbarian. Schwarzenegger was worried that people might think he was intentionally picking parts where he didn't have to speak or that his English was so bad his scenes were getting cut. Secondly, Schwarzenegger wasn't keen on being a villain. He wanted to be a heroic leading man, and playing a cop-killer probably wasn't the best way to become the next Clint Eastwood.

But Cameron disagreed. As Schwarzenegger explained to The Sydney Morning Herald, Cameron told him, "If you play [the T-800] in an interesting way, you can turn it into a heroic figure that people admire because of what it's capable of." That intrigued Schwarzenegger, who agreed to give the robo-role a shot; thanks to The Terminator's success, Schwarzenegger said "Hasta la vista, baby" to bad guy parts and became one of Hollywood's most famous action stars.

Alan Rickman's big role almost died hard

While modern-day moviegoers know Alan Rickman best as Severus Snape, he probably never would've joined the wizarding world of Harry Potter if it hadn't been for Die Hard. This 1988 action classic was Rickman's first feature film, and it launched him into the Hollywood big leagues, thanks to his performance as Hans Gruber, a German terrorist with a thing for nice suits and showing no mercy. Gruber is one of the all-time great movie villains, but Rickman almost passed on the opportunity.

Speaking at a BAFTA event (via The Hollywood Reporter), Rickman revealed that he'd been in Los Angeles for just two days when he was offered the part of the sneering terrorist. He initially turned up his nose at the role, saying, "I read [the screenplay], and I said, 'What the hell is this? I'm not doing an action movie.'" It seems Rickman was a bit of a snob, but it's hard to blame him. His background was in the theater, and he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was used to serious dramas, so he wasn't wild about the idea of getting into gunfights. Thankfully, Rickman's agent told him he was lucky to get such a big offer so soon, and he decided to trade the Shakespeare for a machine gun.

Jeff Bridges almost didn't abide

The Coen brothers have a knack for creating truly unique and quirky characters, like Marge Gunderson, Barton Fink, and Buster Scruggs. But the most famous Coen creation has got to be Jeffrey Lebowski, better known as the Dude. He's a slacker, a bowler, and a private eye who only drinks White Russians and really, really loves his rug. (After all, it tied the room together.) But ultimately, the main reason the Dude is so memorable is because he's played by Jeff Bridges.

With his laidback charm and easy grin, Bridges was born to play this hilarious hippie, and that's not, like, our opinion, man. It's a fact. But while Bridges was perfect for The Big Lebowski, he almost turned down the role because he was thinking about the children... his children. Speaking with Conan O'Brien, Bridges explained that while he loved the script, he was worried about playing a pothead and how that would affect his kids.

As he told O'Brien, "I thought, you know, I don't know how my girls — I had three young girls at the time — how they were going to feel. How they were going to get teased or how they would feel about that." Concerned, Bridges went to his family and basically asked his daughters for permission. Fortunately for movie fans everywhere, his kids were totally cool with their dad playing a stoner, and thanks to his understanding daughters, the Dude abides to this day.

Leonardo DiCaprio almost let go of his big chance

Leonardo DiCaprio as we know him today wouldn't exist without Titanic. Sure, he earned an Oscar nod for What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and he picked up quite a few fans with Romeo + Juliet. But it was the 1997 disaster flick that made DiCaprio the king of the world. It quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time (later beaten only by Avatar), and its success should come as no surprise. It was a beautiful love story with incredible special effects, gorgeous costumes, and amazing set pieces. It had everything... but it almost didn't have DiCaprio.

Speaking with People, director James Cameron explained that at the time, DiCaprio was a young actor looking for edgy, dramatic material (think The Basketball Diaries or This Boy's Life), and he didn't want to play in a romantic melodrama. "His character doesn't go through torment," Cameron said, "and Leo previously and subsequently in his career was always looking for that dark cloud."

Cameron had to convince DiCaprio to take the part, and he did that by pointing back to classic Hollywood actors like Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart. He told DiCaprio those guys had to "stand there and be strong and hold the audience's eye without seeming to do very much," and that kind of acting was actually really difficult. Intrigued by the challenge, the young actor finally accepted the part of Jack Dawson, and it was a decision that had a titanic impact on DiCaprio's career.

Gwyneth Paltrow's iconic role was almost not to be

After starring in films like Seven and Emma, Gwyneth Paltrow solidified her spot as a Hollywood star with Shakespeare in Love. This 1998 rom-com finds Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps, a noblewoman in Elizabethan England who disguises herself as a man so she can join William Shakespeare's theater troupe. Along the way, she falls in love with the bard himself (Joseph Fiennes) and inspires him to write his romantic masterpiece: Romeo and Juliet.

The film was one of the 20 highest-grossing films of 1998, and it capped an amazing year for Paltrow, who appeared in five major films during that 12-month span. But she almost said no to the theatrical role because there was already a lot of drama in her personal life. Paltrow was in the middle of a bad breakup with Brad Pitt, and as a result, she didn't feel like going off to England to shoot the film. "I didn't even read [the screenplay]," she told Variety. "I was just like, 'I can't read anything right now. I'm having a really hard time.'"

But after a few months, Paltrow was able to move on; when she read through the script, she fell in love with the story. "I just couldn't put it down," she said. "It was perfect." And thanks to her performance as the rule-breaking, cross-dressing Viola, Paltrow beat the likes of Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett to win an Oscar for Best Actress.

Ewan McGregor almost forced his career in the wrong direction

Whether you love or hate the Star Wars prequels, we can all agree Ewan McGregor made a pretty good Obi-Wan Kenobi. But joining the Jedi Order was a big departure from what he was used to. Before signing on for The Phantom Menace, McGregor was in far edgier films, like the Danny Boyle-directed Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and when George Lucas asked him to visit a galaxy far, far away, McGregor wasn't sure if it was the right move.

Speaking with The Telegraph (via ScreenCrush), McGregor explained, "At first, I was very reluctant to do it, because I saw myself as this urban, grungy actor doing films about heroin and stuff, and that's who I felt like I really was." However, McGregor's viewpoint started to change the closer he got to the project and the better he got to know George Lucas. Even though Lucas was responsible for the blockbuster model that rules the movie business today, McGregor felt The Phantom Menace was different from your typical tentpole. "It didn't feel like Hollywood," he said. "George Lucas hated Hollywood. He was in San Francisco, following the beat of his own drum."

McGregor appreciated that indie spirit (well, as indie as a billionaire can be), and because of that, the actor became a Jedi. And while the prequels divided fans down the middle, they took McGregor from cinematic padawan to movie star master.

Ralph Fiennes almost missed out on the magic

One of Hollywood's most respected actors, Ralph Fiennes established himself with prestige projects like Schindler's List and The English Patient. But the British thespian introduced himself to a much more global — and much younger — audience with the Harry Potter series. In 2005, Fiennes arrived as Harry's arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort, and with his discolored skin and snake-like nose, the evil wizard quickly became one of cinema's biggest bad guys. In fact, Empire named him the ninth greatest villain of all time, meaning he beat out Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers.

But Fiennes originally wasn't interested in working his magic onscreen. On The Jonathan Ross Show (via Radio Times), Fiennes admitted he originally didn't know anything about the beloved franchise. "The truth is," he said, "I was actually ignorant about the films and books." So when he was asked to play the Dark Lord, "Out of ignorance, I just sort of thought, 'This isn't for me.'" But everything changed when he told his sister about the offer. As it turns out, his sister had three kids, so she totally understood what a big deal this was. She insisted he take the role, and that's how Fiennes got the part of... well, we'd better not mention his name.

Chris Hemsworth almost made a thor-oughly bad decision

Before picking up Mjolnir and flying off to Asgard, Chris Hemsworth was best known for playing in Home and Away, an Australian soap opera that ran for three years. So Hemsworth was used to spending a lot of time working on one project, but when he was offered the role of Thor, that seemed a bit too much.

Speaking with The Sydney Morning Herald, Hemsworth recalled that he was crossing a street in Vancouver one day when his agent called with the exciting news. Marvel wanted him to play the hammer-wielding hero... but it was a six-picture deal. That sounded like a lot to Hemsworth, and both he and his agent were worried about such a big commitment.

"We were like, 'That's a lot of films to sign up for,'" explained Hemsworth. "'We should pass on this.'" But then Hemsworth realized he was paying too much attention to "the voice inside you thinking it's too good to be true," so he put his doubts aside and donned that flowing red cape. It was the best decision of his career, taking him from an unknown actor to a cinematic god.

Jennifer Lawrence's decision almost wasn't in her favor

Jennifer Lawrence was already making serious waves by the time she picked up a bow and arrow. She'd starred in the critically acclaimed Winter's Bone, and she'd recently joined forces with Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class. But when she decided to compete in The Hunger Games, that's when she went from a promising up-and-comer to the biggest actress on the planet. Katniss Everdeen is one of the all-time great female action heroes, and the role set Lawrence down a pathway sprinkled with Oscar gold. But the girl on fire's A-list career was almost extinguished before she even accepted the part.

As it turns out, Lawrence was initially hesitant to play Katniss, and the reason is a little complicated. Speaking with Stylist (via Cosmopolitan), she claimed she was a huge fan of the Hunger Games books, and she was worried the films wouldn't do the novels justice. But when she sat down for a chat with director Gary Ross, he allayed her fears, promising the franchise would be made for fans by fans.

However, that wasn't the only reason Lawrence was worried about volunteering as tribute. Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival (via USA Today), Lawrence explained "just saying yes to this one thing could completely change my life, and I don't know if it's going to be for the better." She was worried about how Katniss would impact her career and her future, but her mom saved the day, convincing her that if she liked the story, she should step forward. "I was scared of the aftermath," Lawrence said, "but you can't say no to things because you're scared. You just have to go for it."

Chris Pratt almost passed on guarding the galaxy

Chris Pratt has always been a lovable guy, but he hasn't always been so shredded. During his time on Parks and Recreation, the dude was a bit chubby. Granted, Pratt intentionally put on those pounds for the part of Andy Dwyer, but that almost cost him the role of a lifetime when Marvel came knocking.

The folks at Marvel wanted Pratt to audition for Guardians of the Galaxy, but at the time, the funnyman weighed around 300 pounds. And just so we're clear, this wasn't 300 pounds of bulging muscles. The only six-pack Pratt had at the time was in his refrigerator, so he didn't think he was right to play the super cut Star-Lord.

So when the offer came along to join the MCU, Pratt almost passed on the opportunity. After all, he'd had a bad experience in the past: As he explained to Esquire, "I didn't want to go and embarrass myself like I did when I auditioned for G.I. Joe a couple of years previously. I went in there, and halfway through I saw the director's eyes just glaze over." However, Pratt was able to move past this humiliating experience, and after hitting the gym and shedding some weight, he tried out for the part of Peter Quill and became the jacked guardian we all know and love today.

Emma Stone's big role almost danced away

Emma Stone was a major star long before La La Land came along, having appeared in everything from Zombieland and Easy A to Birdman and The Amazing Spider-Man. But La La Land is the film that established her as a tap-dancing force to be reckoned with. This 2016 musical found Stone playing wannabe actress Mia Dolan, who sings her heart out and becomes a star. And just like Mia, Stone received all sorts of acclaim for her performance, even winning the Oscar for Best Actress.

But when director Damien Chazelle offered her the part, Stone almost let the role slip away. At the time, she was starring in Cabaret on Broadway, and she was both physically sick and sick of musicals. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Stone explained, "My voice was gone, and I was struggling to get through the shows... and the idea of doing another musical was like, 'You've got to be out of your mind.' After Cabaret, I wasn't sure I would ever sing or dance again."

However, Chazelle isn't the kind of guy who gives up. He arranged a second meeting where he played her some songs and explained how he'd shoot the scenes. The sales pitch worked, and Stone sang and danced her way into hearts across the world — and onto the Oscar stage where she walked away with that little gold trophy.

Brie Larson almost said no to superhero stardom

Brie Larson was a big deal before joining the MCU. She'd starred in indie hits like Short Term 12, and she'd won an Oscar for her stunning performance in Room. But Captain Marvel took Larson to the next level, introducing her to mainstream audiences and putting her alongside the likes of megastars like Samuel L. Jackson. However, Larson almost missed her chance at MCU stardom as she briefly considered turning down the part.

When Marvel offered her the role of superpowered Carol Danvers, Larson took several months to consider her options. As it turns out, she was worried starring in a blockbuster might limit her chances to play in more personal, dramatic films. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Larson explained, "I never saw myself doing something like this, mostly because I like being anonymous. I like disappearing into characters, and I always felt like if I was out in the public eye too much, it potentially limits you in the future."

But Larson eventually decided to join up with the Avengers because donning the Captain Marvel suit would allow her to play "a character who says how she feels and says what's on her mind and doesn't let people stand in her way," which she described as "incredibly empowering." Plus, being a part of the largest film franchise in history has got to be a marvel-ous experience.