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Actors Who Were Fired And Replaced During Filming

Everyone who's ever been fired from a job knows it can be a truly traumatic experience—and it's even worse if you're replaced in your role at the company instead of simply seeing the position eliminated. Although it's easy to forget how insecure acting can be as a profession, the threat of being fired and replaced often looms just as large for our favorite stars—even after they've gotten the part.

Landing a high-profile movie role doesn't always guarantee you'll actually be featured in the picture. Just ask any of these actors, who were famously—some might say infamously—fired from their roles and replaced mere weeks, or even sometimes days, after cameras started rolling. How could that possibly happen, and what's a Hollywood star to do after losing a part they thought they had in the bag? Read on to find out, and prepare to see some of your favorite movie characters in a whole new light.

Eric Stoltz

From the get-go, the team behind Back to the Future wanted to cast Michael J. Fox in the lead role of Marty McFly. Only they couldn't, because the actor was tied up with shooting his hit TV show, Family Ties. So, they went with another youngster, Eric Stoltz, instead. According to Indiewire, the top people working on the movie (among them director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg) realized weeks into production that Stoltz wasn't getting many laughs in rough cuts of the film. So, in a series of awkward moves, they came up with a plan to fire Stoltz and bring in their original choice.

The 2015 book We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy details Stoltz's painful exit from the project, and sheds light on some of his uncomfortable on-set behavior; according to an excerpt obtained by Vulture, Stoltz went the Method route on set by demanding that everyone refer to him as "Marty." By the time he was booted, some crew members seemed relieved.

Whatever the case, re-casting Stoltz ultimately proved to be a wise business decision; the film went on to gross over $200 million. For his part, Stoltz told Moviehole in 2007 that getting fired was a "freeing" experience in retrospect.

Samantha Morton

In the Oscar-winning movie Her, the computer operating system that Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with was initially voiced by actress Samantha Morton. All went smoothly—until the film's team got to the editing room.

"Samantha was really involved in giving Joaquin [Phoenix] a lot...to work from. And then when we got into editing, we realized that what Samantha and I had done together wasn't working for what the character needed," director Spike Jonze revealed at the 2013 AFI Fest (via HitFix). "So, we ended up having to recast at that point in time." Morton's eventual replacement: Scarlett Johansson, who filmed her dialogue around her Captain America schedule, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Harvey Keitel

Apocalypse Now was plagued by numerous production headaches. Among the many: the time director Francis Ford Coppola had to fire his leading man, Harvey Keitel, shortly after the film started shooting. Reports claim the two disagreed with the portrayal of Keitel's character, Willard, which Keitel backed up in an interview with writer Jason Matloff. "Long-term, [Coppola] didn't really give in [to my suggestions] because if he had understood the real value of my contribution — having the experience of three years as a Marine Corps rifleman, squad leader, fire team leader—the separation wouldn't have happened," Keitel said.

Keitel was replaced by Martin Sheen—who suffered a heart attack during the infamously difficult production—and Apocalypse Now went on to massive commercial success and nearly universal critical acclaim. On the bright side: Keitel added the two have since moved past their differences. "We're grown men now, and we're certainly friends," he said.

Lori Petty

A League of Their Own star Lori Petty was unceremoniously fired by producer Joel Silver after just two days on the set of Demolition Man, reportedly over "creative differences." Her replacement: a young star named Sandra Bullock. Petty later spoke about her firing in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, calling it "the most uncool day in Hollywood" and adding, "I just treat people the way I want to be treated, so I'd rather not gossip about his unkindness."

Sean Young

Actress Sean Young has been fired from multiple film roles. Included on her list: the 1990 Warren Beatty flick Dick Tracy. The real reason she lost the role of Tess Trueheart to Glenne Headly remains vague; Jeffrey Katzenberg told the L.A. Times in 1990 that Young wasn't "perfectly suited" to play the role, while a profile of Young by Entertainment Weekly said she got the boot "officially for not seeming maternal enough in dailies."

Whatever the case, Young didn't take to the news quietly. While she initially claimed the firing was a blessing—"I don't think I could have survived working with Warren Beatty," she told the L.A. Times—Young later alleged in an interview with Movieline that she was actually fired for turning down Beatty's sexual advances. Beatty denied the accusations, according to The Guardian.

Kel O'Neill

Actor Kel O'Neill was the original actor hired to play Eli Sunday, a.k.a. the nemesis of Daniel Day Lewis' Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. But according to The New York Times Magazine, O'Neill had to be replaced about halfway through the film's 60-day shoot. What went wrong? According to the Times, there were reports that O'Neill "suffered from intimidation," presumably from Day-Lewis' Method approach to acting.

Both Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson have since denied this; "It just wasn't the right fit," Anderson told the Times, while Day-Lewis gave a more long-winded answer to L.A. Weekly. Whatever the case, O'Neill didn't work out and was ultimately replaced by Paul Dano, who earned a BAFTA nomination for his work in the role.

James Remar

Actor James Remar was quietly fired from Aliens. According to Indiewire, Remar originally said he had to leave the project due to "urgent matters at home." Decades later, however, he revealed his real reasons. "I had a terrible drug problem," he admitted in a podcast appearance on Sidebar (via Indiewire). "I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit."

Later, he continued: "I was initially cast as Corporal Hicks, and I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs, and Michael Biehn replaced me." Remar said his firing greatly damaged his relationship with director Walter Hill, who secured him his audition for Aliens, and added that they didn't work together again for 12 years.

Lee Coleman

Friday the 13th has never had a reputation for being what you'd call a star-making franchise. In a practical sense, the long-running movie series is less of an ongoing narrative and more of a kill delivery system, serving up audiences an assembly line of fresh-faced young actors to be skewered, smashed up, and slain by Jason Voorhees.

This pattern had been in place for a while by the time the series' eighth entry, Jason Takes Manhattan, swam to shore in 1989. The movie follows a group of seniors celebrating graduation on a boat en route from Crystal Lake to New York City. One of the student roles, Sean Robertson, was originally played by actor Lee Coleman; A few days into the production, however, the filmmakers started to get cold feet regarding Coleman's casting, and made the decision to fire and replace him. It was Coleman's first major film role, and a typically cold introduction to the Hollywood machine.

"He seemed a little uncomfortable," said writer-director Rob Hedden in the documentary Crystal Lake Memories, talking about the decision to recast. "The chemistry with him and the Rennie character wasn't quite there. Thank God for the producers, because they really said, 'There's a problem here, and if we don't correct it now, we're going to have a bigger problem.'"

Coleman only shot a few scenes before being replaced by Scott Reeves, thereby missing his chance to star in the worst Friday the 13th movie this side of Jason X.

Jean-Claude Van Damme

The quickest way to bruise a movie star's ego is to put them in a big dumb suit. 

Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme was just on the cusp of coming into his own as the world-famous "Muscles from Brussels" when he landed a job opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987's Predator. It sounds like perfect casting, with the martial artist seeming like he'd be able to easily stand alongside the likes of Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura in the 'roided-out action movie. While that may be true, Van Damme was never up for a part on the special ops team — instead, he was meant to play the Predator itself.

Steve Johnson, the special effects artist behind Predator's alien creature, described the movie's brief relationship with Van Damme as a hilarious comedy of errors, in which no party knew exactly what the other was expecting. According to Johnson, no one had informed Van Damme that the role of the Predator was practically a glorified stunt man.

"They wanted to just tell the guy to hop around like a frog and it was Jean-Claude Van Damme who had no idea what he was getting into," Johnson said. "He was just off the boat from Brussels. He thought he was going to show his martial arts abilities to the world."

According to Johnson, Van Damme was furious and dispirited about spending the entire movie inside of a clunky, sometimes-ridiculous looking suit, and was replaced shortly into the production with Kevin Peter Hall.

Holly Hunter

If you ask a million people what their favorite Disney animated movie is, you'll likely hear the title Chicken Little approximately zero times. The 2005 theatrical feature is the 46th animated movie from the House of Mouse, and holds the distinction of being the first fully computer-animated movie in the studio's library. As far as that benchmark is concerned, it's no Toy Story, but it's cute enough for what it is.

Disney got pretty far into production with actress Holly Hunter voicing the lead role of Chicken Little before the decision was made to pivot the movie into more of an action-packed adventure, and reimagine the protagonist as a boy instead of a girl. After eight months of voiceover work on Hunter's part, she was replaced with Scrubs lead Zach Braff, with his voice being pitched up in post-production.

Critically, at least, the decision to rework the movie didn't really pay off, with Chicken Little sporting a direct-to-DVD worthy 37% score on Rotten Tomatoes

If Hunter has any hard feelings about being kicked out of the coop for the project, they haven't stopped her from continuing to work with the company. Having also put her talents to much better use as the superheroine Elastigirl in the 2004 Disney/Pixar adventure The Incredibles, she returned for another go-around as the character in its 2018 sequel Incredibles 2.

James Purefoy

Playing a masked character in a movie is a risky proposition. If the audience can't see your lips move, there's a serious risk that your performance will go the way of David Prowse's Darth Vader, with your vocals overdubbed by another actor who then gets all the credit. 

It's got to be a real lousy feeling to see yourself right there on screen, all but invisible, but that's exactly what happened to James Purefoy in the 2005 James McTeague comic book adaptation V For Vendetta.

Purefoy, an actor known today for roles in Altered Carbon, Rome, and The Following, was originally cast in the Wachowski-produced political movie as V, the masked revolutionary. But a funny thing happened on the way to the wrap party, as Purefoy left the production midway through. 

While no reasons for his departure were given at the time, it was later reported that the actor quit due to frustration with his costume. According to a later interview Purefoy gave to Total Film (via Comic Book Movie), all rumors of that sort were untrue.

"I don't really talk about it much because we agreed not to," Purefoy said. "The only rumor I can scotch is that if anybody thinks I was too p**** to wear a mask, they're completely wrong. It was nothing to do with wearing the mask."

According to Purefoy, his departure came down to "genuine creative differences" that eventually became "intolerable." Though he was replaced in the part by Hugo Weaving, some of his performance remained in the finished film.

Dougray Scott

Hugh Jackman single-handedly made Wolverine into an iconic role through his soulful, sorrowful portrayal of the nigh-unkillable mutant in the X-Men franchise. But when the first X-Men movie entered production in 1999, Jackman quite literally wasn't in the picture. 

Originally, the cigar-chomping role of Logan was to be played by Scottish actor Dougray Scott, but his participation in the superhero movie was held up by production delays on John Woo's Mission: Impossible II. 

Production on X-Men had already begun while Scott was working on the Mission: Impossible sequel, but the combination of that movie's delays and a shoulder injury made it impossible for him to make it to work on time. After a month's worth of filming with the rest of the movie's cast, Scott was set to join the production for his scenes on October 18. Just over a week before his expected arrival, it became clear that the arrangement wouldn't work, so Fox brass began a speedy search for a replacement Wolverine.

A then barely-known Hugh Jackman was cast in the role on October 11, being ushered into his breakout role in a last-minute whirlwind. It's mind-boggling to consider how much would be different if the Mission: Impossible sequel's production had run on time — many careers and movies would have been affected. It just goes to show that in the movie business, as with everything, it's not just skill that gets you to the top. More than anything else, success comes down to good timing and good luck.

Richard Gere

Rumors around Richard Gere don't tend to revolve around the actor being difficult on set, which makes his firing from The Lords of Flatbush a bit of a surprise. 

The 1974 movie, set in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, originally starred Gere in an ensemble cast of leather jacket-wearing hoodlums along with Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler. Reportedly, Gere was removed from the production as the result of a feud with Stallone that got out of control.

The way Stallone describes it, it was all Gere's fault — naturally. 

"The original part of Chico, which was played by Perry King, was originally supposed to be played by Richard Gere, but we never hit it off," Stallone said, speaking in a 2006 interview with Ain't It Cool News.

Stallone described tension between the two on set, calling Gere "in character and impossible to deal with." But Gere's departure was ultimately triggered by a sloppy lunch on set, with Gere spilling mustard onto Stallone's pants while they were scarfing down food in the backseat of a Toyota. In response, Stallone went nuclear.

"I elbowed him in the side of the head and basically pushed him out of the car," Stallone said. "The director had to make a choice: one of us had to go, one of us had to stay. Richard was given his walking papers and to this day seriously dislikes me." Honestly, this story just makes us like Richard Gere even more. Who would've thought Rocky Balboa could be such a diva?

Julianne Moore

For a creative industry, the movie business can be awfully risk-averse — particularly when it comes to casting decisions — so the majority of actors who find themselves fired and replaced during filming tend to be less well-known. It isn't completely out of the ordinary for a bankable star to end up out of a gig, however — just ask Julianne Moore, who had the lead role in 2018's acclaimed Can You Ever Forgive Me? before the picture's screenwriter and original director, Nicole Holofcener, decided to go in a different direction.

Moore revealed the circumstances of her departure in early 2019, while promoting her role in Gloria Bell. Saying she hadn't seen Forgive Me? because it was still "too painful" but wasn't upset with the picture's eventual star, Melissa McCarthy, Moore described her firing as a simple matter of creative differences.

"I think she didn't like what I was doing," Moore said of Holofcener. "I think that her idea of where the character was, was different than where my idea of where the character was, and so she fired me."

Even for Hollywood's biggest stars, it can be painful to be fired from a project — especially one that goes on to the type of widespread acclaim and awards season buzz enjoyed by this one. But Moore's still an Oscar-winning talent, and Gloria Bell brought in some of the biggest critical raves of her career, so all's well that ends well.

Gig Young

Art imitated life a little too much for Oscar winner Gig Young on the set of Mel Brooks' comedy classic Blazing Saddles. According to Turner Classic Movies, Young, whom TCM describes as a "certified drinker" in real life, got way too drunk for the scene in which his character, Waco Kid, meets Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) and "was carried away with the tremors." Later that day, Young's replacement, Gene Wilder, got on a plane to take over, and the rest is comedy history.