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Actors who refused roles in Lord of the Rings

Almost two decades have passed since Peter Jackson brought J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece The Lord of the Rings to the big screen, and in that time his trilogy has become so ingrained in popular culture that it's difficult to imagine how it might have looked with a different cast. Sir Ian McKellen immortalized the wizard Gandalf with a career-defining performance, Viggo Mortensen proved an inspired choice as ranger-turned-king Aragorn, and Miranda Otto nailed Rohan's warrior princess Eowyn, though none of these actors were anywhere near being first choice for the roles they ended up playing. In fact, Jackson's original wishlist and the final cast list barely match up at all. If the director had gotten his own way, the Middle-earth we know and love would be a very different place. From former Bonds and fantasy cult heroes to Oscar-winning method actors, the following people all refused huge roles in The Lord of the Rings.

Sean Connery

According to reports, Sean Connery was offered the role of Gandalf before it went to Ian McKellen. Peter Jackson was apparently so keen on landing the former Bond actor that he convinced New Line (who the director later took to court for underpaying him) to offer Connery a 15 percent slice of the box office takings plus a $30 million pay packet. The Lord of the Rings trilogy made just shy of $3 billion worldwide, so it was a pretty costly decision, especially when you consider the fact that Connery went on to star in the career-ending The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen instead. So why did the iconic Scot turn down the chance to play Tolkien's most famous wizard?

In 2012, a retired Connery admitted that he said no to The Lord of the Rings because he just couldn't get his head around the sprawling story. "I read the book," Connery said (via The Scotsman). "I read the script, I saw the movie. I still don't understand it. Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvelous in it." When McKellen was asked about Jackson's pursuit of Connery during an interview with Total Film, he joked that the films would have been "very different" had Connery chosen to take on the role. "Gandalf would have come from Scotland for a start," he said. Let's play that out, shall we. "You shall not pash!" — doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer grew up reading The Lord of the Rings and has admitted to being a huge fan of Tolkien's world, but he still chose to turn down the opportunity to play Gandalf when Peter Jackson came calling. Years later the actor revealed that he had an issue with the level of commitment required. For Plummer, spending three years in New Zealand at his age just wasn't an option. "I thought, there are other countries I'd like to visit before I croak," he told Conan O'Brien before admitting that the "absolutely marvelous" Ian McKellen brought a warmth to the wizard that he himself may not have been able to produce. "I might have been a little cold and imperious."

Plummer has still done some memorable work since passing on Rings — not that he had anything left to prove after carving out his illustrious career. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for playing Cardinal Bernard Law in the Catholic Church sexual abuse drama Our Fathers in 2005, and in 2012 he scooped up his first Academy Award, triumphing in the Best Supporting Actor category for Beginners. His win made him the oldest actor to take home a competitive Oscar. Plummer almost beat his own record in 2018 when he was nominated for All the Money in the World (he famously took over for a scandal-hit Kevin Spacey at the last minute), but he was beaten by Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Peter Jackson is said to have attempted to convince Daniel Day-Lewis to take on the role of Aragorn on numerous occasions. The three-time Best Actor winner repeatedly spurned his advances according to The One Ringwhich had the inside track on all things The Lord of the Rings back when the trilogy was still in development. In October 1999, a source told the Tolkien fan site that producers had made one final push to get Day-Lewis on board. "DDL has been offered the Aragorn role again," the report stated. "He has been offered the (Middle) Earth to take the role. The producers think he'll say no again, but they don't want to miss the chance to try him."

Day-Lewis addressed the long-running Aragorn rumors over a decade later, confirming that he was indeed offered the part. Speaking to MTV's Josh Horowitz in 2009, the notoriously picky method actor said that he rejected the role because big franchise films just aren't his bag. "They can be fantastically entertaining for the people who love to see them, but it's not for me," he explained. "If I found myself working on a film and during the course of that work I was bored, because I didn't really know what the hell I was involved in, I would find that infinitely demoralizing and it might well make me decide to pack my bags." Day-Lewis retired from acting in 2017.

Nicolas Cage

The idea of Nicolas Cage playing Aragorn might sound like nightmare fuel, but believe it or not, this almost came to pass. Cage was a headliner at the time, fresh off starring roles in Con AirFace/Off and Snake Eyes. Taking the lead in a big-budget epic like The Lord of the Rings would have been the next logical step for him, but he was forced to turn down Peter Jackson's offer because he had "family obligations" that he couldn't ignore. It wasn't the only huge role he passed on, either — Cage also said no to The Matrix"Both are great movies, but they both shot for great quantities of time — I mean years," he said. "Australia was The Matrix, and New Zealand was The Lord of the Rings."

Cage expanded on his explanation during a 2015 interview with NewsWeek"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," he said of The Lord of the Rings. He has absolutely no regrets, however: "I get to enjoy the movies as an audience member, because I don't watch my own movies." Had his schedule been different, perhaps the state of his career today would be different, too. For better or worse, Cage was unable to take the part and we're left wondering what bizarre accent he might have given the future King of Gondor.

Russell Crowe

By the time New Zealand native Russell Crowe was approached about the Aragorn vacancy, The Lord of the Rings' budget was starting to look a little stretched. They didn't have enough cash to give Crowe a suitable up front fee, so producers offered him a percentage of the takings instead. It wasn't enough to tempt him, though years later Crowe conceded that it would have been a risk well worth taking. In 2011, the actor delivered a lecture about his career in the business to film students at England's Durham University. According to The Telegraph, Crowe talked about turning down the Aragorn role, joking that he wouldn't have needed to do paid appearances had he agreed to New Line's offer of 10 percent of The Lord of the Rings' profits. So why didn't he?

Crowe didn't reveal the reasoning behind his costly decision until 2019, when Howard Stern decided to probe him about it. "I didn't think Peter Jackson actually wanted me on the film," Crowe said. "I think he was forced into talking to me, because there was a moment in time when everybody wanted me in everything." Crowe knew that something wasn't quite right when he spoke to Jackson over the phone about the part, adding: "My instinct was that he had somebody else in mind, which turned out to be Viggo [Mortensen], and he should be able to hire the actor that he wants."

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet started getting linked with a possible appearance in The Lord of the Rings as soon as New Line announced that Peter Jackson was going to spearhead its ambitious three-movie project. The director gave the British starlet her big break when he cast her as a Juliet Hulme in 1994's Heavenly Creatures, a psychological drama based on a famous New Zealand murder case involving two teenage killers. By the time Jackson started casting for The Lord of the Rings, Winslet was a huge star, having been nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Supporting Actress and Best Leading Actress categories for Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Titanic (1997), respectively. She had her pick of projects at the time, and The Lord of the Rings just wasn't appealing enough.

Winslet was reportedly offered the role of Rohan shieldmaiden Eowyn, but she had some commitment issues according to an email allegedly written by former New Line Cinema president of production Michael De Luca. The email, which was forwarded to The Lord of the Rings fan site The One Ring by an inside source, read: "Winslet's unavailable, I'm afraid. I think she passed on the project due to the length of time it takes." Some people might view that as a gross error of judgment on Winslet's part, but her career didn't suffer as a result — she's been nominated for another four Oscars in the years since, winning one. 

Uma Thurman

Uma Thurman certainly has a high fantasy look about her. It's easy to imagine the actress as Galadriel (the Lady of the woods of Lothlorien, ultimately portrayed by Cate Blanchett), but that's not the part that Peter Jackson had in mind for her. The director wanted Thurman to play Eowyn, the same character that Kate Winslet was approached about. Thurman also turned the part down, though unlike Winslet it wasn't just a time issue. She and her then-husband Ethan Hawke had just welcomed their first daughter, Maya Hawke (Stranger Things), when the offer was made, presenting the new mother with a difficult choice.

In the end, Thurman decided to put family first and reject Jackson's overtures, though she later admitted that the decision still haunts her. "Yeah, I was asked," she confirmed to MTV in 2008. "It just caught me at the wrong moment. I wish I had done it. Oh, I truly wish I could've been able to take that plunge, and maybe I should have, but I just couldn't at the time." When she appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert almost a decade later, the Kill Bill star admitted that rejecting The Lord of the Rings was "one of the worst decisions" of her entire career. "I just had my first child and, I don't know, I was a little housebound," she told Colbert. "It's really definitely a regret."

Ethan Hawke

At one stage, husband and wife team Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke looked set to appear in The Lord of the Rings together, with the latter confirming his planned involvement at the Toronto Film Festival. Hawke not only revealed that he would be playing Boromir's younger brother Faramir (a role that eventually went to Australian actor David Wenham, whose Sean Bean-like looks probably sealed the deal), he also let slip that Tolkien's enigmatic supporting character Tom Bombadil had been cut from the screenplay. The actor went on to gush over the author's work, claiming that he had been a fan of the Tolkien series since childhood.

Despite his obvious excitement, Hawke pulled out of the picture. Perhaps leaving his wife at home to care for their newborn daughter after she had turned down a part in the same movie wasn't an option for the actor, who takes parenthood so seriously that he was inspired to write a book about it. His now ex-wife has admitted that she regrets rejecting The Lord of the Rings, but does Hawke feel the same? He didn't explicitly say that he wished he had taken the Faramir role, but when he sat down with Variety in 2018, he revealed that he was still waiting for his big blockbuster moment. "Before I die, I would really like to give a meaningful performance inside a really commercial film," Hawke said, namedropping Ian McKellen's Gandalf as an example of that.

Lucy Lawless

Another New Zealander that Peter Jackson had on his Middle-earth wishlist, Lucy Lawless is best known for starring in the much-loved Xena: Warrior Princess. The actress seemed to be the perfect fit — she had plenty of fantasy experience and the kind of flawless features that Galadriel is known for in the novels — but it wasn't meant to be. Lawless was pregnant when Jackson approached her about the role, and the director clearly failed to sell The Lord of the Rings to her, because she forgot to turn up for the audition.

In a 2003 interview with Hot Celebs magazine, Lawless revealed that she also turned down a chance to appear in Fox's franchise opener X-Men (2000) at the time, despite knowing that she probably wouldn't get another shot at the big leagues. "You know what might happen? By the time I'm ready and want to do a multi-year contract, they won't want me," she said. "But what can I do? I've turned down great things. It's not worth it if your children are miserable." Her prediction came true, and although Lawless is still working today (she starred in Australian crime series My Life Is Murder in 2019 and voiced an Aeosian queen in two 2020 episodes of Star Wars: Resistance) her career could have been a whole lot different if she had agreed to portray Tolkien's telepathic Elf maiden.

Kevin Conway

Known for his roles in Sam Raimi Western The Quick and the Dead (1995) and Ron Maxwell's civil war duology (1993's Gettysburg and 2003's Gods and Generals), New York native Kevin Conway openly admits that he's made a few wrong turns in his career, though rejecting the chance to play King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings stands out as "one of the bad mistakes" for him. Speaking to now defunct sci-fi mag Starlog, the actor said that although Theoden was "a wonderful part" to be offered, he just couldn't get on board with the filming schedule, which, in his opinion, was a little excessive.

"They wanted me to go out in January to New Zealand for six weeks, then go home, then go back again for another six weeks, then go home again and then come back again for three months," he recalled. "I said, 'Whoa!' The character is in two of the films. It wasn't worth it. He has a couple of good scenes, but the rest is all battling with armor and stuff. You could have a stuntman do that." Conway pulled out of the project, but it wasn't an easy decision. "I really suffered about it," he added. The role of Theoden ended up going to Bernard Hill, while Conway landed a part playing a different ruler — he was King Leo in Martin Lawrence-led box office bomb Black Knight. Nowadays he works as a narrator and voiceover artist.

Alison Doody

If not for yet another inconvenient pregnancy (as far as Peter Jackson is concerned, at least), Alison Doody would likely be a household name at this point. The Irish actress, best known for playing Nazi seductress Dr. Elsa Schneider in 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, was the first person to be offered the role of Eowyn according to Paul Simpson's The Rough Guide to the Lord of the Rings. Doody was reportedly earmarked for the role back in 1993 when a feature length adaptation of The Lord of the Rings that never came to fruition was being planned, and Jackson evidently liked the idea. The actress had just given birth to her second daughter when the director approached her, however, and she chose her young family over the Lady of Rohan. 

When Doody returned to acting she spent a decade working in television, with stints on Irish medical drama The Clinic and summer camp comedy Beaver Falls. She was dealt a devastating blow in 2012 when her husband, South African businessman Douglas De Jager, died of a suspected heart attack during their vacation to Italy. Doody made her feature length comeback in 2014 with English gangland drama We Still Kill the Old Way, but it didn't go over well with UK critics. She starred in a sci-fi called Division 19 in 2017, which didn't fare much better — the film has a damning 8 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.