Actors who refused roles in Lord of the Rings

A decade and a half has passed since Peter Jackson brought the first of his Lord of the Rings films to the big screen, and in that time his trilogy has become so ingrained in popular culture that it is hard to imagine it with a different cast. Sir Ian McKellen immortalized the wizard Gandalf with three career-defining performances, and Viggo Mortensen proved an inspired choice as ranger-turned-king Aragorn, though neither man was anywhere near being first choice for the parts. In truth, precious few final cast members were top on Jackson's wishlist. If the director had gotten his own way, the landscape of Middle-earth he created would look very different today. From former Bonds to fantasy cult heroes, the following actors all refused huge roles in The Lord of the Rings.

Sean Connery

Sean Connery was one of the first actors allegedly approached for the part of Gandalf, though reports say the Bond legend turned down a staggering $30 million plus a 15 percent slice of the box office takings (which would have amounted to a rather hefty deal seeing as The Return of the King alone raked in over $1 billion at the worldwide box office). Perhaps he simply couldn't get his head around Tolkien's world. "I read the book," Connery admitted years later, "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 preference for Connery in an interview with Total Film, the Englishman was quick to point out that his peer's broad tones would have made for a very different Gandalf to the one he brought to the screen. "The films would have been very different if it had been Sean Connery; Gandalf would have come from Scotland for a start!" Let's play that out. "You shall not pash!" — doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

Christopher Plummer

Despite growing up reading Tolkien's books, Canadian thespian Christopher Plummer turned down the chance to play the author's most famous wizard, though Plummer's reasons were entirely time related. Knowing that signing on to play Gandalf meant spending the next three years down in New Zealand, he decided that he wasn't prepared to make such a big commitment at his age.

"I thought, there are other countries I'd like to visit before I croak," Plummer told Conan O'Brien before admitting that the "absolutely marvelous" McKellen brought a warmth to the character that he himself may not have been able to produce. Just when he thought his last shot at the big time had passed him by, Plummer found himself on stage at the 84th Academy Awards accepting the best supporting actor statue for his work in romantic drama Beginners, making the 82-year-old the oldest actor to win a competitive Oscar.

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, though the three-time best actor winner repeatedly spurned his advances. J.R.R. Tolkien fan site The One Ring had the inside track on the casting process in 1999, keeping Tolkienites abreast of developments via a reliable source who said "DDL has been offered the Aragorn role again! Everyone will deny this but it is fact. 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 rumors over a decade later in an interview with MTV, explaining that he declined the part because big franchise films just aren't his bag. "[This is] not meant to belittle those films. … They can be fantastically entertaining for the people who love to see them, but it's not for me."

Nicolas Cage

The idea of Nicolas Cage as Aragorn is enough to send shivers down the spines of Middle-earth fans everywhere, but this horror story was almost a reality. After Daniel Day-Lewis refused the role, it was awarded to young Irish actor Stuart Townsend, who trained for months but was famously given the boot the day before filming began after Jackson realized he had made a mistake casting a young actor. Nic Cage was one of those approached to fill the void, but the actor had too much on his plate to take the role.

"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," Cage explained when asked about roles he regretted turning down, which also included a role in The Matrix films. 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, Lord of the Rings' budget was starting to look a little stretched, and instead of a fee the producers offered the Gladiator leading man a percentage of the trilogy's eventual box office takings. This seemed an unnecessary risk for an actor coming straight off a best actor win, though years later Crowe conceded that it would have been a risk well worth taking.

The actor was delivering a lecture about his career in the business to film students at England's Durham University when he joked that he wouldn't have needed to do paid Q&A sessions had he agreed to Peter Jackson's offer of 10 percent of The Lord of the Rings' profits. Even if he did lose out on a fair few dollars in the long run, his career didn't actually suffer as a result of his decision to leave The Lord of the Rings well alone, as he was nominated for the best actor award at the 2002 Golden Globes for his work in A Beautiful Mind.

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet started getting linked with a possible appearance in The Lord of the Rings as soon as Peter Jackson confirmed he had won the rights to adapt Tolkien's epic for the big screen. 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 was casting The Lord of the Rings, Winslet was a huge star, nominated for Academy Awards in the best supporting actress and best lead actress categories for Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Titanic (1997) respectively.

Despite her A-list status, rumors that Jackson would bring her on board were rife in the late '90s, and at one stage she looked like a lock to play Rohan shieldmaiden Éowyn. But Winslet had reservations about the time required involved according to an email allegedly acquired from former New Line Cinema president of production Michael De Luca and posted on The One Ring. The message read: "Winslet's unavailable, I'm afraid. I think she passed on the project due to the length of time it takes."

Uma Thurman

Wiry blonde beauty Uma Thurman certainly has a high fantasy look about her, and while she never personally revealed the name of the character she was offered in The Lord of the Rings, more leaked emails from New Line Cinema claim she was up for the role of Éowyn. Thurman and her husband at the time Ethan Hawke had just welcomed their first daughter, Maya, into the world when the two-movie offer was made, presenting the new mother with a difficult choice to make.

In the end, the actress decided to put family first and reject Jackson's overtures, though she later admitted that the decision still haunts her. "Yeah, I was asked," the Kill Bill star revealed. "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."

Ethan Hawke

If Uma Thurman had joined up, husband and wife could have both joined Lord of the Rings, with Ethan Hawke 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) but also let slip that Tolkien's enigmatic supporting character Tom Bombadil had been cut from the screenplay, much to the dismay of fans of the novels.

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 eventually 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 Hawke, who takes parenthood so seriously that he was inspired to write a book about it. With illustrations by his current wife, Ryan, Rules for a Knight aims to offer advice to unconventional families through a number of letters sent from the story's eponymous knight to his children.

Kevin Conway

Best known for his roles in Sam Raimi's Western The Quick and the Dead (1995) and Ron Maxwell's civil war duology (1993's Gettysburg and 2003's Gods and Generals), Kevin Conway openly admits that he's made a few wrong turns in his career, though rejecting the chance to play King Theoden was "one of the bad mistakes." The actor revealed that he turned down the part of Rohan's proud ruler because he felt the schedule was excessive for what was essentially a supporting character. "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. I said, 'Whoa!' The character is in two of the films. It wasn't worth it. … But I really suffered about it."

Lucy Lawless

Another New Zealander that Jackson had on his Middle-earth wishlist was Lucy Lawless, best remembered for her time on the much-loved (but totally unwatchable today) Xena: Warrior Princess. Lawless had the high cheekbones and flawless beauty required to play the Lady Galadriel, though, much like Thurman, an inconveniently timed pregnancy meant she had to bow out. The actress turned down recurring parts in the X-Men franchise and apparently forgot to show up to an audition for The Lord of the Rings to concentrate on raising her kids, even though she was aware that by the time she was ready to take on such a role she would no longer be in demand.

"You know what might happen? By the time I'm ready and want to do a multi-year contract, they won't want me. But what can I do? I've turned down great things; it's not worth it if your children are miserable." Unfortunately for the Kiwi actress her prediction came true, and although she is still working today (she recently spent a season on Ash vs Evil Dead and currently portrays Countess Marburg in witch hunt drama Salem) her career could have been a whole lot different if she had agreed to portray Tolkien's telepathic Elf maiden.

Alison Doody

If not for yet another ill-timed pregnancy (as far as Peter Jackson is concerned, at least), Alison Doody would likely be a household name. 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 Éowyn according to Paul Simpson's The Rough Guide to the Lord of the Rings. But she had just given birth to her second daughter and so let the opportunity to portray the Lady of Rohan slide. When Doody returned to acting in 2004 she spent a decade working in British television, with stints on Irish medical drama The Clinic and short-lived summer camp comedy Beaver Falls being her only noteworthy roles. She returned to film in 2014 with English gangland drama We Still Kill the Old Way, though poor domestic reviews (the Radio Times described it as "the film that taste forgot") did little to inspire talent scouts on the other side of the Atlantic.

Interestingly, The Rough Guide to the Lord of the Rings details yet another rejection related to motherhood duties, though this time it didn't concern one of the cast. According to Simpson, Icelandic singer Björk was approached about writing and performing "Gollum's Song" for the soundtrack, though she rejected the chance on numerous occasions on account of her young family.