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

The TV Episodes That Actors Refused To Take Part In

Everyone has lines they won't cross, even if they aren't sure quite where those lines are until they're right up against them. Actors are no different. Every time they get a television script they're uncomfortable with, they have to make a choice: Do what's on the page and collect a paycheck, or stay true to themselves and hope for the best. Sometimes their refusal to do the episode gets the show to change it. Other times, that refusal gets the show to change actors. Hey, no one ever said showbiz was easy.

The thing is, sometimes it's the shows you'd least expect that have caused actors to step back and say, "I want nothing to do with this." (Though, yeah, let's be honest: Shows that are made to offend people do also tend to, well, offend people.) Whether it's a matter of personal taste, character faithfulness, or just good old-fashioned behind-the-scenes drama, actors' reasons for saying, "No, thank you," to an episode are as varied as their personalities. Here are a few that managed to push some buttons in all the wrong ways.

Danny DeVito, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

The folks who run "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" have created an entire brand based on the idea of walking right up to the edge of bad taste, rolling their eyes, and leaping gleefully in. And, since joining the show as the utterly reprehensible Frank Reynolds, Danny DeVito has always gone along with them, no matter how dangerous, disgusting, or offensive. Well, almost always.

There was one episode that pushed not only the bounds of taste far beyond what most people can stomach, but also pushed DeVito so far out of his comfort zone, he finally blinked. Of course, all of that was intentional. Showrunner Glenn Howerton explained during a Reddit AMA that they once sent DeVito a script for a fake episode. The basic plot of it involved Frank being sent to jail and getting sexually assaulted over and over again by different prison groups, from white supremacists to the guards.

"We sent him the script for April Fool's Day and made it look all legit," Howerton said. It apparently worked, and DeVito believed it was a genuine script for a real episode. "That was the first time he called us and was like, 'I can't do this guys.'" Honestly, that's kind of a relief. As amusing as it is to watch Frank's bizarre antics, it's nice to know there are some things DeVito just won't do.

Patrick Warburton, "Family Guy"

It took 20 years for Patrick Warburton to find a line he just couldn't cross, but if any show was going to do it, it was going to be "Family Guy." Just how bad was this line? Well, the offending joke wasn't even one that Warburton's character, Joe, uttered, but the actor still found it so offensive, he refused to have anything to do with the episode. For a show that thrives on being crass and offending people, it had to be pretty bad.

Warburton didn't go into too many details, but he did tell Digital Spy that, "It had to do with Christ on the cross but there was no humor in it and it was just so, so horribly offensive." The actor promised he knew what he was doing when he agreed to do the show, but sometimes, he explained, you just have to say no. "I signed up for a really offensive show," he admitted, "and it is satire and there are different rules that govern satire. In 20 years, there's only been this one episode. We have great communication all the time. They are all great and listen to you. They know I'm a team player. They know how offensive that was."

Isaac Hayes, "South Park"

Religion, to be sure, is one of the most sure-fire ways to upset people. Shocking, right? It's pretty much what killed "South Park" mainstay Chef, whose smooth baritone voice was provided for nine seasons by Isaac Hayes. Then the show made an episode mocking Scientology, and Hayes, himself a Scientologist, asked them not to air it. It aired, and a short time after, a statement was released in Hayes' name saying he quit the show.

Feeling more than a little betrayed, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker gave Chef a send-off in proper "South Park" screw-you fashion, with a brainwashing pedophile cult standing in for Scientology. Hayes, of course, would not help out even to say goodbye, so instead the show stitched together old voice recordings, making it absolutely clear that the soul singer was no longer in on the joke. Still, the episode was oddly touching as the boys worked through their confusion over Chef's changes, and blamed the "Super Adventure Club" for destroying the Chef they loved.

Since then, though, Hayes' son, Isaac Hayes III, told The Hollywood Reporter that his father was taken advantage of and would have never pulled out of a show he loved. Parker and Stone later said they'd felt like the singer had been pushed to confront them over the episode. Sadly, any hopes of reconciling were dashed when Hayes passed away in 2008.

Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy"

Compiling dialogue for a farewell episode in a cartoon a la "South Park" is one thing, but if the actor doesn't participate in a live-action show, there's really no way around it. That's supposedly what happened to Izzie on "Grey's Anatomy." Katherine Heigl's notoriously rocky departure in Season 6 left fans disappointed and ticked off that they never got to say a proper goodbye — but there was apparently one planned.

"There was a resolution to Izzie's story," showrunner Krista Vernoff explained to the Los Angeles Times. "We had planned to have her come back for an episode to really properly tie up Izzie and Alex. And I wrote that episode, and it was beautiful. The day before it was supposed to start prepping or shooting, I can't remember, we got a call that Katie wasn't coming. Just wasn't coming. Wasn't going to do it."

Though Heigl herself hasn't addressed Vernoff's remarks, sources close to her told Entertainment Weekly that "Katherine was back in LA after parental leave waiting to be called to set." Whether or not Heigl pulled out of that final episode, though, the actress did share at the time that she had asked to be released from her contract early. She turned down the final five episodes that may have given viewers the resolution they craved. "I know I'm disappointing the fans," she confessed to EW. "I just had to make a choice. I hope I made the right one."

Shannen Doherty, "Charmed"

Friction between actors and their shows is not a new phenomenon. Just ask Shannen Doherty, who left "Charmed" after three seasons of playing the eldest Halliwell sister, Prue. After a few years of behind-the-scenes drama, Prue was written out at the end of the third season and replaced with long-lost sister Paige, played by Rose McGowan.

The show then carried on without her for five more seasons. When "Charmed" took its final bow in 2006, practically everyone came back to say farewell. Prue, though, was nowhere to be seen. Sure, she'd died, but this was "Charmed"; when had death ever stopped anyone from returning? Plenty of fans speculated that she hadn't been wanted or invited back. Doherty, though, says that wasn't the case. She had been invited back for the finale, and it had been her choice to turn it down because it wasn't true to Prue.

"As you all know," she shared during a fan Q&A, "I'm an incredibly direct and honest person, so I should be giving a much more political answer, but I'm not going to. Honestly, the way that they wanted to bring Prue back into it was just not authentic, and there was nothing interesting and good. And it wasn't true to the character. That's why I said no." Instead, we got a single line from the Charmed Ones' mother, Patty, asking where Prue was — and Piper brushing it off. 

Elizabeth Perkins, "Weeds"

For the show's first five seasons, "Weeds" maintained a fairly steady core group of characters. There was the Botwin family, of course, plus weirdo hanger-on, Doug, and narcissistic frienemy Celia. Then Season 6 started with the Botwins fleeing for their lives across the country. Doug wheedled his way into their lives, but Celia got left behind and was never seen again. Fans spent the next few seasons wondering what had happened to her. How was her new drug business going? Where did she end up? Was she even still alive?

It's something Celia's portrayer, Elizabeth Perkins, wondered herself. "I would check in from time to time," she shared with Yahoo! Entertainment. "I always thought they were going to have Celia back. I always thought at least just to blow her head off or something, blow her up in a car or something. I do think fans wanted some resolution with her. "

But when it came time to check in with Celia, the actress turned the opportunity down. She was invited back to the finale, but it was more a formality than anything else. "It was," Perkins said, "I think, just to sort of stand around at the bar mitzvah. I just felt like, no, Celia should die. I was actually also busy shooting a new show and couldn't really have made it work. But, it just seemed like Celia deserved a better send-off."

Christopher Eccleston, "Doctor Who"

Sometimes politics, actor friction, and staying true to a character all go hand-in-hand in turning down an episode. When "Doctor Who" celebrated its 50th anniversary, fans were treated to a massive celebration. The BBC scored the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann, the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker, and the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, for the anniversary special. But the 9th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, the man who brought Doctor Who back for modern audiences, was nowhere to be seen.

Though Eccleston has always maintained pride in bringing the Doctor back to modern audiences, he's never shied away from talking about his problems with the showrunners and the BBC. The original plan for the special was to unite the three modern Doctors — Eccleston, Tenant, and Matt Smith — but Eccleston wasn't interested.

"I felt that it was basically myself, Matt and Dave riffing off the fact that we used to be the Doctors," he explained at New York Comic-Con. "I personally didn't feel like the narrative was strong enough, particularly for the 9th Doctor because I'd taken quite a lot of abuse in my own country when I left. So I looked at it and I thought is this really the way I want to come back and I decided it wasn't. There were other factors, political factors." So instead they rewrote the episode, invented a secret new "War Doctor" to take Eccleston's place, and made the anniversary work without him.

Jessica Lange, "American Horror Story"

When Jessica Lange had Ryan Murphy rewrite some episodes in season two of "American Horror Story," it really shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. As the actress told HuffPost, she doesn't like violence and has made it a point to avoid violent parts for her entire career. For the most part, Murphy respected that, giving her characters more, as she put it, "emotional violence." But he did push her a bit farther than she would have liked once.

"In the first season," she explained, "I shot my philandering husband, but I thought, 'I can do that, he deserves it.' In the second season, I had the thing where [I was] caning some bare asses, but after the second time, I said, 'OK, that's it. We're not doing that anymore.'"

As Murphy revealed on an episode of "The Writers' Room," she was the only actor to put her foot down on "AHS." He tried getting around it, saying, "I even gave her the option: well, what if we do a different kind of caning? With, like, horse-hair canes." No-go. Lange had gone as far down the rabbit-hole of violence as she wanted, and that was it. For the remainder of her time on the show, Lange refused to do any more episodes with violent scenes.

Luke Grimes, "True Blood"

Luke Grimes of "True Blood" had no problem with the show's gorier aspects, but he did have an issue when it came to sex — gay sex, specifically. When the show introduced sweet vampire James in Season 6, fans couldn't help but swoon a little. The writers built a sweet story as they paired him up with vamp-newbie Jessica. But when James returned in Season 7, he had a new face — Nathan Parsons — and a new love interest.

Though Grimes' publicist said he left due to scheduling reasons, HBO's official statement had always been that he'd left "due to the creative direction of the character." It didn't take long for the nature of that creative direction to become apparent when Buzzfeed reported that Grimes left once he got the new script showing his character pairing up with Lafayette.

Show sources were apparently baffled by the decision, especially knowing how sex-heavy and LGBTQ-friendly "True Blood" was. Nelson Ellis, who played Lafayette, echoed the sentiment and confirmed that Grimes refused to do any same-sex episodes in a Vulture interview. "I just think that, you're an actor on a show that's 'True Blood.' We're all sitting there going, 'You quit your job because ... really?' I'm just ... I'm over him. You quit your job because you don't want to play a gay part? As if it's ... You know what? I'm going to stop talking."

Matthew Perry, "Friends"

Sometimes actors do actually have the power to nix episodes and change storylines — at least actors at the height of their popularity on such wildly successful shows as "Friends." That's what Matthew Perry says happened once when he was given a script to an episode with an uncomfortable Chandler story. It revolved, as many Chandler stories did, around gay jokes.

"There was a storyline on 'Friends' where Chandler went to a male strip-joint because he really liked the sandwiches," he told Andy Cohen on "Watch What Happens: Live." "And I called up and I said, let's not do this one." Cohen asked if Perry prevailed on getting the episode canned and the actor confirmed, "Yeah, I did."

Though he didn't elaborate as to why he nixed the episode, as Metro noted, "Friends" didn't exactly have the best track record when it came to LGBTQ issues, and the storyline likely would have just made Chandler the target of more gay jokes. So whatever the reason, let's be thankful that's one episode Perry stopped before it even happened.

Neal McDonough, "Scoundrels"

Sex, it seems, can be a sticking point for a few actors. For Neal McDonough, it wasn't a matter of playing gay – he wouldn't be taking part in any episodes with sex scenes in them. In fact, he wouldn't even do any kissing scenes. A devout Catholic, the actor firmly believes his lips are meant for just one woman: his wife.

This became a problem when he was hired as one of the leads for a new ABC show called "Scoundrels." When he balked at the scripts and said he wouldn't be doing episodes with sex in them, he was let go and replaced with David James Elliot. McDonough later admitted to Closer that he was surprised by the whole experience. His stance, after all, wasn't exactly a secret. He'd stuck to his beliefs even during his run on "Desperate Housewives."

"It was a horrible situation for me," he recalled. "After that, I couldn't get a job because everybody thought I was this religious zealot. I am very religious. I put God and family first, and me second. That's what I live by. It was hard for a few years." Still, "Scoundrels" only lasted 8 episodes, and McDonough's career has rebounded nicely. Once he got the call to play the villainous Robert Quarles on "Justified," he knew he'd do just fine. "My career," he concluded, "has been phenomenal ever since."

Nora Dunn, "Saturday Night Live"

In over four decades on the air, "Saturday Night Live" has rarely balked at controversy. It's also had its share of controversial hosts. (Elon Musk, anyone?) But there was one host who was just too reprehensible for former cast member Nora Dunn. She'd been on SNL for five years, and Season 15 was to be her last. Everything was going fine. Then provocative comedian Andrew Dice Clay was announced as a host, and Dunn refused to perform in it, even though it was her penultimate episode. The press ate it up.

"I don't think that they understood where I was coming from there," she told Salon. "I'm not going to perform with [Clay]. It was offensive to me to read [in the press] that I didn't like him because he was foul-mouthed. My objection to Andrew Dice Clay was that his character was only about one thing: abusing women and laughing about abusing women. There was nothing else behind it. There was nothing else about it except to make him look harmless."

"Saturday Night Live" episodes are meant to fawn over the hosts and make them look good, Dunn explained, and she would not be doing that for Clay. Nor was she alone. Sinead O'Connor canceled her musical performance when she found out the abrasive comedian would be hosting her episode. The show did go on, but it went on without two fed-up women.