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The Surprising Franchise David Schwimmer Regrets Passing On

Hollywood history is filled with intriguing casting "what ifs." What if Tom Selleck had played Indiana Jones? What if Nicolas Cage had played Superman? What if Britney Spears had starred in "The Notebook?" But one of the weirdest, hardest to imagine ones involves David Schwimmer, the once and forever Ross from "Friends."

In the mid '90s, Schwimmer was riding high on the success of his NBC sitcom. He had heat, which meant he could either work on personal projects that would bring him creative fulfillment or make even more money by starring in blockbusters. He chose the former.

He explained to The Hollywood Reporter that he used his leverage as a star at the time to get the production company Miramax to let him direct a movie and put all of his friends from his theater company in Chicago in it. While he was in pre-production on his movie, he was offered the starring role in a certain sci-fi action-comedy. He turned it down, because doing it would mean he would have had to push filming on his movie. "I just said, 'I can't. These are my closest friends in the world, this is their first shot at a movie, my first shot at directing,'" he recalled. "It wasn't even like a choice, really. It was, 'I just can't.'"

The movie he turned down was "Men in Black." The role instead went to Will Smith. That's right, Agent J was almost played by Ross Geller.

David Schwimmer passed on Men in Black

At the time, David Schwimmer and Will Smith were at similar points in their careers. They were ensemble stars who needed a lead role to secure their spot on Hollywood's A+ list. Smith did it with "Men in Black," which grossed $589.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo, and became the third highest-grossing film of 1997, establishing him as the major movie star he still is today. "Men in Black" became a franchise, spawning three sequels.

Meanwhile, the movie Schwimmer directed, "Since You've Been Gone," had its theatrical release canceled and was released as a TV movie.

It's hard to imagine "Men in Black" with Schwimmer as Agent J instead of Smith, because the role is now so closely associated with Smith. It would have been a very different movie, because Schwimmer doesn't have Smith's swagger. He's a lower-energy presence, which would have made for a very different dynamic with Tommy Lee Jones' grumpy Agent K.

It's interesting to imagine what would have happened if Schwimmer had taken the role. Would he be a mega movie star today? Schwimmer probably asks himself the same question. But in the end, he did what he had to do at the time, and who's to say it was the wrong decision, besides his accountant?