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TV Roles Everyone In Hollywood Wanted

It used to be films were seen as superior to television in Hollywood, but those days are long over. Over the last couple of decades, the small screen has taken some really big leaps, spawning a slew of prestige projects and major hits that have expanded the narrative possibilities of the medium and revolutionized the way people think about TV—not to mention opened up a huge number of opportunities for actors who were once wholly focused on landing film roles. Several years into the explosion of streaming platforms and the continued rise of cable, television is enjoying a surge in popularity and prestige like never before. Now, a growing list of A-list talent is flocking to TV to tackle meaty roles once reserved for the big screen. As the New Golden Age of Television stretches on, we're taking a look at a few TV roles everyone in Hollywood wanted to play.

Walter White, Breaking Bad

"I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks," cancer-ridden chemistry teacher turned drug-lord Walter White growled to wife Skyler in season four of AMC's critically acclaimed hit drama Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston's work over the course of five seasons earned him four Emmy Awards for Best Actor in a Drama Series, but two other actors nearly broke bad first.

Show creator Vince Gilligan had been a fan of Cranston's since his guest-starring role on a 1998 episode of The X-Files, but network execs had a hard time imagining the actor in the role due to his comedic turn on family sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, and pushed for John Cusack and Matthew Broderick instead. Both passed on the role—and once Gilligan showed the execs Cranston's episode of X-Files, AMC gave the thumbs up and even requested Gilligan rewrite Walter White's age to better accommodate Cranston.

Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

It was Sarah Jessica Parker's career-defining role, but other actresses nearly donned sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw's little tutu on the hit HBO comedy Sex and the City. Series creator Darren Star initially asked China Beach and Desperate Housewives star Dana Delany to play Carrie after seeing her onstage with future City vet Kim Cattrall, but Delany declined, not wanting to be in a show about sex—although she encouraged Cattrall to accept the role of Samantha. Parker was next on Star's list, but she was unsure, so he offered the role to House star Lisa Edelstein as a backup. Edelstein signed a contract, but Parker finally said yes, leaving Star to let Edelstein go. Ouch. As Carrie Bradshaw knows, breaking up is hard to do.

Don Draper, Mad Men

Don Draper is Sterling Cooper's best ad man, capable of selling anything from the Kodak Carousel to Coca-Cola with equal parts showmanship and charm—and future Emmy winner Jon Hamm needed to do some serious selling to convince AMC and series creator Matthew Weiner he was the right man to fill Draper's immaculately tailored 1960s suits.

A virtual unknown at the time with a string of tiny film and TV credits, Hamm was basically at the bottom of everyone's list. Hamm revealed to podcast host Marc Maron that Mad Men's casting directors originally went to Punisher star Thomas Jane—who promptly turned down their offer, saying he didn't "do television." Roger Sterling himself, actor John Slattery, initially auditioned to play Don, but Weiner only wanted him for the wisecracking silver fox Sterling. 

With both Jane and Slattery out of the running, Weiner asked execs to look at two finalists: Hamm and Younger's Peter Hermann. AMC flew Hamm to New York, where he charmed programming execs over drinks at the Gansevoort Hotel and won the role on the spot. Doing business during cocktails? Don Draper would surely be impressed.

Sawyer, Lost

Oceanic flight 815 crashed on a mysterious island—and American television screens—on ABC's hit drama Lost in 2004, introducing audiences to a plane full of intriguing passengers, including world-weary yet charming con man James "Sawyer" Ford. Creator J.J. Abrams was initially set on hiring Forest Whitaker for the role, but he backed out to direct the film First Daughter instead, leaving Abrams to look elsewhere. Half of the male cast of Lost seemingly auditioned to play Sawyer, including Matthew Fox, Dominic Monaghan, and Jorge Garcia—who wound up as Jack, Charlie, and Hurley, respectively. But Georgia native Josh Holloway stole the show, winning the role that made him a fan favorite for six seasons—and a future star along the way.

Sam and Diane, Cheers

For the first half of Cheers' 11-season run, the show's comedy was propelled by the sexual tension between egotistical womanizing bar owner Sam Malone and brainiac feminist waitress Diane Chambers. Their will-they-won't-they love/hate relationship became Must See TV and catapulted Ted Danson and Shelley Long to Emmy-winning fame. 

Coming off the success of Taxi, sibling writers Glen and Les Charles and director James Burrows wanted to create another workplace comedy, but set in a bar—and they knew Sam and Diane would be the key to making it work. They saw hundreds of actors before narrowing it down to three pairs that were brought in for a final audition: Ted Danson and Shelley Long, former football player Fred Dryer and Newhart's Julia Duffy, and Knots Landing's William Devane and Lisa Eichhorn. While the team really liked Dyer and Duffy, the chemistry between Danson and Long was instant and undeniable.

Michael Scott, The Office

Steve Carell became a star thanks to his brilliant, cringe-worthy, and occasionally heartbreaking turn as Dunder Mifflin's bumbling boss, Michael Scott. When NBC decided to adapt Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit BBC comedy of the same name for American audiences, showrunner Greg Daniels auditioned actors a little differently for the show, conducting interviews and having them improv answers as their characters. 

Auditions for the show were a veritable who's-who of comedy actors: Rainn Wilson was the first person to audition for Michael, but Daniels felt he was far better suited for power-hungry Dwight Schrute. Ben Falcone, Hank Azaria, Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk, and Alan Tudyk all auditioned for Michael as well, and NBC chief Kevin Reilly offered the role to Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti, but he turned it down. Universal Pictures chairwoman Stacy Snider encouraged the network to hire ex-Daily Show correspondent Carell, and the rest was sitcom history.

Elaine, Seinfeld

When Seinfeld arrived in 1989, Jerry's ex-girlfriend-turned-BFF Elaine Benes wasn't even in the first episode; the character was only added at the suggestion of NBC execs who felt the show was a little too male-centric. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld based the character on different women they'd dated and befriended—and looked to some of their funniest female friends and acquaintances when casting the role. 

Rosie O'Donnell and David had done stand-up together, so she was naturally among the top contenders. Patricia Heaton and Megan Mullally were also considered, but the search eventually turned to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who'd met Larry David during her brief stint on Saturday Night Live. When the other actresses passed on Elaine, David sent her several scripts, she read with Seinfeld, and yada yada yada.

The whole cast, True Detective season 2

When True Detective launched on HBO in 2014, critics and audiences alike were blown away by the dramatic anthology series and the performances of leading actors Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The limited series earned a slew of nominations and awards, so HBO eagerly greenlit a second season—and half of Hollywood wanted to take part. 

Among the rumored names for the second season: Elisabeth Moss, Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Ewan McGregor, and Joaquin Phoenix; ultimately, Pizzolatto settled on Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Taylor Kitsch, and Rachel McAdams. The results were critically disappointing, but a third season may still be in the works, so start placing your bets now on who'll be joining the cast.

The Walking Dead - Negan

Walking Dead fans spent months eagerly anticipating the introduction of Negan, the show's most sadistic—and arguably most compelling—villain. Of course, first the producers had to find just the right person to play him. Punk rock icon and actor Henry Rollins told Forbes he was the impetus for the character's look in the comics source material, inspiring Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard. Rollins tried out for the role, for which he thought he was a "shoo-in," but he didn't get it. Creator Robert Kirkman told MTV he thought Jon Hamm of Mad Men "would be perfect" for Negan, and Hamm expressed interest. Garret Dillahunt, the versatile character actor best known for playing the goofy grandpa on Raising Hope and two separate characters on Deadwood, lobbied publicly on Twitter for the role. Evidently, none of them could top the guy who got the part: Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Friends - Chandler

Dozens of young actors sought roles in a new NBC sitcom in 1994—which at the time was called Six of One—including Jane Krakowski, Eric McCormack, and Vince Vaughn. Perhaps the most sought-after role on the show was wisecracking character Chandler Bing. Co-creator Marta Kauffman told Vanity Fair that Matthew Perry was a top choice, but he was unavailable—he'd committed to LAX 2194, a Fox pilot about airport baggage handlers in the future. 

After seeing a slew of actors, Kauffman said Craig Bierko—who'd been coached for the role by Perry—was nearly cast, even though NBC executive Warren Littlefield said he "seemed to have a lot of anger underneath," and wasn't quite the "leading man" type they needed. Another major candidate was '80s movie veteran Jon Cryer, who told Entertainment Weekly he was in London acting in a play when he got a call to audition. The script was faxed over, and went to a British casting agency to make a tape. Later on, he found out the tape didn't arrive in time to be considered. In the end, Fox didn't pick up LAX 2194 to series and allowed Perry out of his contract, leaving him free to do the show—by then renamed Friends—and the rest was history.

Scandal - Olivia Pope

When word got out that Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes was working on a new show, lots of actresses were interested. Like Grey's Anatomy, that new series—titled Scandal—offered prime roles for women, notably that of the lead character, Washington, D.C. "fixer" Olivia Pope. 

Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter that early on, one ABC exec argued Pope "would be perfect for Connie Britton," to which she replied, "It would be, except Olivia Pope is black." Rhimes had based the character on real-life D.C. problem-solver Judy Smith, who is African-American, and she wanted to "honor her identity and heritage." Gabrielle Union was a top contender, and told Access Hollywood Live that she and "half of black Hollywood" were interested in the role, adding that she made it into the final round of five or six actresses. Taraji P. Henson, who'd go on to play Cookie Lyon on Empire, auditioned, but knew she wouldn't get it. "In my mind," she recalled of her audition, "I was like, 'This is Kerry Washington. Why am I even here?'" Indeed, Washington got the gig.

Doctor Who - The Doctor

After more than a decade off the air, the BBC revived the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who in 2005. The most important order of business was casting the ninth iteration of the Doctor, the Time Lord from another planet who traversed space and time. 

Producers aimed high, asking big-time movie star Hugh Grant to be the Ninth Doctor. Grant said he was "highly flattered" by the job offer, but still turned it down. Scottish actor Alan Cumming also said Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies asked him to play the role, and he was intrigued...until he found out it would require him to spend eight months out of the year near the show's production facilities in the relatively remote city of Cardiff, Wales. Billy Nighy from Love Actually, who'd later guest star on a memorable Doctor Who episode, was approached to be the Ninth Doctor. "But I didn't want to be the Doctor," Nighy told The People. "No disrespect to Doctor Who or anything. I just think that it comes with too much baggage." British actor Christopher Eccleston ultimately got the role...which he vacated after one season.