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Actors Who Refused To Be In Martin Scorsese Movies

Martin Scorsese is one of the most beloved filmmakers in the history of cinema. In his time carving out a reputation in this domain, he's managed to work with a slew of unforgettable actors, many of whom managed to deliver some of their most beloved performances under his direction. However, even given his reputation for securing incredible talent, that doesn't mean that Scorsese has secured every single famous face that he approached to appear in one of his movies. There are several noteworthy examples over the years of notable actors flat-out turning down the chance to appear in a Scorsese movie. What sounds like something ludicrous was a natural part of the production process for beloved titles like "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas."

The list of performers who have turned down roles in Scorsese includes actors that served as the leading man of the director's earlier works, big stars of the 1970s, as well as a pop singer who could've scored her most prestigious acting gig ever if she'd agreed to appear in "Goodfellas." These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Dustin Hoffman in Taxi Driver

In the 1960s and 1970s, few actors were on as much of a hot streak as Dustin Hoffman. After exploding onto people's radar with "The Graduate," Hoffman proved practically unstoppable. He headlined one acclaimed movie after another, with titles like "Midnight Cowboy," "Papillon," and "Kramer vs. Kramer." Hoffman had the opportunity to add one more piece of iconic 1970s cinema to his resume when Martin Scorsese came courting with the chance to play "Taxi Driver" protagonist Travis Bickle. While both the quality and darkness of "Taxi Driver" would've made this feature a perfect fit for Hoffman the actor turned down the chance to play Bickle.

Reflecting on this missed chance decades later, Hoffman said (per Digital Spy) that part of why he turned down "Taxi Driver" is that he hadn't seen any of Scorsese's movies and had no clue who this filmmaker was. In a world before "Goodfellas" and "Raging Bull," let alone "Taxi Driver," Scorsese was just another plucky filmmaker looking to score a big name for his new directorial effort. When Scorsese offered the role by talking so rapidly he didn't pause for a breath, Hoffman dubbed Scorsese "crazy" and immediately turned down the gig. Though he may have been overwhelmed by Scorsese decades earlier, Hoffman, of course, is regretful now about turning down this character. He refers to passing up "Taxi Driver" as one of his "many dumb mistakes."

Shirley MacLaine in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Though it isn't one of the most iconic movies he's ever director, Martin Scorsese's 1974 movie "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" is still an acclaimed motion picture that features, among other virtues, plenty of famous faces. The supporting cast alone includes the likes of Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd, and Jodie Foster, while Ellen Burstyn is the one responsible for handling the titular role of Alice. Before she hopped onto this lead role, though, Shirley MacLaine was approached to play Alice. It was a part that MacLaine turned down, a decision that turned out to be ill-advised given that "Alice" turned into a tidy box office and critical hit.

Decades later, MacLaine still couldn't avoid getting questions about how she passed on the opportunity to work with Martin Scorsese. Talking to The New York Times in 2005, MacLaine noted that her primary reason for turning down "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" was because she didn't know who Martin Scorsese was in the early 1970s. Not familiar with either his name or works, MacLaine dismissed the production and moved onto other acting gigs. Of course, by the end of the decade, Scorsese would cement his reputation and make his name famous with titles like "Taxi Driver."

Gene Hackman in The Wolf of Wall Street

After the 2004 comedy "Welcome to Mooseport," Gene Hackman retired as a performer. For decades, this man had been a staple of movies ranging from "The Conversation" to "The Birdcage," with Hackman earning acclaim for his level of conviction no matter what role he inhabited. But by the time the 21st-century was getting underway, Hackman opted to move on to other interests. In a rare post-retirement interview with GQ, Hackman did note that he would be up for another acting gig, but it would have to be under very specific circumstances: It would have to be something he could do at his home with a minimal amount of other people.

Such conditions make it sound like providing some voiceover work would be perfect for Hackman, since this can be done isolated from other people. This was likely the thought process by Martin Scorsese and company when they wrote Hackman a brief voice-over cameo into the screenplay for "The Wolf of Wall Street." This part would have consisted of Hackman's vocal chops being utilized for a commercial for an investing firm. Unfortunately for this 2013 Scorsese film, despite an obvious desire to utilize this artist, Hackman opted to pass on the opportunity to work with this great filmmaker. Instead, Hackman decided to enjoy retirement and his other passions, like cycling or writing novels.

Johnny Carson in The King of Comedy

In the 1983 Martin Scorsese classic "The King of Comedy," stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) has an unhealthy fixation with late-night TV host legend Jerry Langford. This role is inhabited by a real-life legend of comedy, Jerry Lewis. Though it seems like destiny that an icon of silver screen comedy would portray a fictional titan of levity, Lewis wasn't always the first choice for this part. In fact, "The King of Comedy" went through several options for the part of Langford before it arrived at Lewis. The very first pick for the role, in fact, was somebody who served as the clear inspiration for Langford, Johnny Carson.

Serving as the host of "The Tonight Show" on NBC for decades, Carson redefined the world of late night comedy, but he was not known for acting as fictional characters. In fact, if he had taken on "The King of Comedy," it would have been Carson's first foray into acting as somebody that wasn't just himself. Scorsese was still enthusiastic about the idea of having Carson portray a warped fictional version of himself, but Carson turned down the project. Apparently, Carson just found the process of film acting way too time-consuming, or, as Carson put it according to The Guardian, "one take is enough for me." Though this casting didn't pan out, "The King of Comedy" still secured an unforgettable fixture of big-screen comedies to play somebody that Pupkin was way too obsessed with.

Aidan Quinn in The Last Temptation of Christ

Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" had a long road to the big screen, and even once it reached movie theaters, it was greeted with an avalanche of controversy. On the lighter side of its problems were issues with getting a proper cast assembled. While the final cut had Willem Dafoe handling the role of Jesus Christ, he wasn't the first performer in mind to handle this important part. Aidan Quinn was the original choice to portray Jesus Christ, with The Los Angeles Times reporting that the actor was attached to the project for so long that he was a total unknown when he first signed on to star.

However, the version of "The Last Temptation of Christ" that would have starred Quinn was scuttled by Paramount Pictures brass. Years later, Scorsese got to revive the project and originally planned for Quinn to return in the role. However, Quinn explained to the Chicago Tribune that by the time "The Last Temptation of Christ" was resurrected, he was already busy with other projects. Thus, Quinn had to pass on this second chance at portraying Jesus Christ, a development that left him disappointed. This necessitated someone else stepping into the role, which is where Willem Dafoe came in.

Madonna in Goodfellas

While Madonna's primary claim to fame is her groundbreaking work as a musician, she also had a notable streak of acting credits in film for a good stretch of the 1980s and 1990s. This included comedies like "Desperately Seeking Susan," as well as her work as the female lead in the Warren Beatty blockbuster "Dick Tracy." However, at one point in time, her acting career almost also encompassed working with director Martin Scorsese. The collision of Madonna and Scorsese was once set to occur on the 1990 gangster feature "Goodfellas," with Madonna being eyeballed for the role of Karen Hill.

While talking to GQ, producer Barbara De Fina noted that Madonna was a name in heavy consideration for the part of Karen, to the point that she and Scorsese went out of their way to see Madonna's work in the Broadway show "Speed the Plow" and scout her acting chops. Given her prominence as both a pop culture icon and an actor in this era, it's not surprising that Madonna gained the attention of Scorsese when putting together the cast of "Goodfellas." Of course, Madonna would not end up in "Goodfellas," with this performer passing on the gig and Lorraine Bracco eventually taking on the part of Karen Hill. There's never been an official reason disclosed for why Madonna didn't end up in "Goodfellas," but it'll be tough to find any "Goodfellas" who'd say the movie is worse for having Bracco instead of Madonna.

Harrison Ford in Cape Fear

Despite both blowing up in terms of fame in the 1970s, not to mention sharing pals like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford and Martin Scorsese have never worked together. But that could have changed in the 1990s, when Scorsese offered Ford a juicy lead role in his "Cape Fear" remake. Robert De Niro was already set to play the obsessive psycho that sets the plot into motion, so this could've been an extra tantalizing opportunity to see De Niro and Ford together in one movie.

However, as Ford recalled to The Irish Times, the "Star Wars" leading man passed on the chance to be in this production. This wasn't due to Ford being squeamish about the material or not liking Scorsese, though. Instead, Ford was only interested in appearing in "Cape Fear" if he got to subvert his traditional silver screen image of being a reliable hero by playing the film's antagonist. This would've required De Niro to play the straight-laced lawyer. With De Niro unwilling to switch parts, Ford opted to not be a part of the movie altogether. Ford's recollection of this experience doesn't seem to indicate any hard feelings, even if film fans will likely bristle at missing out on seeing Ford inhabit a Scorsese movie.

Willem Dafoe in Gangs of New York

Unlike many actors who turn down the chance to be in a Martin Scorsese movie, Willem Dafoe was casted and ready to go to appear in the director's 2002 movie "Gangs of New York." Dafoe was one of countless people set to be a part of this epic drama's cast, which was headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Day-Lewis. However, things hit a snag when the ambitious project finally got underway. Principal photography for "Gangs of New York" began in the year 2000 so that the film could come out in 2001. However, it ended up stretching on for so long that "Gangs of New York" would eventually get delayed to Christmas 2002.

It was during this lengthy filming process that Dafoe's presence in "Gangs of New York" became a question mark. In May 2000, IGN reported that production delays would likely cost the movie the presence of Dafoe, a development that eventually came to pass. Losing Dafoe on any film is a disappointment, but it was especially crushing here since the actor and Scorsese had worked so well together on "The Last Temptation of Christ." Luckily for fans of these two collaborating, Dafoe and Scorsese would once again join forces very shortly after "Gangs of New York" was released. In 2004, the actor appeared in a small role in "The Aviator," with no scheduling conflicts or filming problems keeping Dafoe from this project.

Ray Liotta in The Departed

For many Martin Scorsese leading men, getting to be in one of this man's movies is an easy ticket to getting future castings in his works. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert de Niro have all headlined multiple features helmed by Martin Scorsese, and even "The Last Temptation of Christ" leading man Willem Dafoe returned for a small role in "The Aviator." By contrast, "Goodfellas" headliner Ray Liotta has never appeared in another Martin Scorsese movie. In fact, he was approached for a role in "The Departed."

Liotta told Business Insider that he had to turn down opportunity for a "Goodfellas" reunion due to his commitments to another project. Perhaps one day Ray Liotta will find himself back in the Scorsese fold just as other leading men in the director's filmography have. Until then, Scorsese fans will have to settle for imagining what Liotta might have done with a juicy role like this one.

Angelina Jolie in The Aviator

The 2004 Martin Scorsese movie "The Aviator" is not short on big names. Everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Cate Blanchett to Jude Law, just to name a few, are on hand, with many of them tasked with playing silver screen legends of the 1930s and 1940s like Errol Flynn or Katharine Hepburn. But that doesn't mean "The Aviator" was able to get every big name it wanted. Case in point: Angelina Jolie was heavily pursued for a major role in the production. However, she ended up turning down the chance to work for Scorsese for what turned out to be a very understandable reason.

In an interview with The Guardian almost two decades after "The Aviator" hit movie theaters, Jolie revealed that she refused to star in this Scorsese movie because it was being produced by Harvey Weinstein. While it wouldn't be until October 2017 that a wave of allegations about sexual misconduct and assault against Weinstein would publicly emerge, whispers about his misbehavior bounced around Hollywood for years earlier. Thus, Jolie had no interest in joining "The Aviator" with Weinstein around in a prominent capacity.

Michelle Pfeiffer in Casino

In her lengthy career, Michelle Pfeiffer has found her way into a wide array of beloved movies ranging from "Dangerous Liaisons" to "Batman Returns" to "Scarface." But like with any prolific performer, there has been a string of famous features that slipped through her fingertips. One especially notable example of this is the movie "Casino," for which Pfeiffer was offered the role of Ginger. Considering how buzzy Pfeiffer was in the early 1990s, it makes sense that Scorsese or any other filmmaker of note would be eyeballing her for a role in a major movie.

In November 2017, Pfeiffer mentioned "Casino" when talking about the various movie roles she turned down on "Today." She didn't offer more details about what made her turn down the chance to work with Scorsese and cast members like Robert De Niro, but it was all for the best. Pfeiffer continued to score compelling film roles in the 1990s even after she passed on "Casino," while Sharon Stone would end up securing the role of Ginger, a part she garnered a large amount of critical acclaim for.

Brad Pitt in The Departed

The first non-documentary produced by Brad Pitt was "The Departed," a 2006 movie directed by Martin Scorsese that would go on to be the filmmaker's first feature to win the Best Picture Oscar. This means that Pitt proved to be an integral behind-the-scenes player in one of the most important titles in Scorsese's body of work. However, initially, Pitt was set to be an even more prominent figure in the feature through him playing the lead role of Colin Sullivan. Before cameras began to roll, though, Pitt stepped away from the part, opening up the opportunity for Matt Damon to take over what would become one of his most notable characters.

It might sound peculiar for an actor to pass on the chance to headline a Martin Scorsese movie, especially when they're already a part of the production in a producing capacity. However, Pitt had a solid reason for bowing out of "The Departed" as an actor. He later revealed to Interview Magazine that he felt he was too old for the character, and that someone younger was needed to sell the character of Sullivan. While there isn't a tremendous age gap between Pitt and Damon, it was enough to solidify that the latter actor was the more appropriate choice for the part. Though Pitt's face didn't get to grace the posters for "The Departed," his producer credit ensued that he was still a noteworthy player in bringing this title to the silver screen.