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Actors You Didn't Know Almost Starred In Christopher Nolan Movies

Few filmmakers have enjoyed as meteoric a rise through the ranks of Hollywood as Christopher Nolan. He struck gold with his first studio film, 2000's wildly inventive neo-noir thriller "Memento," and since then, he's found massive blockbuster success with titles such as "The Prestige," "Inception," "Tenet," and the "Dark Knight" trilogy. Whether he's dabbling in space travel or World War II battles, Nolan is widely seen as the thinking man's big-name director who can win over the critics just as easily as general audiences.

Naturally, almost every actor in Hollywood wants to get in on the action by starring in a Christopher Nolan movie. But the filmmaker is famously picky about the people he works with, and he prefers to cast actors who would be best suited to a role rather than those with a bigger fan following or critical acclaim. He even has a stable of recurring stars like Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, and Christian Bale ... which means some very talented people have missed out on the opportunity to work in his movies. Let's take a look at some actors who came close to appearing in a Christopher Nolan movie but failed to make the final cut for one reason or another.  

Heath Ledger in Batman Begins

No other actor appearing in a Christopher Nolan movie has ever received as much adulation as Heath Ledger for his spellbinding performance as the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Incredibly, Ledger's casting as the Clown Prince of Crime was met with intense criticism at the time by "Batman" fans who mostly knew the actor as the guy from 2005's "Brokeback Mountain."

But one person who always believed in Ledger was Nolan himself. In fact, the filmmaker was such an admirer of Ledger's acting ability and leading man charisma that he offered the role of Bruce Wayne to Ledger back when "Batman Begins" was in the process of being made. Unfortunately comic book movies at the time were not seen as the kind of cinema that Ledger wanted to be associated with.

"[Heath] was quite gracious about it," Nolan recalled during a Q&A at New York City's Lincoln Center Theater (via IndieWire), "but he said, 'I would never take a part in a superhero film.'" Ledger's attitude changed when he finally saw "Batman Begins" and realized that Nolan had a very different vision for the franchise that coincided with his own sensibilities. As a result, Ledger was much more enthusiastic about joining the sequel in the role of the Clown Prince of Crime.

Irrfan Khan in Interstellar

By the 2010s, Christopher Nolan had established a towering presence not just in Hollywood but across the world as a blockbuster auteur who offered something new to the theater-going experience. As a result, actors from around the globe wanted to work with Nolan on his films.

In turn, Nolan himself started casting stars from different film industries who'd carved stellar reputations in international movie circles. One such actor was Bollywood's Irrfan Khan, who came to the international limelight with a supporting role in 2008's "Slumdog Millionaire." Impressed by his work, Nolan offered Khan a role in 2014's "Interstellar."

While the exact nature of the role isn't known, Khan was unable to take up the project due to his commitment to two Bollywood movies that were being developed at the same time. "I wanted to [remain in India] for 'The Lunchbox' and 'D-Day,'" Khan said, explaining the reasoning behind his decision to Times of India (via ScoopWhoop). "[The makers of 'Interstellar'] couldn't allow that." The actor added that while he does not usually regret past decisions, knowing that he was turning down a Christopher Nolan movie made it one of the most difficult decisions of his career. 

Mark Ruffalo in The Dark Knight

There was a major character from the "Batman" mythos that Christopher Nolan had in mind while crafting the first movie in "The Dark Knight" trilogy. That character was Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face. Initially, Dent was supposed to show up in "Batman Begins," but Nolan didn't think they could do the character justice in that particular movie. 

When it was time to make a sequel, Harvey Dent was finally a part of the script in a pivotal role. Harvey's ascent as Gotham's hotshot new district attorney and his eventual descent into supervillainy form the backbone of "The Dark Knight." As a result, the makers of the movie wanted someone who could embody the traditional "American hero" qualities that made Dent such a compelling figure.

There was a lot of industry buzz regarding who would win the role of Harvey Dent, including the rumor that Hugh Jackman was in consideration for the part. One actor who got quite close to being cast was Mark Ruffalo, who went so far as to meet Christopher Nolan and audition for the part. While that particular role went to Aaron Eckhart, Ruffalo was able to scratch his superhero itch playing the role of Bruce Banner in the MCU over the course of several films. 

Brad Pitt in Memento

Before "The Dark Knight" trilogy made Christopher Nolan into a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker, he was an up-and-coming indie director with a couple of well-received but low-budget features to his credit. One of them was "Memento," which was Nolan's first movie within the Hollywood studio system. "Memento" tells the story of a man named Leonard Shelby who's searching for his wife's killer while suffering from short-term memory loss. 

The dark, twisty thriller upends all your expectations about the story and its lead character, played with gritty intensity by Guy Pearce in a role that has since become one of the most acclaimed of his career. But before Pearce made the role his own, the character of Leonard could have been portrayed by Brad Pitt. When you consider Pitt's performances in movies like "Fight Club" and "Seven," the casting makes a lot of sense.  

"Truthfully [Pitt] did read the script [for Memento]," Nolan said in an interview reported by Yahoo! Movies. "He read the script, and he met with me about it when he didn't have any reason to know who I was or anything about it. And nothing came of it." According to the filmmaker, even though he was never officially casted in the lead, the fact that Pitt had shown interest in the script for "Memento" is what got producers interested in the project and helped it gain traction with the studios.

Will Smith in Inception

Hot off the success of "The Dark Knight," Christopher Nolan elected to take a break from superheroes and go back to his roots with a mind-bending, non-linear thriller, only this time making the project on a massive scale with one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. The result was the 2010 sci-fi classic "Inception," a film about dream thievery and living with regrets. 

The movie tells the story of a man named Dom Cobb who specializes in breaking into people's minds to steal information from their subconscious brains. Only now, he has to plant information inside a target's mind instead. The action-packed role of Dom was played by Leonardo DiCaprio, an unusual outing for the actor who usually avoided big-budget action films and was better known for his dramatic roles at the time.

While DiCaprio acquitted himself very well as Dom, Nolan originally had a more traditional action lead in mind. According to a report from the L.A. Times, Will Smith was at one point in talks to play Cobb. Unfortunately for the actor, this wasn't the first time he'd miss out on a major sci-fi role, as Smith had passed on playing Neo in "The Matrix." Also, Brad Pitt was at point offered the part of Cobb, marking the second time he and Nolan almost came together after Pitt initially turned down "Memento."

Cillian Murphy in The Dark Knight trilogy

There are certain actors who Christopher Nolan likes to cast again and again in his movies. Chief among them is Cillian Murphy. The actor first came to Nolan's notice in a professional capacity during the casting process for "Batman Begins." But you might be surprised to learn that Murphy's original audition was not for Scarecrow but Batman himself.

With his matinee idol good looks and brooding eyes, one can easily imagine Murphy playing a tortured version of Bruce Wayne that we saw in "Batman Begins." The actor's charisma was on full display during casting, to the extent that Murphy read for the role of Batman in costume. For his part, the actor is quite modest about being one of the finalists for playing the Dark Knight, insisting that it was apparent from the start that Christian Bale was the only actor who could have pulled off the role.  

While Nolan also knew that Bale was the perfect choice for his version of Batman, the filmmaker was deeply impressed by Murphy's talent. Thus, the actor was offered the role of the villainous Dr. Jonathan Crane in the movie. Murphy reprised the role in the two sequels to "Batman Begins," played supporting roles in multiple other Nolan movies, and finally landed a lead role in Nolan's biopic drama "Oppenheimer."

Jessica Biel in The Dark Knight Rises

For the longest time, it seemed unlikely Catwoman would show up in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. Screenwriter David S. Goyer was reluctant to use a character who'd already appeared in the Tim Burton films (despite Joker showing up in "The Dark Knight") and wanted to focus on new bad guys. But by the time of the third movie in the series, the filmmakers decided some version of the character needed to be a part of the mythology.

And so the call went around Hollywood that Christopher Nolan was looking to cast a new actress in the role of Catwoman for his final "Batman" movie. Naturally, a lot of actresses were interested in the part. One actress who would have made a lot of sense in the role would have been Jessica Biel, who'd already played a similar part in the "Blade" film series.

Unfortunately for her, while Biel was in consideration for Catwoman, she did not end up securing the role, a fact that dealt a real blow to the actress. "(That was) another one that got away," Biel said in an interview reported by Comic Book Movie. "I was gutted. I mean, to work with Christopher Nolan in that kind of a role..." Instead the role of Catwoman/Selina Kyle was portrayed by Anne Hathaway in "The Dark Knight Rises," even though the actress originally thought she was auditioning for the part of Harley Quinn instead. 

Guy Pearce in Batman Begins

Before Christopher Nolan became the unofficial face of "intelligent blockbusters," the filmmaker started out with a small-budget thriller called "Memento," starring Guy Pearce in the lead role of a man suffering from short-term memory loss. 

It was a complicated role, one that Pearce did full justice to, expertly portraying a man whose whole life has been turned upside down but who's still driven by a single-minded focus to honor his dead wife by finding her killer. Nolan and Pearce formed a good professional relationship during "Memento," to the extent that the two eventually discussed the actor playing the role of Ra's al Ghul in "Batman Begins." 

"[Nolan and I] did have a discussion about one of the roles in the first film," Pearce stated in an interview reported with Empire, "but we both decided and agreed that I was too young, so Liam Neeson played the role." While that particular part got away, Pearce did eventually play a comic book movie villain when he nabbed the role of Aldrich Killian in the third "Iron Man" movie. Interestingly Pearce's role in that film was similar to Ra's al Ghul since both Killian and Ra's are silently pulling the strings from the shadows. 

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Dark Knight Rises

The death of Heath Ledger dealt a great blow to "The Dark Knight" trilogy. The actor's legendary performance as the Joker is by far the most iconic part of the series that fans still remember. Ledger himself was very proud of his work with the character, and he fully intended to return for a sequel to "The Dark Knight" before his unexpected passing.

With the star player of the franchise abruptly removed from the equation, the studio scrambled to come up with a suitable replacement for the next movie. The producers thought going with a supervillain similar to the Joker played by an A-list actor might be a step in the right direction. The solution they came up with? Leonardo DiCaprio playing Riddler. 

Screenwriter David S. Goyer told Empire magazine (via IndieWire) that for the next villain, Warner Bros. executives were thinking along the lines of, "It's gonna be the Riddler, and we want it to be Leonardo DiCaprio." Perhaps the executives thought that Nolan's prior work with DiCaprio on "Inception" might convince the actor to finally give a chance to a comic book movie role. In the end, Nolan decided to go in a completely different direction with Bane, played by a hulking Tom Hardy in the role that put him on the Hollywood map.

James Franco in Inception

Despite working at a relatively slow pace and making fewer movies as a result, Christopher Nolan has managed to work with many Hollywood A-listers, as well as up-and-coming actors, in his career because of his habit of having large ensemble casts with important roles for big-name stars to sink their teeth into. 

For "Inception," while Leonardo DiCaprio was finalized as the main lead Dom Cobb, the movie was reliant on several other main characters all working together to pull off an elaborate dream heist. According to a report by Entertainment Weekly, James Franco was initially slated to play the role of Arthur, Dom's second-in-command who explains the intricacies of dream thievery to Elliot Page's Ariadne and the audience. 

Franco had to drop out of the project due to undisclosed "scheduling conflicts." Joseph Gordon-Levitt stepped in to portray Arthur and was able to show audiences a different side to his acting as the no-nonsense dream thief who takes part in the memorable hallway fight scene. Thanks to that connection, Nolan also later hired Gordon-Levitt to play the role of Officer John Blake in "The Dark Knight Rises."  

So many Joker contenders

Every time a new actor for a live-action Batman is announced, fans have a lot of intense opinions on the matter. The only subject to invite even more debate is if an actor dares to take on the role of Batman's greatest nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime. 

For the longest time, the general consensus was that no one would be able to top Jack Nicholson's take on the character in Tim Burton's "Batman" movie. So when it was announced that the sequel to "Batman Begins" would feature the Joker as the main villain, everyone in Hollywood and in fandom circles sat up and took notice. Nicholson himself weighed in on the matter by declaring he was "furious" he had not been asked about the film. There were many other major actors who publicly expressed their interest in taking on the role of the Clown Prince of Crime, like Steve Carrell, Adrien Brody (who met with Nolan for the role), and Paul Bettany.

Another major contender was Robin Williams, who was open about his love for the character and his interest in graphic novels. With Williams having worked on a Nolan movie ("Insomnia") previously, in which he played the villain, many thought the actor was a shoo-in for the part of the new Joker. But then Nolan threw everyone a curveball by casting Heath Ledger as Joker, and the rest is history.