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Actors Who Refused Movie Roles Out Of Spite

The beauty of narrative film lies in escapism. There are many works of cinematic art that suck you into a screenwriter's mind and make you forget the outside world. This is due, in large part, to the actors who grace the big screens. As viewers, we are encouraged to separate actors' real lives from their on-screen characters in order to better connect with film and television. But this can be tough when the Hollywood-adjacent media tends to report on every little behind-the-scenes discrepancy. To viewers, it might seem ridiculous that anyone would pass on an opportunity to star in a major film, but actors turn down roles every single day for a myriad of reasons. These might include creative differences, fear of typecasting, or even spite. Sometimes the decision to leave certain projects results in relief; on other occasions, it leads to massive regret. In a society where it seems as if celebrities run the world, it's hard to comprehend that they too can fall victim to pettiness. And yet if you read on, you'll discover some actors who refused movie roles completely out of spite.

Beyoncé – The Princess and the Frog

Prior to the release of Jen Rudin's book "Confessions of a Casting Agent," she sat down with Page Six and revealed some of what you could expect from a day in the life of the former Walt Disney employee. Duties ranged from always having fresh sushi in the dressing room for William Shatner to making sure Elaine Stritch had plenty of boiled eggs and skimmed cappuccino. While Rudin has admitted to putting up with some bizarre requests from celebrities, there were some instances when she had to draw the line.

"Beyoncé expected an offer [for "The Princess and the Frog"], but wouldn't audition and so she didn't get one," she said plainly. Although there is no doubting that Queen Bey could have smashed the role of Tiana, the role ultimately went to Anika Noni Rose, who Rudin described as "the most qualified." While casting the role of the first Black Disney princess, Rudin named Tyra Banks, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys among the other singers that auditioned for the part. It turns out that even Beyoncé herself doesn't always get special treatment. 

Robin Williams – Batman

The late great Robin Williams was many things: a father, a runner, and one of the greatest comedians of all time. But he was definitely not bait. During pre-production for 1989's "Batman," Robin Williams was set to play the infamous Joker opposite Michael Keaton. However, what Williams didn't know at the time was that the studio's first choice was actually Jack Nicholson, and that he was merely positioned as leverage in order to draw the "Shining" actor to the project (via take2markTV). This eventually paid off when Nicholson finally accepted the role, and Williams was kicked to the curb. This led Williams to sever ties with Warner Bros. for years following the incident until he received a formal apology. 

During preparations for the third film in the franchise, "Batman Forever," they approached Williams for the part of the Riddler, but ultimately went with Jim Carrey instead, much to the disappointment of Williams. In a talk with Empire Magazine about director Christopher Nolan's upcoming "Batman" films, the actor expressed his continued interest in the role of the Riddler, despite the "Batman" films having "screwed" him twice before. Williams admitted, "I'd play The Riddler in the next Batman, although it'd be hard to top Heath [Ledger] as the villain." Williams would have undoubtedly brought his own unique twist on the role, but instead the world will always be left wondering what could have been.

Joan Crawford – From Here to Eternity

Joan Crawford spent the majority of the '20s and '30s riding a wave of mainstream success as a much sought-after Hollywood starlet. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald — the celebrated chronicler of the roaring '20s — has always spoken highly of Crawford. He once wrote that he considered her to be the quintessential flapper of their time, or as he called them: "young things with a talent for living." However, in the late 1930s, the actress garnered a debatably unfair reputation as "box office poison" and her light began to dim.

Despite her rocky career, Crawford was originally set to star in the 1953 romantic drama "From Here to Eternity" before stepping away. According to rumors, the big-name actress objected to being billed second under Burt Lancaster. The Daily Beast reports that, due to some concerns about the six-year age difference between herself and Lancaster, Crawford insisted on using her own cameraman. The studio, unsurprisingly, couldn't fulfill such a request, and Crawford and Columbia Pictures parted ways. The '50s classic went on to earn rave reviews and eight Academy Awards.

Dwayne Johnson – Fast & Furious 10

In November of 2021, "Fast & Furious" veteran Vin Diesel took to Instagram to plea with Dwayne Johnson to participate in the 10th and final installment of the long-running franchise, called "Fast X." Johnson had previously stated that he would not be returning, which many believe is due to the feud between the actors that has spanned more than six years and counting. However, Diesel still tried to seemingly guilt trip the actor in front of his 82 million followers on social media, claiming that his children still refer to Johnson as "Uncle Dwayne" and that Johnson's role of Hobbs "can't be played by no other."

Not long after this, Johnson sat down with CNN and set the record straight, letting his fans know that he and his former co-star came to an agreement in private, that he would not be returning to the franchise. When asked, Johnson said he was "very surprised" by Diesel's Instagram post, expressing his disappointment in the actor's clear "manipulation." Johnson said, "I didn't like that he brought up his children in the post, as well as Paul Walker's death. Leave them out of it." It's safe to say that Diesel's impassioned request didn't make much of a difference in Johnson's decision. Despite his frustration at the very public way that it was handled, Johnson maintains that he will always support the success of the "F&F" cast and franchise.

Jude Law – Jane Got a Gun

In 2013, production for the Natalie Portman Western film "Jane Got a Gun" was about to kick off when it hit a major snag. First reported by The Hollywood Reporter, following a three-day standoff over delays and control of the final cut with producer Scott Steindorff, director Lynne Ramsay stepped away from the project the day that production was supposed to begin, leaving chaos behind her. Ramsay's choice to quit the film ultimately led to the departure of cinematographer Darius Khondji and Jude Law, who was originally set to play the villain (via Entertainment Weekly).

Several unnamed sources claim that Law had admitted to only signing up for the project for the opportunity to work alongside Ramsay, although the actor hasn't confirmed this himself. But it seemed as though, without her in the director's chair, he had no interest in continuing the project. The actor was later replaced by Bradley Cooper ("A Star is Born"), who also ended up dropping out due to scheduling conflicts. Finally, the role was filled by Ewan McGregor ("Moulin Rouge"), with Gavin O'Connor in the director's chair. Unfortunately, as a partial result of the cast and crew controversy, "Jane Got a Gun" was a box office flop, remembered as the "worst wide release opening in The Weinstein Company history."

Charlize Theron – Wonder Woman

In 2019, Charlize Theron sat down with Andy Cohen on "Watch What Happens Live" and discussed the topic of ageism in Hollywood. When asked by a fan why Theron would turn down such a monumental role as Wonder Woman, the "Tully" actress set the record straight by sharing the real story. The actress explains that she was discussing her possible involvement in the film when someone informed her that she would actually be taking on the role of Wonder Woman's mother.

"I was like, 'I'm just not familiar with it ... I mean, what does Wonder Woman do?'" she recalled asking. "And this person said, 'No, it's for Wonder Woman's mom.'" The actress naturally turned down the role but seems to be able to laugh it off now, calling it a "great example of how Hollywood slaps you in the face when you start aging." She went on to share that it was a "defining moment" in her Hollywood career, where she had essentially crossed over to a completely new category of roles without even realizing it.

Ja Rule – 2 Fast 2 Furious

You might remember Ja Rule from his hip-hop heyday in the 2000s. Or maybe you know him more recently as the co-founder of the disastrous Fyre Festival. Regardless, in the summer of 2002, Ja Rule was riding a career high — he was one of the biggest rappers on the planet and secured that year's Billboard Award for top rap album (via Billboard). Rule previously had a minor role in "The Fast and the Furious," the first film of the franchise. He was later approached to be upgraded to a starring role for the sequel, "2 Fast 2 Furious," along with a cozy half-a-million-dollar payday. Unfortunately, the rapper seemingly thought he was too good to participate in the film.

Ja Rule allegedly acted like a bit of a prima donna during the casting process. In 2015, "2 Fast" director John Singleton explained that Rule got "too big" for himself. "He wouldn't return calls. I went to the studio to go see him ... He was kinda playing me to the side and I was like, 'What? What is this s***?'" When talking to MTV about the ordeal, Rule pointed to his desire to make a more serious name for himself in the acting world. "I just felt it wasn't the best move for me as far as what I want to do in Hollywood right now," he said. The frustrated director eventually reached out to Ludacris to create a new role in place of Rule's, and the rest is history.

Debra Winger – A League of Their Own

"A League of Their Own" is a fictionalized retelling of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and its best team, the Rockford Peaches. Debra Winger was originally cast as the lead role, spending as much as three months of intensive baseball training with the Chicago Cubs (via Vanity Fair) in order to increase her authenticity. However, the moment that Madonna was added to the project, the "Terms of Endearment" actress was out the door.

Winger believed that rather than the film being the historically empowering story it was meant to be, the Queen of Pop's involvement would inevitably drive the film in a different direction. "I think [her] acting career has spoken for itself," she said in an interview with The Telegraph. Despite the film's positive reception, the retired actress had a few choice words to say about the final product, claiming the actress who took over her role "did okay," despite lacking the proper preparation. "As entertaining as [the final film] was, you don't walk away going, 'Wow, those women did that.' You kind of go, 'Is that true?'" she said.

Steve McQueen – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Steve McQueen spent the '60s and '70s enjoying the fruits of stardom, appearing as the leading man in countless films that went on to become classics. Over three decades after his death, McQueen still holds the moniker of the "king of cool," for his long list of interesting hobbies and talents, including motorcycles and fashion. During casting for the Western classic "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," McQueen accepted the role of Sundance after reading through the script. However, he wound up stepping away from the role over disagreements with his co-star, Paul Newman.

McQueen's undeniable star power at the time led him to refuse second billing to another actor, despite the fact that Newman was technically more famous at the time. The role later went to Robert Redford. The film went on to garner widespread acclaim, soaring to the top of the charts as the biggest box office draw for two weeks after its release (via IMDb).

Russell Crowe – X-Men

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Hugh Jackman playing the mutant superhero Wolverine, the role that skyrocketed him to success. But did you know that Russell Crowe almost took the role first? The director's first choice for the main character in 2000's "X-Men" was Crowe, but the legendary actor turned down the role over fears of being typecast. However, instead of fears over being typecast as a superhero, his fears were about being typecast as a wolf ... Yep, you read that right. 

Given the fact that Crowe's most well-known character in the film "Gladiator" is associated with wolves, the actor wanted to avoid being known as "Mr. Wolf," and only ever being able to do movies that had to do with wolves (via News.com.au). Little did he know, wolverines are not actually wolves...

Given the ongoing multi-billion-dollar franchise that was born from the first "X-Men" film, Crowe losing out on the role of a lifetime seems like a huge misstep that could have led to years of regret. But, in a 2019 interview on "The Howard Stern Show," Crowe expressed his respect over Jackman's performance and showed that he had no hard feelings, saying, "There's no way I would have ever done that. Even if I'd done the film, I wouldn't have carried it through with the grace and the direction that Hugh gave it." In fact, Crowe actually recommended Jackman — an unknown actor at the time — to replace him in the role.

Hugh Jackman – James Bond

Speaking of Wolverine, thanks to Hugh Jackman's captivating performance in the action packed "X-Men" films, he became the coveted star we all know him as today. Prior to Daniel Craig landing the lead role in 2006's "Casino Royale," the role was initially offered to Jackman. Despite the actor sharing that he has "always wanted to be 007," he turned down the role.

Due to the overwhelming success of his role in the "X-Men" films, Jackman didn't want to split his effort among two huge franchises and risk being "boxed in" to those two iconic characters. "I got a call from my agent saying, 'There is some possible interest in you for Bond. Are you interested?'" he told the Press Association (via Entertainment Weekly), "At the time, I wasn't." The operative phrase here is "at the time," as the actor went on to later express that if Craig ever stepped away from the role that he would "seriously consider it."

Mark Wahlberg – Brokeback Mountain

Hopefully you've heard of "Brokeback Mountain," the Western romantic drama starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. However, according to the famous Marky Mark, he was actually considered for one of the starring roles but wound up turning it down. In a 2007 interview with Premiere Magazine, Wahlberg revealed his reasoning for declining the role. "I read 15 pages of the script and got a little creeped out," he admitted. "It was very graphic, descriptive — the spitting on the hand, getting ready to do the thing...it's just not my deal." Keep in mind, Wahlberg also once claimed he could've single-handedly prevented 9/11. Perhaps he's telling the truth about having the opportunity to star in Ang Lee's 2005 classic, but it wouldn't be the first time Wahlberg exaggerated a little bit during a conversation with the media. 

Many people point to his strict Catholic beliefs as a possible reason for his discomfort in playing a homosexual role. He has claimed that being a Catholic is the "most important aspect" of his life. The National Enquirer actually later reported that his priest, James Flavin always had the final say in whether or not he should accept a role. An unnamed insider shared that Wahlberg "never makes a final decision on a starring role until Father Flavin gives his 'okay.'" However, this seems to be the only available information on this claim. Unfortunately, it seems as though the actor's gut feeling was misguided. The legendary performances of Ledger and Gyllenhaal earned "Brokeback Mountain" three Academy Awards as well as worldwide acclaim.

Will Smith – Django Unchained

Will Smith has appeared in his fair share of headlines over the years. Whether it's the Oscar slap heard 'round the world or his complicated relationship with Jada Pinkett Smith, the actor is pretty familiar with the spotlight. Back when prepping began for the 2012 film "Django Unchained," Will Smith was offered the opportunity to play the titular character of Django, but ultimately turned it down. In 2013, Smith sat down with Entertainment Weekly and explained that his choice to turn down the role was because, to him, "Django wasn't the lead."

In Smith's eyes, King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is the true lead of the film since he gets to "kill the bad guy." However, much later in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Smith claimed that he turned down the role due to the overwhelming use of violence in the story (has he heard of Quentin Tarantino?). He explained that when approaching the movie, he "wanted to make the greatest love story that African Americans had ever seen from American cinema," and didn't want to have to rely on violence as the answer to their conflict.