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The Cast Of The Notebook Almost Looked Completely Different

"The Notebook," the 2004 film directed by Nick Cassavetes, is considered by many to be one of the most romantic movies of all time. Based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks and adapted by Jeremy Leven, the film chronicles the love story of Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling in the younger years, James Garner in the older years) and Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams in the younger years, Gena Rowlands in the older years). 

The two meet during the summer of 1940 in Seabrook Island, South Carolina and begin a passionate romance. Under pressure from Allie's family to end the relationship, the two get into a fight and break up just before Allie and her family return to Charleston at the end of summer. Noah writes to her every day for a year, but Allie never gets the letters because her mother keeps them from her. Over the years, Allie meets and becomes engaged to Lon Hammond (James Marsden), but still thinks of Noah. So, before the wedding, Allie sets out to reconnect with Noah.

Much of the film's success hinges on the palpable chemistry between Gosling and McAdams, who are able to showcase all the complicated layers of this passionate, years-long relationship. Which makes it all the more surprising that there were quite a few other stars in the running for the two lead roles (and one other star in the running for Lon) before Gosling and McAdams (and Marsden) nabbed the coveted roles.

Here's how "The Notebook" could have looked very different.

Britney Spears was considered for Allie

At the height of her pop culture popularity in the early '00s and attempting to transition into Hollywood ("Crossroads" hit theaters in 2002, intended vehicles like "Trading Paint" never quite got off the ground), Britney Spears was in the running for the role of Allie. 

In 2013, casting director Matthew Barry spoke with E! News about all the stars who had been in the running for the roles, and had nothing but praise for Spears despite her ultimately not getting cast. "At the height of her career she was like, 'I want to be really prepared for this.' So I said, 'OK, come work with me and my partner'," he recalled. "And she came in eight hours, two days in a row and worked with us. She was fantastic." 

Ultimately, director Nick Cassavetes (son of legendary indie filmmaker John and actor Rowlands) was concerned about Spears' fame overwhelming the film, so the project moved on without her. Had Spears been cast, she would have been reunited with Gosling — the two of whom were both part of "The Mickey Mouse Club" when they were younger. 

In 2013, Gosling spoke to ET about doing a screen test with Spears. Gosling said, "I hadn't seen her really since she was probably about 12 and we were both 12 ... she was really good actually, she did a really nice job."

In the same interview, McAdams added, "I'm sure Britney would've done a great job. I'm sure it would have been a totally different movie [though]."

Justin Timberlake could have played Noah

Another actor in the running for a lead was Spears' one-time-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, who was reportedly considered for the part of Noah. This casting possibility seems to have come before Cassavetes came on board, when Steven Spielberg was developing the project with folks like Tom Cruise and Timberlake in mind.

Shortly after "The Notebook" became a phenomenon, Timberlake would aggressively pursue a career in front of movie cameras. This began with a few duds (2005's "Edison," 2008's "The Love Guru"), some star-driven, underseen indie projects ("2006's "Alpha Dog" and "Black Snake Moan"), and some high-profile blockbusters ("Shrek the Third," "The Social Network"). In the years since, Timberlake has continued to pop up in projects ranging from the "Trolls" films to Woody Allen's "Wonder Wheel" to a couple appearances on the series "Candy" opposite wife Jessica Biel.

Undoubtedly, he is still best known as a musician. But if Timberlake had played Noah, perhaps his acting career would have gone down an entirely different path.

Reese Witherspoon was another potential for Allie

In 2004, Reese Witherspoon starred as Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's "Vanity Fair." But, as it turns out, Witherspoon came pretty close to starring in another film that year, as she was in the running to play Allie in "The Notebook."

Speaking to E! News in 2021, casting director Barry revealed that although Witherspoon was considered for the role, she was ultimately deemed too old to play Allie — Witherspoon would have been around 28 when "The Notebook" came out (interestingly, only three years older than McAdams).

Considering that, by 2004, Witherspoon had already starred in films such as "Cruel Intentions" and "Legally Blonde," she was already well on her way to becoming an A-lister without needing any help from weepy Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Witherspoon would later star as June Carter in "Walk the Line" opposite Joaquin Phoenix, landing her an Oscar.

Jane McGregor was another contender for Allie

Canadian actress Jane McGregor, who recently played Astrid on "Snowpiercer," was another notable contender for the role of Allie back in the early 2000s.

"Allie was a tough role, it was not an easy role and we tried to will this girl and Ryan really, really responded to her," Barry recalled of the Canadian-born actor (like Gosling), for whom he was reportedly a big advocate. Barry, Gosling and Cassavetes flew to Atlanta to meet with the actress, who at the time had a film called "Slap Her ... She's French" (later renamed "She Gets What She Wants") in production and Barry recalls was "high on everyone's list at the time."

While Gosling tried hard to build the necessary chemistry between them, ultimately McGregor was deemed unable to help the production.

"We went to dinner and [Ryan] was like, 'Let me go work with her, let me go work with her.' And he went and worked with her and came back and still couldn't get there," Barry recalled. "She just didn't have it."

Jessica Biel auditioned for Allie (and was sad she lost out)

In a 2011 interview with Elle, Jessica Biel revealed that she had auditioned to play Allie in "The Notebook" and was upset when she lost out. Of course, Biel has since married Timberlake, meaning that the spouses could have potentially starred opposite each other years before their relationship began, had they both landed the parts.

Describing her unique audition, Biel told Elle, "That's one that I wanted so badly. I was in the middle of shooting 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer — covered in blood. [Director] Nick Cassavetes put me through the wringer in an interesting, excitingly creative way."

If Biel had landed the role, the film would have likely hit theaters in the middle of her run on the family drama "7th Heaven." Like many other potential "Notebook" stars, Biel was in the early stages of attempting to build a bridge to movie stardom, and the Sparks adaptation model was an attractive venue — Mandy Moore and Shane West had made similar inroads a couple years prior with "A Walk to Remember."

Biel instead would spend the next decade building a career as a recognizable leading lady in films like "Blade: Trinity," "The Illusionist," "Powder Blue" and the big screen reboot of "The A-Team."  More recently, she has returned to TV with series like "The Sinner" and "Candy."

Bradley Cooper could have played Lon Hammond

Aside from Allie and Noah, another pivotal "Notebook" role nearly went to someone else — albeit, a future Hollywood star who at the time was a fledgling actor looking for his breakthrough role. This late-20s actor went by the name Bradley Cooper.

According to the film's casting director, Cooper was one of many considered to play the cuckold-ish character, with New Line Cinema wanting Cole Hauser. In the early '00s, Hauser had some heat coming off the Joel Schumacher comeback vehicle "Tigerland" (which launched Colin Farrell's career), and seemed to be elevating his profile with a 2003 turn in "2 Fast 2 Furious."

Although New Line was "pushing really hard" for Hauser, Barry said, "I was like, 'No, he's not likable enough.' I fought them really hard.'"

Meanwhile, Cooper had just begun garnering attention on the JJ Abrams series "Alias," following more than a half-decade of quickly-forgotten series like "The $treet," "Touching Evil" and "Jack & Bobby." He wouldn't really break through until "Wedding Crashers" in 2005 and then 2009's "The Hangover." 

Of course, Marsden ended up landing the role, one of several he's played over the years where he just misses out on the female lead (Patrick Dempsey took Amy Adams from him in "Enchanted," Wolverine took Jean Grey from him in the "X-Men" movies), and Barry is glad he did.

"He's just the absolute greatest," the casting director said of Marsden. "Hollywood is full of dysfunctional people ... he's not one of them. He was just fantastic."   

Tom Cruise was in the running for Noah

For at least a brief period, Noah was considered to appear in the visage of an older actor: Tom Cruise, 19 years Ryan Gosling's elder. 

In 1998, it was reported that Spielberg was eyeing both "The Notebook" and a Charles Lindbergh biopic as his next project; neither would materialize.

"['The Notebook'] has been on the bestseller lists for more than a year," Variety wrote in its revelatory item, titled "Spielberg scans 'Notebook'". "The book has held Spielberg's attention for the past several weeks, when he got the scripted adaptation by Jeremy Leven, who wrote and directed 'Don Juan De Marco.'"

At the time, Sparks' "Message in a Bottle" was about to begin production, and Spielberg perhaps sensed an oncoming trend. By multiple accounts, Spielberg had been eyeing the adaptation as one of several possible vehicles for Tom Cruise, who he had not yet worked with but would soon collaborate on 2002's "Minority Report" and 2005's "War of the Worlds."

Ultimately, scheduling got in the way (interestingly enough, it was around this period that Cruise also was considered to star as Iron Man at New Line, possibly for Cassavetes). Instead, in 2004, the year of "The Notebook," Cruise would go in a very different way, playing a cold-blooded villain in the Michael Mann neo-noir action film "Collateral."

Kate Beckinsale has talked about almost being in The Notebook

Another actress who could have played Allie was "Underworld" star Kate Beckinsale; in the early '00s, the British actress was coming off well-reviewed films like "The Last Days of Disco" and "Brokedown Palace" and had become a household name via Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor." In 2021, Beckinsale looked back, saying she turned down the role of Allie during an interview on "The Howard Stern Show," citing an inappropriate conversation with Cassavetes as the reason.

"I felt like he was asking me really weird questions about my relationship [with former partner Michael Sheen]," she explained to Stern. "I just found it kind of sketchy and I didn't want to be in the position of being sort of interrogated. And maybe it's because my relationship [with Michael] was very shaky at the time. And maybe it wasn't weird of him to ask me. But still, to this day I just don't know ... there was a lot of, 'Well, why are you with [Michael]? Why are you with him?' I just felt like it was a little bit aggressive."

Hayden Christensen was considered for Noah

"The Notebook" was being developed in Hollywood at a time that represented a pivotal period for many of the careers of people being considered for its leads. Some went on to become far bigger stars without it, while for others, it perhaps represents a peek into what might have been.

Consider Hayden Christensen, a hot Hollywood property in the early '00s after George Lucas saw his small role in 1999's "The Virgin Suicides" and gave him the most coveted part in the industry at the time: Anakin Skywalker in his "Star Wars" prequel films. Coupled with the 2003 awards-season favorite "Shattered Glass," Christensen's future appeared to be bright. It was around this time that Christensen could have possibly further developed himself as a Hollywood leading man with a turn in "The Notebook." But it sounds as if he never even knew he was being considered.

According to Barry, the Christensen talk didn't get far; it was all part of due diligence into upcoming Hollywood stars at the time. He and Cassavetes went to check out 2002's "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" to gauge the actor's talents, and they barely got through the first act. 

"We lasted probably 20-25 minutes and we were like, 'He cannot act,'" Barry recalled. "Nick turned to me and my partner at the time and said, 'Who [else] do you got?'"

Perhaps Ryan Gosling owes Christensen a nice Edible Arrangements bouquet, because Barry says it was soon afterwards that they realized Gosling was their man. Christensen, meanwhile, saw his film work retreat considerably after 2008's moderately-successful "Jumper," and has only recently begun to return to high-profile roles, appearing as Anakin/Darth Vader in projects like the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" Disney+ series.

Ashley Judd was considered for Allie

Judd, descended from a family of country music royalty, launched a very successful Hollywood career for herself in the mid-'90s. Following on the heels of an impressive array of critically-acclaimed work (1996's "Norma Jean & Marilyn") and leading lady blockbusters (1996's "A Time to Kill," 1997's "Kiss the Girls"), around the time that "The Notebook" was being developed, she would have been one of the most in-demand actresses in Hollywood.

Of course, Ashley Judd also would have been in her mid-30s at the time, perhaps an appropriate love interest opposite someone like Cruise, she was a full decade older than the eventual Allie, McAdams. Nevertheless, Judd was reportedly considered at some point in the film's development, as reported by several outlets but never confirmed by Judd herself.

The year that "The Notebook" hit theaters, Judd released a pair of duds. First came "Twisted," a "Kiss the Girls"-like thriller that re-teamed her with Samuel L. Jackson but for a script that currently holds a 1 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes; a few months later, she'd pair it with "De-Lovely" a Cole Porter biopic that aspired to be Oscar bait, but was met with similar critical disdain and box-office indifference. Judd would spend the next decade mixing notable roles (the "Divergent" films) with indies ("Bug," "Helen") and family fare like the "Dolphin Tale" films.