Movie roles are often recast at various stages of production (especially pre-production), but it’s never ideal for the director or the studio when a role needs to be reshaped after the cameras have already started rolling. To stop production and retool a movie costs money and raises budgets, but sometimes it’s needed to make the character truly great.
Click through the gallery for 15 movie roles that were recast during filming.
Sony Pictures was just over one month away from releasing Ridley Scott’s John Paul Getty III kidnapping drama in theaters when sexual-harassment and -assault allegations started being made towards Kevin Spacey. Spacey played business tycoon J. Paul Getty in the original cut of the film and Sony was planning an Oscar campaign around his performance.
In the wake of the harassment claims, Sony has dropped the movie from its world premiere at AFI FEST and Scott has made the decision to remove Spacey from the finished film and re-shoot all of his scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role of Getty. The plan is for the movie to still be released on December 22.
Michael J. Fox was director Robert Zemeckis’ first choice to play Marty McFly, but the actor couldn’t get out of his prior commitment to the television series “Family Ties.” Eric Stoltz was then cast, having impressed producers with his audition and his role in the movie “Mask.” Zemeckis realized four weeks into production that Stoltz had been miscast. Apparently, Stoltz was leaning more into the dramatic side of McFly than the comedic. Production stopped so that the role could be recast, which added an additional $3 million to the film’s budget. Fox joined the project under a deal that stated “Family Ties” would remain his first priority.
Spike Jonze shot “Her” with Samantha Morton in the role of the artificial intelligence Samantha. Morton was kept away from Joaquin Phoenix on set and performed her lines live in a sound booth. After the movie had wrapped, Jonze realized that Morton wasn’t right for the part.
“It was only in post production, when we started editing, that we realized that what the character/movie needed was different from what Samantha and I had created together,” Jonze told Vulture at the time. “So we recast and since then Scarlett has taken over that role.”
Jonze and Johansson worked on the vocal component for the character for four months and new scenes were shot in late summer 2013.
Terry Gilliam’s fantasy movie was only a month into filming when Heath Ledger tragically passed away. Production was suspended indefinitely as Gilliam decided whether or not he could continue the film without Ledger. The director came up with an idea to have Ledger’s character transform as he made his way through the movie’s various magical realms. Originally Gilliam was going to experiment with the same CGI used on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but eventually he cast Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to play the variations of Ledger’s protagonist.
Martin Sheen was Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice to play Captain Benjamin L. Willard in “Apocalypse Now,” but the actor was already committed to another project at the time. The director cast Harvey Keitel but realized several days into filming that the actor was wrong for the role. Coppola wanted Willard’s passivity to be one of his defining traits, but Keitel was more interested in making the character an active one. Coppola personally left the set and flew to Los Angeles to land Sheen in the role.
James Remar was originally cast as Corporal Dwayne Hicks in James Cameron’s “Aliens” but was let go from the production over “creative differences.” The actor explained later on that he was actually fired after being arrested for drug possession. Michael Biehn was brought on to replace Remar, but the latter’s back can still be seen in certain shots that were too expensive to reshoot.
Music artist Aaliyah began breaking into Hollywood with roles in “Romeo Must Die” and “Queen of the Damned,” but she landed her most high-profile acting gig when she was cast as Zee in “The Matrix Reloaded.” Aaliyah died in a plane crash before filming was complete. The Wachowski Siblings decided to reshoot her scenes with Nona Gaye.
Similar to Samantha Morton’s experience on “Her,” Colin Firth provided the original voice of the eponymous teddy bear during the production of “Paddington,” only for the producers to realize in the editing room that Firth’s mature tone was wrong for the role. Firth left the project and gave Ben Whishaw his blessing to voice the character.
James Purefoy spent six weeks filming his role as the anarchist terrorist V before growing tired of having to act underneath a mask for the entire duration of the shoot. Since the character’s face never appears on screen, replacing Purefoy did not end up being too much of a setback for the production. Hugo Weaving, who had already worked with producers Joel Silver and the Wachowskis on “The Matrix,” stepped in to replace Purefoy.
Lori Petty filmed only two days of her role as Lieutenant Lenina Huxley before producer Joel Silver decided to replace her. Petty and Silver apparently did not see eye-to-eye about the character and Silver cited “creative differences” as the reason why Petty was let go. Sandra Bullock was quickly brought on to play Huxley, and it ended up being one of her early breakout roles.
Nicole Kidman went from working with Baz Luhrmann on “Moulin Rouge!” to being directed by David Fincher on “Panic Room.” The actress had suffered a leg injury during the making of the former, and it eventually forced Fincher and the producers to recast the physically demanding role 18 days into filming. Foster, who already knew Fincher since he was considering her to star in “The Game” years earlier, stepped into the role and only had nine days to rehearse.
Paul Dano was originally not going to play two characters in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Actor Kel O’Neil was first cast as Eli Sunday, with Dano taking the smaller role of Paul Sunday, but two weeks into filming Anderson replaced O’Neil and decided to have Dano play both Sunday brothers. Dano only had four days to prepare to play the larger role. Rumor has it that O’Neil was intimidated on set acting opposite Daniel Day-Lewis.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but production began on “The Fellowship of the Ring” with Stuart Townsend in the iconic role. Only four days into filming, director Peter Jackson realized the actor was too young for the role and decided to let him go. Townsend had already put in months of fight training. The search for the perfect Aragon included Russell Crowe and Daniel Day-Lewis, but the role eventually (and rightfully) went to Mortensen.
Irish actor Gerard McSorley (“In the Name of the Father,” “Bloody Sunday”) had already been filming the role of Captain Oliver Charles Queenan in “The Departed” when Martin Scorsese decided to replace him with Martin Sheen. According to The Irish Times, McSorley had been filming in Brooklyn and spent several weeks in Boston speaking with police officers.
The green ogre Shrek is one of Mike Myers’ most recognizable movie roles, which his a testament to his comedic abilities given that the performance is strictly voice work. But Myers only came on board after the passing of Chris Farley. The movie was set up at DreamWorks as a vehicle for the comedian, who went on to record almost all of the dialogue (reports have Farley finishing anywhere from 80%-90% of the voice work). After Farley’s death, Myers was brought on board to voice the character and DreamWorks had to record from scratch.