If you know what happened to Adrien Brody on “The Thin Red Line,” you know that filming scenes for a Terrence Malick movie doesn’t guarantee actually being in a Terrence Malick movie. Brody, who was originally positioned as the film’s lead, didn’t know until its premiere that his role had been drastically reduced; Christopher Plummer had a similar experience on “The New World.”
In the grand scheme of things, they’re lucky ones: More than a few actors have had their parts excised entirely, including one of the would-be stars of “Song to Song.” With that Austin-set romantic drama opening this week, it seemed like a good time to remind ourselves of what could have been.
Billy Bob Thornton, “The Thin Red Line”
In some ways, Thornton represents a version of Malick’s World War II drama we’ll never know, as he recorded hours of narration that went entirely unused. The final film features voiceover from a dozen or so characters, some of them fairly minor; Thornton, however, would have had no onscreen presence at all. This would have been a first for Malick, who later commissioned Ben Kingsley to narrate “Knight of Cups.”
Rachel Weisz, “To the Wonder”
Other than “The Thin Red Line,” Malick’s small-scale follow-up to “The Tree of Life” boasts the highest number of actors cut from the final production. “I did it for the experience of working with him, but one never knows with Terrence Malick,” the Oscar winner told SFGate of her experience. “You can shoot for three months and end up not being in the movie. That’s what happened to my storyline. So I had the experience of filming with him, but I didn’t get to see my work.”
Mickey Rourke, “The Thin Red Line”
Since Malick’s return to filmmaking 20 years after “Days of Heaven” featured his largest cast, it makes sense that it can also lay claim to the highest number of actors whose work didn’t make it past the editing room. Rourke called his role as an American soldier “some of the best work I ever did” in a 2005 interview, not that we’ll ever see more than a few snippets as DVD extras. “I’d gone through a really bad time and Terry knew about it so he incorporated it into the character. It really worked.”
Jessica Chastain, “To the Wonder”
Chastain had a breakout year in 2011, with roles in everything from “The Help” and “Coriolanus” to “Take Shelter” and “The Debt,” but her most memorable performance came in “The Tree of Life.” As such, it was only reasonable to look forward to seeing her in Malick’s follow-up. That didn’t end up happening, but at least Chastain seemed okay with it — she predicted that her part might get cut, as she was only on set for a few days, and so it did.
Barry Pepper, “To the Wonder”
Pepper, who starred in that other WWII movie from 1998, was to play a fellow priest alongside Javier Bardem. Like many (if not most) who’ve worked with Malick, he had little sense of what the film’s narrative entailed but enjoyed the experience all the same: “I’m being absolutely honest with you in saying that I don’t know what the story is about,” he told Collider in 2010. “All I know is my involvement, which is a small chapter within the film, which to me was absolute joy to work with him on that level because it was so free and so unlike anything I’d ever experienced.”
Viggo Mortensen, “The Thin Red Line”
The two-time Oscar nominee wasn’t the star he is today in the pre-Aragorn ’90s, and though star power has rarely factored into Malick’s cutting decisions in the past, it’s difficult not to wonder how prominent a role Mortensen might have played.
Bill Pullman, “The Thin Red Line”
Everyone’s favorite movie president did a tour of duty in World War II, but unfortunately his service won’t be memorialized onscreen the way his inspirational speech was. It seems his role as part of the Greatest Generation was never major to begin with, but he surely would have added something to the ensemble.
Christian Bale, “Song to Song”
It seems that Bale, who starred in “The New World” and “Knight of Cups,” is the most recent addition to this club; early reviews indicate that he doesn’t appear in Malick’s latest at all. At least he saw it coming: “I unfortunately wasn’t able to do everything I was meant to do, so I ended up doing like three, four days on that,” he told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson way back in 2013. “Which in Terry’s world means you’re never going to see me in it.”