16 Actors Who Were Cast After Being Told They Were Wrong For The Role

by Ricardo Johnson

Casting in Hollywood can be a crazy process, and actors have to show strong determination to secure the roles they're after.

In spite of the opposition they faced, these 16 stars were selected to play parts in which they gave noteworthy performances.

1. Julia Roberts

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Before she scored the role of Daisy Araujo in Mystic Pizza, casting directors initially thought Julia didn't have the right look to play the character.

"[I] read for the part, which I thought went fine, and was then told that I was good but physically completely wrong for the part," Julia said on Late Night with David Letterman  in 1989.

Julia then bought some black hair mousse for 95 cents, which she used to darken her naturally blonde mane. She was called back in to read for the role opposite actor Adam Storke, and her new 'do help her land the part.

2. Michael J. Fox

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A breakthrough role for Michael was Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties, but he was nearly let go before the series aired. Former NBC president, Brandon Tartikoff, watched Michael in the show's pilot and told series creator, Gary David Goldberg, that he wanted him to be replaced. Brandon and casting execs were unsure if Michael had the appearance they wanted for a series lead.

"[They said], ... 'Is [Michael] tall enough?'" Gary said in an archival interview before adding that Brandon asked about Michael, "'Is he the kind of face that's going to be on a lunch box?'"

Gary refused to do the show without Michael in the part, so Brandon relented and let the actor stay on the series. Later, Michael would poke some fun at Brandon's comment when the show became a big success.

"Mike Fox had a lunchbox made with his picture on it with crow in there and he gave it to Brandon. And Brandon ... put it right on his desk so it was the first thing you'd see when you walked into the office," Gary said.

3. Audrey Meadows

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Audrey was rejected by her Honeymooners costar, Jackie Gleason, when she auditioned to play Alice in the series. He thought she was too youthful and attractive for the role, she later said, per the Los Angeles Times. This only made her more determined to get the part.

“I said, ‘I will show him,'" Audrey said. 

She asked a photographer to take pictures of her in which she “had no makeup, did [her] hair all funny, took an old blouse and an old apron and posed in a kitchen with a frying pan,” Audrey said.

When Jackie saw these photos, he told his agent, "Oh, my God! That’s Alice. Where is she?" After the comedian heard the actor in the photos was someone he'd previously passed on, he immediately wanted Audrey as Alice.

"Hire her. Any dame with a sense of humor like that deserves the job," Jackie said.

4. Zac Efron

New Line Cinema

Zac was a convincing Link Larkin in the 2007 Hairspray remake, but the director of the film, Adam Shankman, first said no to the17 Again star when he tried out for the role. 

“He came in to audition sweet and goofy like he is in High School Musical. Nothing like sexy Link Larkin," Adam told the Boston Herald in 2007. 

It was Adam's sister and business partner, Jennifer Gibgot, who helped him recognize Zac's star power. After speaking with Jennifer, he decided to cast Zac as Link. 

"I told my sister, who said, ‘You better make him like Link then, because I’m telling you right now he is going to be the biggest star in the world.' And then I got it," Adam said.

5. Marlon Brando

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Executives at Paramount Pictures were strongly opposed to Marlon playing Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather and saw the actor as a "washed-up" performer who was the wrong person for the job, per NPR.

Director Francis Ford Coppola, however, believed Marlon was the perfect choice to play the mafia patriarch and fought for him to win the role. As The Hollywood Reporter wrote, Francis was eventually allowed to do a screen test with Marlon after pleading with the studio. 

Francis met Marlon at his Mulholland Drive home to film him in character as Vito. During the taping, the actor made the character his own and stuffed Kleenex tissues in his mouth to "look like a bulldog." This footage quickly won over the Paramount execs and got Marlon the job. He was awarded an Oscar in 1973 for this performance, which was declined by Sacheen Littlefeather on Marlon's behalf.

6. Whoopi Goldberg

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A friend of Whoopi's told her she had just been to an audition for which "every Black woman and her mother" showed up to try out, which turned out to be for the film Ghost. Whoopi asked her agent why she hadn't been notified about the audition, and he delivered some bad news he'd received from the casting department of the movie.

"He said, 'They don't want you ... They think that your persona, that Whoopi, is too big and will take people out of the movie,'" Whoopi said in a 2020  No Filter  interview with Naomi Campbell. 

Whoopi explained that she later earned the role when Patrick Swayze became involved in the project and pushed for her to be cast as Oda Mae Brown. She went on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1991 for the performance.

7. Zach Braff

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In an Off Camera with Sam Jones interview, Sam asked Zach about how he was cast as J.D. in Scrubs. The show's creator, Bill Lawrence, previously told Sam that he said, "'This audition sucks,'" when he watched Zach's first audition tape for the show before throwing it out. 

Zach explained that he was "very hungover" because he'd been out the night before the audition, so he wasn't prepared for this opportunity. Later, his agent encouraged him to try out once more when the casting department still hadn't hired an actor for the role.

"This time I prepared. This time I got the right script," Zach said. "I remember going in ... [and] the casting director was like, 'What are you doing the rest of the day?' I could tell that he was excited about me."

This second time around, Zach was cast as J.D., and he ended up playing the character for nine seasons.

8. Anne Hathaway

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Though it's now one of her most well-known roles, Anne was the ninth actor chosen to play Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada. David Frankel, who directed the film, told Entertainment Weekly in 2021 that Rachel McAdams was offered the part three times but continuously declined. He also stated it "didn't go well with the studio" when they began to approach Anne about the part. In spite of this, she remained determined to portray Andy in the 2006 film.

"I remember her sitting on my sofa in my office and explaining why she wanted to do this, why she had to play this role, and … Annie never gave up," Elizabeth Gabler, former Fox 2000 president, said in the same interview. "She never stopped campaigning, calling, she came into [Fox executive] Carla Hacken's office and wrote in her zen garden, 'Hire me.'"

Meryl Streep then watched a scene of Anne's from Brokeback Mountain and met with the actor. After this, Meryl said Anne was "great" and believed they would "work well together," which helped seal the deal for her to secure the job. Anne called it "the easiest yes in the world" when she was finally given the opportunity to play Andy.

"I patiently waited until it was my turn, and I got the call," Anne said. "I remember the moment I found out I got the part, I just ran screaming through my apartment. I had a bunch of friends over at the time, I just jumped up in the living room and screamed, 'I'm going to be in The Devil Wears Prada!'"

9. Matthew Gray Gubler

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The casting directors behind Criminal Minds enjoyed Matthew's first audition for the part of Dr. Spencer Reid, but didn't feel he matched the energy they wanted the character to embody.

“I think I was too gregarious,” Matthew said of the audition in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “Originally, they wanted the character to be more stoic, like Data from Star Trek. Maybe they were worried I would bring too much weirdness.” 

When Matthew was called back to try out for the role again, the feedback he received was: “You’re so wonderful but so wrong.” Nevertheless, he was seen again for the job, and he was offered the part after around four or five rounds of auditions. 

10. Dominic West

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After Dominic was chosen to play Prince Charles in The Crown following Josh O'Connor's portrayal of the royal, "naysayers had a field day," the Daily Mail wrote in April 2022. This caused Dominic to question how convincingly he could pull off the part.

"It's quite disconcerting as I didn't look anything like him when I looked in the mirror," Dominic said to the publication. "I kept telling the producers that they had cast the wrong person."

These producers then "explained that this was not a show of imitations," Dominic said, and he continued with the role. Episodes featuring Dominic as Prince Charles will premiere in November, and sources told the Daily Mail his performance is both "sensitive" and "thoughtful."

11. Sean Penn

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Sean told Jimmy Fallon about his Fast Times at Ridgemont High audition experience in a 2020 Tonight Show episode, per The Hollywood Reporter. At the time, the actor hadn't yet scored his big break but had "an awful lot of confidence" walking into the tryout.

"I read the part and I said, ‘I know this thing,'” Sean said. When he read for the role of Jeff Spicoli, however, Sean soon felt that things weren't going in his favor.

“I auditioned terribly, flat, and I knew I wasn’t willing to do the music of this character that I thought it was," he said.

Not thinking he was the actor they wanted for Spicoli, casting directors let Sean know he could leave. As he was walking to his car, a member of the casting department ran after him and told him to “get back in [there] and audition [his] ass off.” Sean followed the advice, which won him the part.

12. Lark Voorhies

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The part of Lisa Turtle in Saved by the Bell was initially written as "a Jewish princess from Great Neck, Long Island," series writer Peter Engel said in a 2020 Industry Standard podcast interview with producer Barry Katz. However, when Lark was being considered for a potential future guest spot on the show, Peter knew she'd be a great addition to the main cast. Casting directors first objected to Lark trying out as Lisa, but Peter insisted that they'd found the best actor for the role.

"I said, 'Have her read for Lisa Turtle,'" Peter said. "They said, 'Well, Lisa Turtle's not Black.' I said, 'She is now.'" 

13. Chris Hemsworth

Paramount Pictures

Chris felt good about his Thor audition, he told W Magazine in 2017, but realized he was likely deemed unsuited for the part when he didn't hear back for months. At the same time, his brother, Liam, sent in an audition tape and got two callbacks for the role, which made him further wonder why he didn't get a second audition. Chris' manager called the casting department, and they agreed to meet with him again. This time, with his mom's help, Chris was offered the job.

"I did an audition in Vancouver in this hotel room with my mum reading Anthony Hopkins’ part," Chris said. "She must have nailed it because it got me back in the room, and that second audition was a lot different than my first one. I came in kind of with a little, I guess, motivation and maybe frustration that my little brother had gotten further than me. It’s a little family, sibling rivalry sort of kicked up in me. Then it moved pretty quick from there. It was cool."

14. Miles Teller

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After he starred in Footloose, Miles read for the part of Sutter in The Spectacular Now. This audition wasn't a success, and he requested to try out once more. Casting executives said they still didn't feel he was the right fit for Sutter after seeing him read for the role a second time.

"I tried to play a character, as opposed to make it more mine. It wasn’t very good, it wasn’t honest, and I was acting," Miles told Interview in 2013. "I asked for a second one, and the second one went a little better but they were still like, 'We’ve moved on with somebody else.'" 

Later on, the movie had a personnel change and a different director, James Ponsoldt, joined the project. Miles and James then met and discussed the film, which ended with Miles' scoring the part without having to audition again.

"We just met for beers and by the end of that, [James] was like, 'You’re my guy and I’m gonna try and convince everybody else, hopefully we have this done in about a week,'" Miles said. "That’s how I came on board."

15. Miley Cyrus

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When Miley first auditioned to play the lead role in Hannah Montana, she was just 11 years old. Casting directors decided she was not yet mature enough for the job when they saw her read for the part, Miley said in a 2009 interview on The Jonathan Ross Show .

"I auditioned for Hannah. They told me I was too small [and] too young," Miley said. "They kind of kicked me to the curb. And I just kept sending in takes ... I tried to get more makeup, higher heels to look older, and it didn't work."

A couple of months later, when the role still hadn't been filled, Miley was asked to visit California from her home state of Tennessee and audition again. With this tryout, Miley convinced casting directors she could pull off playing Hannah, and the rest is history.

16. Kate Winslet

Twentieth Century Fox

Kate knocked it out of the park as Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic, but director James Cameron "was initially uncertain" about hiring her for the part, Entertainment Weekly wrote in 1997. The publication stated that James was looking for "an Audrey Hepburn type," and he still wasn't sure Kate was the actor he wanted "even after [her] test impressed him." Kate remained passionate about the project, though, and sent James a rose with the written message, "From Your Rose." She also reportedly called the director and said, "You don't understand ... I am Rose! I don't know why you're even seeing anyone else!" Ultimately, Kate's persistence paid off when James picked her to play Rose.

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