As with just about every movie made, before the lead actor(s) are cast there are many more that audition or are considered for the role(s). Sometimes the person we see on screen and admire might not have been the directors or studios first choice. So let's take a look at some of the actors and actresses who, if things had played out differently, could've ended up playing the lead roles in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Sean Connery as Gandalf
It's hard to imagine anyone other than Ian McKellen in the role of Gandalf the Grey - Peter Jackson certainly felt that way as he's always maintained that McKellen was his number one choice for the part right from his first days of planning the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But New Line Cinema were not feeling the McKellen vibe and instead spent considerable time courting Sean Connery for the role of Gandalf. He declined because he had never read J.R.R. Tolkien's novel and just "didn’t understand the script." In an attempt to persuade the Scot to reconsider, a second offer was put to him which included up to 15% of the film’s total box office receipts. He still said "no". If Connery had taken the part he would've earned around $400 million, which is more than any other actor has ever been paid for a single role ever!
Does he regret it? Likely not, he's too busy playing golf. Although some years later he did get round to reading the novel, and when he was asked about the potential pay-day he simply replied:
"I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it. Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvelous in it."Tom Baker was also considered for the part, but didn't want to commit to a year and a half long shoot. One final potential Gandalf came in the form of Christopher Lee, who had his first conversations surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy whilst discussing this part. Speaking of which...
Tim Curry as Saruman
Thankfully Christopher Lee's initial consideration for the role of Gandalf kept him fresh in Peter Jackson's mind. The director had originally hoped for either Jeremy Irons, Malcolm McDowell or Tim Curry to play the role of treacherous Saruman. But after McKellen was signed up for Gandalf, it became clear to Jackson that Christopher Lee was the ideal choice to play his nemesis.
Nicolas Cage as Aragorn
Viggo Mortensen was born to play the role of Aragorn. An accomplished swordsman, Mortensen lived and breathed the demanding part, throwing himself into character 100%. This included breaking bones, teeth and almost drowning. But Mortensen nearly remained injury free as he was a late addition to the cast - so late in fact that filming had already begun!
Peter Jackson wanted Daniel Day-Lewis, and tried to open negotiations with him multiple times, only to be shot down on each occasion. Whilst this was going on, Jackson found himself in a similar position as with the casting of Gandalf - It seems that New Line Cinema had their own idea for who should be Aragorn.
The studio wanted Russell Crowe, and pursued him aggressively, just as they did Sean Connery, offering Crowe 10 percent of the film’s profits as an upfront fee. Whereas Sean Connery was offered the part at the end of his career, Russell passed on the role at arguably the height of his, having just finished Gladiator a year earlier. During a speech at Durham University Crowe was asked how he felt about losing out on $56 million (the amount he would've walked away with from the first film alone!) he simply replied
"If I had taken that film, I wouldn’t be here."Eventually New Line and Jackson came to an agreement on their Aragorn, and offered the role to Nicolas Cage! I'm not sure I can imagine that working, can you? Fortunately, Cage turned it down due to "family commitments", again another actor likely not wanting to commit to the epic-length shooting process - After all, Nic Cage can fire out 27 films in the time it took Peter Jackson to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy!
Eventually Stuart Townsend was cast as Aragorn, but he was replaced by Viggo Mortensen four days in to the shoot. Jackson later stated it was because he realised that an older actor would work better.
Townsend went on to play Dorian Gray in the cinematic flop which was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, opposite Sean Connery's Allan Quatermain. I wonder if the pair consoled each other over their LOTR losses?
Jake Gyllenhaal as Frodo Baggins
It would've meant no Donnie Darko for Jake Gyllenhall if he had won the part of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but fortunately for Elijah Wood, Gyllenhall bombed in his audition. As an early frontrunner for the part, he was asked to audition privately with Peter Jackson but there was just one important aspect that had escaped him...
"I remember auditioning for The Lord of the Rings and going in and not being told that I needed a British accent. I really do remember Peter Jackson saying to me, ‘You know that you have to do this in a British accent?’ We heard back it was literally one of the worst auditions."
Sylvester McCoy as Bilbo Baggins
Sylvester Mccoy came so close to playing Bilbo Baggins, narrowly beaten to the role by Ian Holm. As a huge Doctor Who fan Peter Jackson admitted it was a tough choice to make, and McCoy was a very close second, so when it came to casting The Hobbit movies he was one of the first people the director called.
David Bowie as Elrond
Possibly the strangest alternate casting, it'll come as no surprise that the idea of David Bowie as Elrond actually came from the White Duke himself. After hearing the movies were in production, Bowie reached out to Peter Jackson, offering his experience of playing a goblin king for that of the elf king!
Peter Jackson didn't fancy doing the Magic Dance of Mordor, and just wasn’t feeling Bowie's groove. He turned down the offer because the singer’s fame would overshadow the part.
"These are famous, famous characters, loved for nearly 50 years. To have a famous, beloved character and a famous star colliding is slightly uncomfortable."
Read All Our Lord Of The Rings / The Hobbit Trivia Articles
The Actors Who Could've Been In The Lord Of The Rings
10 things you may not know about The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
10 things you may not know about The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
10 things you may not know about The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
10 things you may not know about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
10 things you may not know about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Samug
10 things you may not know about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
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