10 British Actors and the Iconic Roles They Didn’t Play

The Great Intelligence, the Eighth Doctor and Paul McGann (alternate universe version) in 'Withnail and I' (Pic: Handmade Films)

The Great Intelligence, the Eighth Doctor and Paul McGann (alternate universe version) in ‘Withnail and I’ (Pic: Handmade Films)

Show business often throws up arresting ways to illustrate the multiverse theory; that with every decision taken, a parallel world exists in which an alternative decision was taken instead. So, for example, there are universes where Adele’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend didn’t go sour, and “Rolling In The Deep” is a far happier song about making bread on a submarine.

Here are ten alternative castings that actually could have happened. Some of which are so enticing it almost makes you want to develop a machine to allow cross-dimensional travel, just to check them out.

Emily Blunt IS Black Widow
In Iron Man 2, the role of Natasha Romanoff—otherwise known as the Black Widow—was originally offered to Emily Blunt, who can definitely cut it as an action movie heroine type, as we now know from Edge of Tomorrow. Sadly (and this is sadness on a truly epic scale), she had to turn the role down as the shoot clashed with her filming commitments on the Jack Black reswizzling of Gulliver’s Travels.

Colin Firth IS Paddington Bear
This one still stings a bit. Colin had given his voice to Paddington for the forthcoming movie, but as shooting progressed, it became clear his version of Paddington and the version onscreen weren’t quite the same. He told the press: “It’s been bittersweet to see this delightful creature take shape and come to the sad realization that he simply doesn’t have my voice. I’ve had the joy of seeing most of the film and it’s going to be quite wonderful. I still feel rather protective of this bear and I’m pestering them all with suggestions for finding a voice worthy of him.”

Derek Jacobi IS Hannibal Lecter
In his autobiography, As Luck Would Have It, Derek reveals that he was up for the role that rejuvenated and defined Sir Anthony Hopkins’ career. And so was Daniel Day Lewis. “Goodness knows how it would have turned out if I had played the part, but I would have been malevolent in a very different way,” he said. “Tony has harder eyes than I have. He was wonderful.”

Richard Griffiths IS the Doctor
The star of Withnail and I and the Harry Potter movies was considered a decent choice to play the Doctor twice. Once when Tom Baker was leaving in 1979, and again in 1989, when producers were unsure whether Doctor Who would keep going or not. Ironically, the role of the Eighth Doctor, which would have been his if the show had continued, eventually went to Richard’s Withnail and I co-star, Paul McGann.

And while we’re at it…

Dame Judi Dench IS the Doctor
Jane Trantor, the producer who helped bring Doctor Who back to British TV screens—and therefore to the TV screens of the world—considered offering the role to Dame Judi, which would have cast an entirely different light on the Ninth Doctor’s relationship with Rose Tyler. Still, imagine her giving that Dalek what for in this scene:

Dame Helen Mirren IS Mrs. Weiss
Y’know that film Precious, in which Mariah Carey surprised a good deal of people by being good at acting and not being all, y’know, Mariah Carey all the way through it? It turns out Helen Mirren was originally going to play the social worker Mrs. Weiss in the movie, but pulled out three days before shooting started, citing other work commitments.

Gillian Anderson IS Lady Cora Crawley
That’s right, Gillian Anderson off The X Files—who is an honorary Brit, let’s not forget—was originally offered the role of Lady Cora, as played by Elizabeth McGovern. She was also unable to appear in Game of Thrones, due to a scheduling clash. Of course even if she’d been able to do it her character would most probably be dead by now, but still.

Carey Mulligan IS Lisbeth Salander
When casting The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher knew The success of the movie rested on finding the right person to deliver the introverted (but ferocious) hacker Lisbeth. Hollywood gossip says he met with Keira Knightley, Anne Hathaway, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Kristen Stewart, as well as Carey Mulligan. The part eventually went to Rooney Mara, coming out in 2011, the same year Carey could be seen in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive.

Dougray Scott IS Wolverine
Dougray was signed up and ready to play the role of the smoldering X-Man with the manicure from hell, but shooting overran on Mission: Impossible II, leaving director Bryan Singer without any choice but to bring in Hugh Jackman. This turned out rather well for all concerned (with the possible exception of Dougray). Mind you, has Hugh Jackman ever been in Doctor Who? Exactly.

Michael Gambon IS James Bond

This one has the best story ever:

Can you imagine? Professor Dumbledore as James Bond? With a really cold chest? Amazing.

And if that’s not enticing enough a prospect, here’s an eleventh example that doesn’t really count.

Hugh Jackman IS James Bond
Granted, Hugh Jackman isn’t British, but James Bond definitely is. Hugh was approached about the role after his success as Logan in the X-Men movies, but turned it down because he didn’t just want to be the action movie guy. Having stretched his wings a bit with roles like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and made even more X-Men movies, Hugh now claims to have reconsidered the idea, and would probably still do it if the Bond producers asked. We do not currently know how he feels about leather bags filled with ice.

See more:
WATCH: Sirs Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi as Bickering Couple in ‘Vicious’
The Surprising Singing Voices of British Actors
Kelly Reilly’s 10 Greatest British Roles Before ‘Black Box’
RIP Richard Griffiths: Five Of His Greatest Hits

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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