Imagine a world where someone other than Julia Roberts had delivered the line, “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Or an alternate universe that sees Will Smith’s role in Men in Black was played by one of the stars of Friends. How about a scenario in which Blake Lively never got her big break as Serena in Gossip Girl? If picturing these iconic characters being played by literally anyone else gives you heart palpitations, you’re not alone. And you’ll be alarmed to learn that these hypothetical casting scenarios very, very nearly happened.
Robin Williams as Hagrid in Harry Potter
Robin Williams loved the Harry Potter books when they first came out, and he actually called up the first film’s director Chris Columbus to ask if he could have the part of Hagrid. He might have been in with a good chance, since Columbus had been the director of Mrs. Doubtfire. But J.K. Rowling demanded only British actors for the movie, so Robbie Coltrane got the role instead.
Will Smith as Neo in The Matrix
One of the most famous ‘what could have beens’ in film history. Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix and worse, he turned it down in favor of Wild Wild West. Yep: one of the most critically reviled blockbusters in history. But of course, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Keanu Reeves as Neo now, so it all worked out for the best.
Paul Newman as Woody in Toy Story
Can you imagine Woody having a voice that isn’t Tom Hanks’? But that could have happened. Pixar nearly cast Paul Newman as Woody, based on the fact that he’d played cowboys so much throughout his career. In the end Newman ended up playing another character for Pixar, Doc Hudson in Cars. It was his final role.
Rob Lowe as McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy
In 2019 while speaking on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Rob Lowe let slip, “I turned down Grey's Anatomy. To play McDreamy. That's probably cost me $70 million!” Still, he concluded it was “just money” and said, “I watched it when it came out. And when they started calling the handsome doctor ‘McDreamy’, I was like, ‘Eh, it's not for me.’”