Andy Garcia was almost in Big, but the studio said he was “too Puerto Rican”

Penny Marshall recently wrote a memoir, My Mother is Nuts, which is apparently full of Hollywood stories in addition to the usual blah blah my family stuff that’s always in memoirs (kudos to Penny for not revealing some decades-old story of molestation and/or drug use to promote her book, that alone speaks to her being a class act). Movieline recently published an excerpt from the book detailing the development process for Big, and we all love playing the old they wanted Nick Nolte for Han Solo?!?, what-if game. Basically Penny Marshall wanted what she says were the three biggest box office stars of the day: Tom Hanks (the eventual winner, obviously), Dennis Quaid (HAHAHA), and future Stephen Baldwin defendant Kevin Costner. They all passed at first, but she eventually got Robert DeNiro interested and leveraged his interest to have her pick of the litter. The whole thing is a bit rambly and she does that punctuating-the-importance-of-a-thought-by-making-it-its-own-paragraph thing, so I’ve edited liberally. I’ll just start with my favorite bit first:

To make the high concept work, I wanted it to be real and believable. The biggest challenge would be casting the lead. I went straight to the three big box-office stars at the time: Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, and Dennis Quaid. All of them passed. Everyone passed. I tried a different approach. I looked for the kid who would be Josh’s best friend, and I picked Jared Rushton. He had the most spunk of those I saw. He worked well as I brought in actors, including Sean Penn, who was terrific but too young, and Andy Garcia, who was also great, though one of the studio executives said, “We don’t want to spend eighteen million on a kid who grows up to be Puerto Rican.”

That was how they talked.

“He’s Cuban,” I said.

Haaaa. Oh, Hollywood execs. “This kid is supposed to be from Bergen County, New Jersey! We can’t have him be Hispanic! They only make up… the vast majority of the population there!” Man, I wonder what they’d have done if they’d known he was born with a malformed siamese twin growing out of his shoulder. Additional trivia: He also played “Vince Mancini” in Godfather 3. That’s me!

I sense I’ve digressed.

I also read Gary Busey, who had the energy of a child, but I didn’t think he could pull off playing an adult.

Gary Busey actually has the energy of three coyotes and some of the rabbits they’ve eaten, on account of the coyote necklace he wears, which is made out of some coyotes that he killed and ate. He wears it as a talisman whenever he goes out for headbutts.

John Travolta was dying to do it, but at the time he was box office poison and the studio didn’t want him.

The more things change…

Then I went to Robert De Niro. Bobby — or Bobby D. as I called him —

Ooh, you seem to have dropped a name there, shall I pick it up for you?

…was in the middle of making The Untouchables, playing Al Capone. Although I knew he didn’t ordinarily read other material when he was in the middle of a project, I called him anyway. That’s where I’m not at all shy or hesitant. I will call anyone. What’s the worst they can say?

It turned out that he wanted to make a commercial film. He had done all of Marty Scorsese’s movies, but hadn’t broken out in a film the whole family could watch. I told Jim and Scott Rudin, who was running production at the studio, that De Niro was interested. They were surprised and somewhat intrigued.

From there, Barry Levinson makes her goes on a lunch date with Warren Beatty, who doesn’t respect her, and she wants DeNiro, but the studio doesn’t want to pay him enough, and so she offers him her salary but he’s still butthurt about her Warren Beatty lunch, and… Well, and then the excerpt basically ends without getting to the part about how it eventually came to pass that Tom Hanks got the role. You know, for an industry ostensibly dedicated to telling stories, Hollywood people can sure suck at telling stories.

[full excerpt at Movieline]