Harrison Ford made his film debut in 1966 as a bellhop in James Coburn’s Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round. Around the same time, he was working as a roadie for The Doors. Before that, he worked as a carpenter after dropping out of college. What I’m getting at is that, like many people in their youth, it took Ford a while to find his calling.
Ford slogged it out in small roles for a decade before he would become an international superstar with his role in Star Wars. As the years wore on, he would continue to star in blockbuster after blockbuster. Like any actor with a long career in Hollywood, though, there are a number of big parts that slipped through his fingers. Last month, we touched on his decision to pass on a role in Jurassic Park, but what about the other parts Ford turned away?
With the actor celebrating his 73rd birthday today, and a new Star Wars movie just months away, let’s look at some of the famous roles that could have gone to Han Solo/Indiana Jones/Jack Ryan.
Alien was a huge hit at the box office in 1979, pulling in $104 million and launching a successful film franchise for director Ridley Scott. The film also made stars out of Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt, who took the role of Dallas that Harrison Ford turned down. Ford’s never said why he passed on the role. Maybe he didn’t want to become known as the “space guy,” as he was in the middle of shooting the Star Wars movies, but it was still a huge opportunity he passed on that could have given some extra boost to his already quickly rising career.
Ford’s lack of presence in E.T. isn’t due to him turning down the role or being replaced by another actor. He took the part, but had his scenes cut. Steven Spielberg decided that Ford was simply too big of an actor and would detract from the movie, so he removed Ford’s scene of him as the school principal lecturing Elliott. Most of the adults in the movie other than Elliott’s mom are shot from behind or the waist down, so it’s only Ford’s voice that the audience missed out on.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Bob Hoskins did a fine job as the curmudgeonly detective thrown into the cartoon world in this ’80s comedy crime classic, but he wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice for the part. Director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg went through a number of actors before landing on Hoskins, and Harrison Ford was at the top of the list. The only problem was that Ford was incredibly expensive, and the movie was already costing a fortune to make, so his name was scratched off. Chevy Chase and Bill Murray were then considered, but Chase turned it down and Murray denied ever learning about the offer.
Cape Fear (1991)
Nobody says no to Martin Scorsese, except for Harrison Ford. Scorsese wanted Ford to play his terrorized family man in this thriller, but Ford wasn’t interested in the part. Scorsese even went so far as to ask Robert De Niro to call Ford and ask him to reconsider, but the effort proved to be unsuccessful. In the end, it would be Nick Nolte who would take the role of Sam Bowden and do battle with De Niro’s sinister Max Cady.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Harrison Ford was one of Steven Spielberg’s early considerations for the part of Oskar Schindler, along with Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson (weird, right?). In the end, the director felt that Ford’s star power would take away from the role and the film’s message. For this reason, he decided to go with the less famous Liam Neeson.
The Patriot (2000)
Harrison Ford had his chance to lead the colonials to independence, but passed on the role that would give Mel Gibson his second starring role where he’d get to kill the English and scream about FREEDOM! Ford was offered the lead part of Benjamin Martin, but allegedly turned it down because he felt the script reduced the Revolutionary War to a “melodrama about one man’s revenge.” Which, if we’re honest, he was kind of right about.
George Clooney pulled an Oscar nomination for his C.I.A. operative role in the 2005 political thriller, but it could have been Harrison Ford’s. He was offered the role, but turned it down because he felt it didn’t have enough substance. Changes were made, and after seeing the finished project, Ford admitted that he had made a mistake.
“I saw a bit of (director) Steve Gaghan’s movie Syriana, and I wish I’d played the part that was offered to me: George’s part. I didn’t feel strongly enough about the truth of the material, and I think I made a mistake. I think the film underwent some changes, and I think a lot of it is very truthful… the things that I thought weren’t, were obviated after I left the table.”
Snooze ya lose, Harrison.