Film history is riddled with name actors who turned down key roles. Tom Selleck didn’t want to play Indiana Jones. Eddie Murphy didn’t want to play Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Halle Berry wasn’t feeling what became the Sandra Bullock part in Speed. John Travolta didn’t say yes to American Gigolo and Forrest Gump. Then there’s Matthew Modine, who’s kind of the Zelig of missed film roles. He recently talked about three (3) iconic parts to which he said no, though for at least one he had an excellent reason.
During a recent appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show, Modine was game when his host brought up some of the big roles he turned down. Perhaps the biggest one: He could have been Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun (and presumably its even more money-gobbling sequel). But he didn’t want to do a film that glamorized the nation’s war machine.
“I grew up with the war, watching the Vietnam War on television. And then my oldest brothers and my sister participated in the war,” Modine explained. “There’s nothing sexy or romantic about war. So the idea of making a movie like Top Gun, that would make it look fun and glamorize it? Yeah, I just didn’t want to participate in that kind of storytelling.”
If his excuse sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the reason why the film’s ultimate star, Tom Cruise, was adamantly against doing a sequel — at least for three-and-a-half decades. (One could argue that the belated sequel is considerably less jingoistic, less about patriotism and more about the greatness of Tom Cruise.)
So Modine had a good excuse for turning down Top Gun. But what about Back to the Future? After the production fired original star Eric Stoltz, he was one of the actors they approached to replace him. Modine fumbled around to excuse why he turned that down, saying that “when you see Michael J. Fox, you see why I turned it down.” (Not even Ross was buying that one.) He also says he didn’t know who director Robert Zemeckis was, though he had just had a big hit with Romancing the Stone.
As for turning down the lead role in Big, Modine admits “that was really stupid.” That role, of course, went to another Tom, Tom Hanks, who scored his first Oscar nomination as a kid whose wish to become an adult is granted, with funny/heartwarming results. Still, Modine has had a good career. He even wound up doing another film about war, albeit a very different one from Top Gun: Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick’s grim depiction of the Vietnam War, and an instant classic of the genre.