Starring Role Substitutions

Published by: Atlas Staff

When casting TV shows and movies, one actor's misfortune can lead to another's fame, much like a rebounding card in Gloom in Space that gives you low points while offering a distinct advantage to your opponent. In these cases, though, it's hard to imagine some of the most iconic characters played by other performers, but here are some stories of near-misses and surprise casting that gave us some of our most beloved science-fiction characters.

Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, had his eye on Martin Landau for the role of Mr. Spock. Landau had impressed Roddenberry with his performance on The Outer Limits, in which he managed to come off as sympathetic and nuanced despite some of the worst makeup ever inflicted on the series' actors. Eventually, though, Roddenberry gave the role to Leonard Nimoy, and Landau found fame on the original series of Mission: Impossible.

George Lucas pursued Sir Alec Guinness for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Having already won an Oscar and a knighthood, Guinness was known for his subtle performances in movies like The Man in the White Suit and Bridge on the River Kwai. Although his fellow cast members said he was wonderful to work with, Guinness urged Lucas to kill off Kenobi in the first movie, later saying, "What I didn't tell him was that I couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo." Guinness boasted that he threw away every piece of Star Wars fan mail unopened.

While Lucas got his first wish in casting Guinness, he was less certain about other roles. He initially auditioned Sylvester Stallone, Tom Selleck, and Kurt Russell to play Han Solo, before chemistry made history in a screen test with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

Fisher herself was in a casting duel for the role of Princess Leia Organa, up against Cindy Williams of Laverne & Shirley fame.

Even the inimitable voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader only came about because of Lucas' decision to cast only lesser-known actors, which ruled out his first choice of Orson Welles. Jones recorded his voice-over for Star Wars in a single day. He has said that he "is happy to be a part of the cult movement" of Star Wars. "But [the fans] are scary. People are fanatics." At a live appearance, a five-year-old boy once had to feed him his iconic line, "Luke, I am your father" because Jones admitted that he never bothered to memorize his part.