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Gary Oldman and 5 other A-listers who almost turned down iconic roles #DarkestHour


Now on release in Cineworld, gripping World War II drama and historical biopic Darkest Hour sees Gary Oldman give a stunning performance as revered British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The actor has already generated significant critical acclaim in what’s been lauded as a career-defining role, but did you know Oldman initially turned down the part?

In an interview with Deadline, Oldman admits to being daunted by the physical demands of the part, and shied away from it. It was only after watching newsreel footage of Churchill, in the process discovering he had a youthful vitality, that Oldman accepted.

The gamble paid off: Oldman recently won a Golden Globe, has been BAFTA nominated and an Oscar nomination looks like a dead cert.

Oldman isn’t the only actor who nearly let a huge role pass by. Here are five other A-listers who almost turned down iconic parts.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Terminator

The face of many classic action films including Commando, Total Recall, and Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an instantly recognisable star. But he almost turned down the part for which he's most celebrated: the eponymous Terminator in director James Cameron’s 1984 action classic.

In Schwarzenegger’s aptly named 2012 memoir Total Recall, he explains he initially refused the part because he didn’t think being cast as a villain would help his career. He wasn’t happy with the lack of lines, either, as he believed people would think his dialogue had been edited out.

Fortunately for everyone, Cameron convinced Schwarzenegger the role was right for him. The minimal dialogue wasn’t an issue either. In fact The Terminator contains some of Arnie’s most famous lines. We can’t imagine anyone else saying "I’ll be back" like Schwarzenegger.

2. Julie Andrews – The Sound of Music

The cinematic classic we make a point to watch every Christmas, Robert Wise’s 1965 sensation The Sound of Music is one of our favourite things, and further proof of Julie Andrews’ greatness.

In the book The Sound of Music Story, it’s revealed that Andrews was initially sceptical about taking the part. Straight after the success of Mary Poppins she didn’t want to play the nanny character in a musical again.

It was only because of her role in The Americanization of Emily, made in between the two musicals, that she accepted the part. Her rationale: she believed her Emily turn illustrated that she "didn’t only play nanny roles".

3. Uma Thurman – Pulp Fiction

Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace is literally the face of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. Featuring on the poster and acting as one half of the film’s memorable dance scene with John Travolta, there isn’t a cinephile around who doesn’t equate the film with her character. However, the Pulp Fiction poster on your wall could’ve been very different.

In Vanity Fair’s 'The Pulp Fiction Oral History', Thurman explains: "I was 23, from Massachusetts…[and Tarantino] wasn’t this revered demigod auteur that he has grown into". Tarantino’s films have been no stranger to controversy over the years (his debut Reservoir Dogs also received backlash due to a graphic torture scene) and, as well as Mia’s obsession with drugs, Thurman was concerned about the infamous 'gimp' sequence.

After a lengthy discussion with Tarantino, however, Thurman was talked into taking on the role, and has become part of one of the most celebrated films in modern cinema history. 

4. Leonardo DiCaprio – Titanic

With recent films including Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Revenant, which (finally) won him an Oscar, Leonardo DiCaprio has truly ascended onto the Hollywood A-list.

Before DiCaprio stunned as The Revenant’s grizzled survivor Hugh Glass, he first won audiences over as the young heartthrob in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. But he didn’t hit peak stardom until he starred as Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997.

Aged only 21 at the time, People reported that DiCaprio initially didn’t want to play a traditional romantic interest. Cameron explained: "Jack’s character doesn’t go through torment, and Leo…was always looking for that dark cloud…It became my job to convince him that it was a challenge to do what Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart did in previous generations, to stand there and be strong and hold the audience’s eye without seeming to do very much. It was only when I convinced him that was actually the harder thing to do that he got excited.”

Contrary to DiCaprio’s first impressions, this part didn’t sink his career but raised it to a whole new level.

5. Richard Harris – Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

While most of the above stars only initially passed on their roles once, Richard Harris turned down the role of Dumbledore three times.

The Guardian reported that Harris, despite never having read any of Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, was approached three times for the role of Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore, with a salary increase each time. It seems at the age of 71, Harris didn’t want to be forced into a chain of sequels.

We can thank Harris’ then 11-year-old granddaughter for persuading him to take the role. She told him: "If you don’t play Dumbledore then I will never speak to you again". Tough love can be harsh, but we’re grateful she gave him the ultimatum. Harry Potter just wouldn’t have been as magical otherwise.

Those were five actors who almost passed on iconic roles. We thank the movie gods that Gary Oldman changed his mind about playing Churchill, and you can now experience the end result.

Click here to book your tickets for Darkest Hour and tweet us @Cineworld if you think Oldman has his first Oscar in the bag.

Don't forget to test your Gary Oldman knowledge in our picture quiz – click here and let us know your results.

Andy Murray is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.