Sir Alec Guinness (1914-2000)
- Van Johnson, Brigadoon, 1953. Guinness in an MGMusical… And then replaced by Van Johnson. Oh, Hollywood !! That was the first Metro plan, after the UK Rank Organisation lost the rights battle. The (rather silly) stage hit about the Scottish Highlands town that comes back to life for 24 hours once a century became yet (a sillier) project for Gene Kelly. Plus Guinness and Kathryn Grayson. Their offers were transfered to Johnnson and Cyd Charisse. She better legs than the film’s.
- Nigel Patrick, Raintree County, 1956. Guinness and Arthur O’Connell were in the mix for roles opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Patrick, another polished Brit, took over as Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles, no less.
- Jerry Lewis, Visit To A Small Planet, 1959. Jerry Lewis??!!! Ina role offered to Gunness?Oh yes, Delphine, it happened.ProducerHal Wallis finally decided to make Gore Vidal’s tale of visiting alien Kreton without Guinness... or indeed, his anagram... genuine class.
- John Mills, Tunes of Glory, 1960. “Initially, I’d been offered the John Mills character but I made the wild suggestion that I should play the hard-drinking, hard-swearing man. The impossible appeals to me more than the obvious.” He suggested Mills for the other officer.
- David Niven, The Guns of Navarone, 1961. The Bridge on theRiver Kwai’s Colonel Nicholson was hardly right for a corporal... But as Gregory Peck’s Mallory shuffled around Cary Grant and Rock Hudson, Corporal Miller journeyed between Guinness, Dean Martin (!) and Kenneth More. Niven said he was miscast. “Too old but it was one of my best performances.”
- Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.
- Jack Hawkins, Five Finger Exercise, 1961. Apparently, one flop with Rosalind Russell - A Majority of One, 1961 - was enough.
- Karl(heinz) Boehm, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, 19612. Asking MGM for Guinness and Peter Sellers, producer George Pal was given... Cinerama!
- José Ferrer, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1964. Veteran director George Stevens offered a cameo. As Herod Antipas. Guinness was not buying. Not sure how true this is, could be the greatest story ever told.
- John Huston, The Bible: In The Beginning… , US-Italy,1965. Huston was busy enough - directing and narrating as the voice of God - when he asked Chaplin to play Noah. “He couldn’t conceive of being in someone else’s picture.” Guinness, the next choice, was over booked and ultimatey, realising Noah required a familiarity with animals, Huston added the leader of the lost ark to his chores.
- Orson Welles, A Man For All Seasons, 1966. First choice for Henry VIII’s Cardinal Wolsey versus two other first choices: Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole.
- Max von Sydow, Hawaii, 1966. Director Fred Zinnemann’s choice when prepping the film eventually made by George Roy Hill. Both actors were perfect for the Reverend Abner Hale as it is difficult to say which is the more boring.
- Milo O’Shea, Ulysses, 1966. “He could play Leopold Bloom so much better than I could,” said Alec Guinness about Peter Sellers.The theatrical knight was planning an earlier version of James Joyce’s 540,000 words of streaming consciousness-but only if Sellers joined him. Later, Wolf Mankowitz adapted the James Joyce classic for Sellers - his then pal and business partner - as Leopold Bloom, Diane Cilento as his wife, Molly, and Peter O’Toole as Stephen Dedalus.
- Maurice Evans, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
- James Mason, Mayerling, 1968.Change of Emperor Franz Joseph. When his son, Archduke Rudolph, was aimed at Marcello Mastroianni rather than boring Omar Sharif.
- Trevor Howard, Ryan's Daughter, 1970. Robert Bolt had written the priest for Guinness. He came back with various notes. David Lean thanked him - and immediately called up the star of his classic Brief Encounter, 1945.
- Dirk Bogarde, Mort a Venezia/Death in Venice, Italy, 1971. “I was far too young,” said Bogarde, “but Visconti was convinced.” Or he was after John Gielgud, Guinness, even Burt Lancaster, refused what became director Luchino Visconti’s (and Bogarde’s) wet-dream masterpiece.
- Trevor Howard, Ludwig, Italy-France-Germany, 1972. One Hitler was also enough... and Luchino Visconti finished up with an ideal Wagner.
- Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express, 1973. First choice for Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot was not available. Nor was Paul Scofield, Enter: Albie, much younger at 38 that Poirot’s 55-60. Hence special make-up and padding.
- Vladimir Antolek-Oresek, Lancelot de lac (US: Lancelot of the Lake), France-Italy, 1974. Part of realisateur Robert Bresson’s plan for his scenario in 1965. Vladimir’s King Arthur in the mini-epic was his one and only screen role.
- Michael Hordern, The Tempest, TV, 1980. He quit after the producers disliked his idea of basing his Prospero upon the aging Tolstoy. (Prospero was played by Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor’s 2010 version).
- Ben Kingsley, Gandhi, 1982.
"He has the saintliness required," agreed director Richard Attenborough when trying to make the film... in 1963. "He thinks he can only play Gandhi from the age of 35 onwards." Probably because he was 39 when first asked - in 1953 by Gabriel Pascal, the only UK producer born in what was then Transylvania. Next helmer, David Lean, asked Alec after River Kwai. “I’ll never be quite small enough, quite thin enough. You must have an Indian, preferably a Hindu.” Lean had to abort his version of Gandhi’s life - and begin Lawrence og Arabia , with Guiness (replacing Laurence Olivier) as Prince Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, future king of Syria and Iraq, Glimpses of what Sir Alec’s Gandhi could have been were visible when Alec played an Indian - superbly - in Lean’s final film, A Passage To India, 1984. (The fifth Lean-Guinness collaboratyion during 1946-1983, after: Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, The Bridge on the Rivcr Kwai, Doctor Zhivago).
- Trevor Howard, Gandhi, 1982. After passing on the Mahatma, Guinness was announced by Richard Attenboropugh for Judge Broomfield in 1980. But...
- Trevor Howard, The Missionary, 1982. Scenarist-star Michel Palin was turned down, even after his “grovelling letter” to Guinness about the film he often called “Mish.”
- James Mason, Dr Fischer of Geneva, TV, 1985. When a Joseph Losey project for Guinness fell apart, his intended co-star Dirk Bogarde suggested Graham Greene’s new novel - until that fell apart, too.
- Sydney Walker, Prelude To A Kiss, 1991. Harboured no secret desire to be kissed by Alec Baldwin...? Walker repeated his stage role of the mysterious old nam who kisses newlywed Meg Ryan - and takes over her personality. Baldwin was the husband searching for Meg and having to kiss the old timer to find her.
- Alec McCowen, The Age Of Innocence, 1992. One Alec is (almost) as good as another when one talks of Guinness and McCowen.Sir Alec was first choice for an “admittedly small” role in Martin Scorsese’s surprise version of Edith Wharton’s 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winner. Not difficult to turn down the offer of $10,000“to be in New York for a month at my own expense.”
- Burgess Meredith, Grumpy Old Men, 1993. “Too near the bare knuckle.”Inhis published diary “of a retiring actor,” Guinness revealed he rejected “a handsome offer... a slap-up part” for various reasons including his wife’s health, his difficulty memorising so many lines.Plus: “I am weary ofTV, cinemaor theatrical fare set in Old People’s Homes.”
- Gore Vidal, With Honors, 1994. Oscar-winner Joe Pesci had some control over the casting. To play the villainous Harvard professor, the producer suggested four English actors and the new-to-acting Vidal (scenarist for Guinness’ The Scapegoat, 1959). According to Vidal, Joe exclaimed:"Why do we always have to get an English asshole for this sort of part when we have one of our own."(Vidalhad adapted Daphne Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat for Guinness and Bette Davis in 1959).
- Michael Gough,The Cherry Orchard, Greece-France-Cyprus, 1999. When Guinness - at 82 - was asked by Greek director Michael Cacoyannis to be Firs, the 80-year-old butler, it was to be shot in Germany in 1995. (Lindsay Anderson had asked him to be Firs in a version that collapsed in Russia). Four years later, his good friend Micky Gough (“he taught me to play mah-jong”) took over the roleon location in... Bulgaria.In 1995, Interview Day was Sir Alec’s 62nd and final film in 50 years.
- Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies, 2014. Over to Steven Spielberg: “In 1964 or ’65, when it was better known and closer to the incident, Gregory Peck… asked [MGM] to finance a screenplay about the spy swap [Russia’s Rudolf Abel for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers]. Peck sent the script to Alec Guinness and got him to agree to play Abel. MGM decided not to go ahead and make the picture because of the tension.” Spielberg fell for Rylance in Broaday’s Twelth Night - winning a third Tony award for the UK actor.