- Stephen Rea, Angel, 1981. When John Boorman decided to produce the directing debut of his “creative assistant” during the 1981 Excalibur the UK director suggested Neeson for the innocent bystander lead. Neil Jordan, however, stuck to his creative guns and insisted on another Irishman as the saxophonist witnessing a double murder - and Rea has since appeared in seven other Jordan movies.
- André The Giant, The Princess Bride, 1987. Liam’s most embarrassing career moment came early when he auditioned for the role of the giant, Fezzik. The director, Rob Reiner “had a look of disgust on his face when he realized I was only 6ft 4ins." Grenoble’s André René Roussimoff, hyped as 7ft 4ins, was really 6ft 10in.
- Duncan Regehr, The Monster Squad, 1987. Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman, even Scary German Guy, they’re all here in Black and Dekker’s horror spoof - writer Shane Black, director Fred Dekker. The Canadian Regehr’s Drac was chosen above all others in Wizard magazine’s 100 Greatest Villains of All Time in 2006. Yet he was never asked for an encore...
- Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society, 1989. From freak show to professor of English forming young minds - things were improving for The Irishman from Ballymena. He was original director Jeff Kanew’s second choice after Alec Baldwin backed off. Peter Weir went with Williams. “I felt hurt by that. But you get used to it.”
- Anthony Hopkins, Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992. The giant Irishman was seen by director Francis Coppola for Van Helsing (the old Peter Cushing role). And Neeson wanted it. However, Hopkins was the hot star of the hour headed to an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs.. Neeson and Hopkins are honorary CDS board members: Conference of Drama Schools, overseeing all UK drama schools.
- Matthew Modine, Cutthroat Island, 1995. After Schindler’s List, everyone wanted Liam, including the piratical Geena Davis. And her director husband, Renny Harlin. So, it was obvious who’d get the best close-ups!
- James Earl Jones, The Lion King, 1993. Neeson, plus two ex-Bonds - Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton - were considered royal enough to voice King Musafa in the 32nd Disney toon - known as Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa. Neeson voiced another lion (Asian) in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, 2005-2010. (Omar Sharif dubbed him for the French and Italian language prints).
- Dennis Quaid, Dragonheart, 1995. To join forces with a dragon voiced by Sean Connery! Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams were also on the short-list for Bowen. Universal suits proclaimed that the public would never accept Neeson as an action hereo. D’oh!
- Gary Oldman, The Scarlet Letter, 1995. He must have read the script - “freely adapted from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.” And how!
- Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye, 1995.
Bruce Willis, Jackal, 1997. Considered for in the Day of the Jackal re-make that was not - really - a re-make. In fact, it was hardly a film!
- Richard Gere, Jackal, 1997. Also in the mix for the hunted… in the perfect example of ruining a great yarn.
- Gabriel Byrne, The Man in the Iron Mask, 1998. D’Artagnan remained Irish when Neeson preferred Victor Hugo to Alexandre Dumas. Neeson was a sexual sequoia said critic John Lahr. And he hadn’t even seen him in the shower. No matter, many ladies agreed with his description.
- Geoffrey Rush, Les Miserables, 1998. Director Roman Polanski’s idea of Inspector Javert, if he could not land Nicholson. Two years later, Danish director Bille August turned Neeson into Valjean.
- Robert Carlyle, Angela’s Ashes, 1999. Yes, best to avoid this flaccid film of Frank McCourt’s oustanding book about his Limerick childhood.
- Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow, 1999. Neeson would have felt right at home. Tim Burton cast boasted three Star Wars sith lords: Darths Tyranus, Sidious and Maul, aka Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Rauy Parkl.
- Heath Ledger, The Body, 2001. First, the Irish Neeson, then Spanish Antonio Banderas and finally, the Australian Ledger became the rebellious New York priest disbelieving the “suicide” of his Vatican mentor.
- Stellan Skarsgård, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, 2003.
- Stellan Skarsgård, The Exorcist: The Beginning, 2003.
- Val Kilmer, Alexander, 2004. Liam spurned director Oliver Stone’s offer to have more time with the missus, Natasha Richardson, and their two young sons. “I didn't want to be stuck in Morocco for months without my family. An easy decision. Every cliché about kids is true - they grow up so quickly, you blink and they're gone, and you have to spend time with them now. And it's the same with my wife.”
- Hugh Bonneville, Asylum, 2005. Too busy with Kinsey, to re-awaken his wife Natasha Richardson’s sex drive as a sheer Mellors of a psychiatric patient.
Nicolas Cage, The Wicker Man, 2006. Another worthless “re-imagining.” First planned with Robert Caryle.
- Ed Harris, What's Wrong with Virginia, 2010. Something had to give... Burying himself in work after the tragic 2009 death of his wife, Natasha Richardson, Neeson had committed to one project too many - among the eight he was due to make in 2009/10 for directors as diverse as Spielberg... and Johnnie To.
- Nick Cassavetes, The Hangover Part II, 2010. Neeson’s guest spot as a tattoo artist had to be junked when he was too busy on another sequel, Clash of the Titans 2, to do re-shoots for director Todd Phillips. Fellow director Cassavetes took over. Originally, Phillips offered the cameo Mel Gibson - until his young cast objected in no uncertain terms to the alleged anti-Semite and wife-beater.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln, 2011.
“I’m past my sell-by date.” Spielberg’s Schindler was his perfect choice for several years until the Irishman got tired of waiting. Within months, Spielberg had found another perfect 16th US President but Daniel, five years younger than Neeson, backed off. “I can't account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore one life as opposed to another,” he wrote to Spielberg. “In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator rather than a participant.”
Then, Leonardo DiCaprio (Daniel’s co-star in The Gangs of New York) was having dinner with the Spielbergs. “And Leo said: What's happening with Lincoln? You've been, what, five years on this thing? And I said: Longer. I told him I had... anotehr screenplay and I wasn't able to re-approach Daniel. And the next day, Leo's on the phone. And he said… This is Daniel Day-Lewis's cell phone - he’s expecting your call. Leo had gone to bat for me… and got Daniel and I together. Everything at that point started really moving quickly.” “It occurred to me that an actor murdered Abraham Lincoln,” aid Daniel. “ So it’s only fitting that, every once in awhile, an actor tries to bring him back to life again.” For doing so, Day-Lewis won an historic third Oscar. Spielberg had known Neeson since he helped test kids for Empire of the Sun in 1987, when (despite Excalibur and The Bounty), he was working as a house painter (and living with Helen Mirren). It was vice-versa in 2015 when Neeson subsituted Day-Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s Silence.
- Liev Schreiber, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 2012. He didn’t play LBJ, either...! Liam was first choice for Lyndon Baines Johnson - giving orders while on the can - in director Lee Daniels’ film based on Eugene Allen, a White House butler for eight presidents over 30 years, from Harry S Truman to Ronald Reagan.
- Tom Felton, Therese, 2012. Back in 1995, the Neesons - Liam and Natasha Richardson - were tapped as the adulterous lovers of Emile Zola’s 1867 classic, Thérèse Raquin. The collapse of the project led actor and stage director Charlie Stratton to spend decades preparing his version as his film directing debut. His Laurent was the ex-Draco Malfoy, nall grown up from his Harry Potter days.
- Ray Winstone, Noah, 2013. Neeson, Val Kilmer, Liev Schreiber - Darren Aronofsky searched far and wide for “an actor with the grit and size to be convincing as he goes head-to-head against Crowe's Noah.” They could have all played Noah, himself. But the role was Tubalcain, nemesis of the auteur’s life-long fascination with “a dark, complicated character who experiences real survivor's guilt.” And a lot of water.
- Tom Wilkinson, Selma, 2014. As directors switched from Lee Daniels to Ava DuVernay, Neeson was substituted by Wilkinson as LBJ - President Lyndon B. Johnson - finally stung into action by the Bloody Sunday violence against Dr Martin Luther King’s three Selma to Montgomery anti-segregation marches in 1965.