Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1970. Author Roald Dahl’s original choice to play his eccentric chocolatier was BBC radio Goon Spike Milligan. Next? Spike’s co-Goon Peter Sellers was too expensive. LA’s choice, Joel Grey, was “not physically imposing enough.” Ron Moody would have frightened the horses - and the kids. UK comic Frankie Howerd was into two film farces. Jon Pertwee was wed to Doctor Who. Carry On stars Sidney James and Kenneth Williams were as keen as (a way too old) Fred Astaire. One by one, all six Monty Pythons (Palin, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones) were judged not international enough (and Howerd, Milligan and Pertwee were?!) Cleese, Idle and Palin were offered the 2004 re-hash, by which time Chapman had died and Gilliam and Jones turned director.
Dudley Moore, Arthur, 1980. He heard the somewhat surprising Hollywood offer on January 7, 1980. But he was committed to Time Bandits.Palin saw Dud’s film in ’82. “That rare thing - a comedy with laughs all the way through and a happy ending. Dudley very funny - manages to make all his jokes and gags have that attractive quality of spontaneous asides.”
- John Cleese, Time Bandits, 1981. Director Terry Gilliam wanted Palin (the funniest man in the world according to Cleese) as Robin Hood, but HandMade Films suggested Cleese would sell better in the US.John was also asked to be Robin in the quickie version being made to beat Kevin Coster'sepic to the cinemas in 1991.
- Martin Hewitt, Yellowbeard, 1982. Eric Idle, annoyed at how Time Bandits almost turned into a Monty Python film (when it wasn’t) , was thethe only star happy about this one. It had John Cleese and Graham Chapman wrote and starred in the title role but Terry Jones kept refusing it. Likewise, Palin: “I’m not budging,” he told exec producer Dennis O’Brien. With reason. Cleese called the script “one of the worst I’veever read.”
- Sting, Brimstone and Treacle, 1982.Palin had tried to persuade Richard Loncraine to direct one of his TVRipping Yarns. Now Loncraine asked him to star in the film version of the Dennis Potter TV play. But for it to head Palin’s ’81 work load, as he told his diary, it would need to be “totally and unequivocally unmissable. And it wasn’t that.” (Loncraine directed Palin’s next script and starring venture, The Missionary - aka“Mish” - 1982).
- Michael Caine, Water, 1984.Not for the first/last time, Palin is told that a HandMade film already has John Cleese (or Terry Jones). It doesn’t.Palin, non plus.He’s not impressed by writer-director Dick Clement’sinternational comedy - “a very dangerous concept,” feels Palin.Worse, after 16 wonderful pages, the script falls apart, laughs stop, “no characters are developed, new characters are thrust in... jokes become stretched and laboured.” So, inevitably,Caine said yes!
- Alexander Godunov, The Money Pit, 1985.
“Heart falls at the title,” said Palin, when actor-turned-director Richard Benjamin asked him to join Universal’s Xmas biggie. “Hundreds of relentlessly funny New York Jewish one-liners... [no] real warmth, depth of character or indeed charm of any kind.” When shoved out around Easter, Chicago critic Roger Ebert was more trenchant: “one funny scene and 91 minutes of running time to kill.”
- Tom Courteney, Leonard Part 6, 1987. “The sledge-hammer of zaniness has been wielded mercilessly,” said Palin of the script. “It’s cruel, corny, clumsy stuff and... I’m not yet ready to do anything for money - even be Bill Cosby’s butler with some good linsc.”The “comedy” was so awful that Cosby told people not to go see it and both the TV rights to make sure it was never seen on the box.
- Jeroen Krabbé, A World Apart, 1987. Palin’s phone rings: Could he fly to Zimbabwe to be Joe Slovo, “the nicest man in the world” and an important figure in the South Africa liberation struggle. “Makes a change from the camp butler or the zany transvestite English hairdresser.”No, he was rehearsing A Wish Called Wanda.Phone rings again: “Prince Edward here...” about joining a TV show for charity.
- Terry Gilliam, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1987. Fellow Python Terry Gilliam asked Palin to play his Prime Minister of the Moon - before dropping the character. Gilliam then offered “the consolation part of a man who is discovered in a corner singing a mournful song, prior to falling dead from his seat. I assure him l’m happy to sit this one out.” Palin demurred, Gilliam took over the part….
- Robin Williams, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1987. … then,next, when Sean Connery withdrew from his King of the Moon cameo, Gilliam called up Palin again - while another Python in the film, Eric Idle, had persuaded Williams to do it. Gilliam withdrew his offer to Palin. "That's what friends are for.To treat them shabbily. It was a very unpleasant moment."
- Peter O’Toole, High Spirits, 1987. Midway through auteur Neil Jordan’s “Irish-American hokum,” Palin had a surge of enthusiasm, for his “interestingly manic” character. Then, heread on. “The comedy becomes more separate... the laughs cruder.. [with]all the hallmarks of Hollywood’s corrosive influence.”
- Michael Caine, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 1988. Or King of the Mountain, when directorFrank Oz asked him toform a con-man duo with Steve Martin. “Different for me - I’m not the victim or the shopkeeper but the dominant instigator of most of the events - and a meaty role which would place considerable demands on my acting, but that’s what I need.” Two days later, an embarrassed Oz tellshim another actor has changed his mind and now wants in again... Richard Dreyfuss.It’s Dirty Rotten Criminals whenPalin is calledfor New York talks. Dreyfuss returns to the mix untilCaine strolls in. “It’s between you three,” said a rather harrassed-sounding Oz.
- Tim Robbins, Erik The Viking, 1988.There was a flurry of names run up various flagpoles to be Erik,from Nicolas Cage and Tom Hulce to Michel Plain and... wit for it… Harrison Ford!!!
- Robbie Coltrane, Nuns On The Run, 1989. From Palin’s diary, December 14, 1987. “A script by Johnny Lynn... has arrived with Eric’s blessing.”Palin was too busy so no Python double act as Idle co-starred with Coltrane in akind of Some Like It Nun.
- Rowan Atkinson, The Lion King, 1993. Also in the mix to voice Zazu in the 32nd Disney toon - Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa! - were Chris Barrie, Simon Callow, David Jason, Spike Milligan, Vic Reeves, Patrick Stewart. Plus various UK comedy giants: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; The Two Ronnies: Barker and Ronnie Corbett; The Goodies: Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Odie; and the Monty Pythons: Palin, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle.
- Paul McGann, Doctor Who (The Movie), TV, 1996.
- Johnny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. A major Monty P fan, director Tim Burton also mused over John’s fellow Pythons Palin and Eric Idle for Willy Wonka. (They’d also been offered Willy in 1971!!!). Burton’s 20 other fancies were: Ole Beetlejuice Michael Keaton plus Rowan Atkinson, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Martin, Leslie Nielsen, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Will Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, Christopher Walken, Robin Williams. Depp said his Willy, as it were, was “part Howard Hughes-reclusive, part 1970s glamorous rock star.” No wonder Marilyn Manson wanted the gig.