- Bruno Kirby, The Godfather: Part II, 1974.
- Keith Carradine, Pretty Baby, 1977. The subject was horrendous - a prostitute allowing her 12-year-old daughter’s virginity to be auctioned off in a brothel in the red-light district of New Orleans, circa 1917. French director Louis Malle saw 28 hopefuls and/or instant (parental) refusals for little Violet… 15 actresses for her mother… and 15 guys for for the real life , misshapen, hydrocephallic photographer Ernest J Bellocq, whose Storyville work of the epoch influenced the style of the surprisingly elegant film. Robert Redford was first choice, Jack Nicholson second. Before falling for Carradine, Malle saw Albert Brooks, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Malcolm McDowell (the only Brit short-listed), Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve (planning to make us believe a man could fly), John Travolta (more into Grease)… plus such flat out surprises as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone (prepping FIST). Even Pesci and Christopher Walken…. way too creepy.
- James Woods, Once Upon A Time In America, US-France, 1983. To keep his top star, Robert De Niro, happy (and in line), producer Arnon Milchan had promised the other Jewish hood to Pesci. Maestro Sergio Leone was furious.“He was formidable in Raging Bull, but he’snot right for Max.” After musing on Richard Dreyfuss, the maestro found Woods on-stage. “His test wasn’t convincing, but I was attracted bythe nervousness behind his strange face.” Leone then offered Pesci his pick of the other roles. He chose Frankie Minaldi.
- Harvey Keitel, The Two Jakes, 1990.
- Paul Sorvino, The Rocketeer, 1990. In the mix - if he could tone down his fuggin’ language for fuggin’ Disney! Even if Eddie Valentine was an fuggin’ Mafia hood.
- Danny De Vito, Jack The Bear, 1991. Joe had (amazingly) won his Oscar. De Vito had lost his Oscar but won this (real) clown raising two motherless sons.
- Anthony Quinn, Jungle Fever, 1991. Writer-producer-director Spike Lee first asked fellow New Yorker Martin Scorsese to play John Turturro’s father. Then, one of Marty’s Goodfellas, the ex-waiter at Amici’s in the Bronx, before settling on... Zorba the Italian.
- Cheech Marin, The Lion King, 1993. Pesci was invited to voice Banzai the hyena in the 32nd Disney toon - Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa! Marin had made his Disney-voice debut as Tito, a snappy Chihuahua in the Disneyfied Dickens, Oliver & Company, 1987.
- Nathan Lane, The Lion King, 1993. Joe was also offered Timon. His diary ruined both plans. Lane and Matthew Broderick shared scenes but were recorded separately. They later linked up for the live action re-make, The Producers, 2005.
- Rob Schneider, Judge Dredd, 1994. Judge Sly Stallone phoned Rob when Joe, a very wise guy, bailed out.
- Bob Hoskins, Nixon, 1995. . Mr Quirky passed on head FBI honcho J Edgar Hoover… like what would his pals say. Top US critic Roger Ebert praised Hoskins’ feral, poisonous Hoover, “eating melon from the mouth of a handsome pool boy and ogling the Marine guards.” There was a second Hoover in the cast: Kevin Dunn, playing Charles Colson, was J Edgar v Chaplin in 1991.
- Bruno Kirby, Donnie Brasco, 1997. Dumb move... London helmer Mike Newell’s first Nicky was stupidly dropped by the studio - after Goodfellas opened but before Joe won his Oscar for it.
- Vin Diesel, Find Me Gulty, 2006. A rare bad casting idea from Sidney Lumet. for Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio, a Mafia soldier defending himself in America’s longest court trial. With Pesci aboard, this would have become My Cousin Joey.
- Ernest Dancy, Zombieland, 2009. As the businessman zombie, when the idea was to have several celebrity zombs - Mark Hamill, Matthew McConaughey, Patrick Swayze, Jean-Claude Van Damme, etc.
- Pruitt Taylor Vince, The Life and Death of John Gotti, 2016. Pesci filed a $3m suit against the producers claiming breach of contract. He said he’d gained 30 lbs to play Gotti’s right-hand man, the overweight Angelo (Quack Quack) Ruggiero. Fiore Films made full use of Pesci’s name in promoting the movie – and then offered him $1m for a lesser role. The suit claimed the Fiore concocted “some pretext for terminating the contract…to avoid paying plaintiff anything for the substantial publicity and buzz that was generated.” No horse’s head, though.