- Christopher Martin, House Party, 1990. Created by the auteur Reginald Hudlin for DJ Jazzy Jeff or the Fresh Prince, aka Jeffrey A Townes and Will.
- Gary Sinise, Snake Eyes, 1997. The idea was Smith and Nicolas Cage. Even though this was after Independence Day, Paramount balked at Smith’s request for $12m. Then, Men In Black came out... Too late! He’d gone... for $14m in Enemy of the State.
- Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, 1998. “I was not mature enough as an actor…” The score’s composer Don Davis said Johnny Depp was first choice of the Wachowski siblings (then brothers Larry and Andy, now sisters Lana and Lilly). Warners voted: Brad Pitt or Val Kilmer. They passed. OK, said Warners: Depp or Reeves.
(As if that was a choice). Also seen for the neo-noir Neo: Nicolas Cage (family commitments), Leonardo DiCaprio (“too many special effects”), Lou Diamond Phillips (his agent said: instant flop), David Duchovny (preferred TV’s X-Files), and the surprisingly honest Smith. “I would have messed it up! And he, er, “turd” it down for Wild Wild West. The film that Will most regrets making is Wild Wild West, which he chose over playing Neo... But that’s the role Keanu was born to play. When I watch the movie and I see the choices he made, there are a hundred occasions when I think: I would have messed that up.” The family did not lose out...His wife Jada Plunkett Smith, won a part in the second and third chapters. And nine years later, in another sf film (but a re-make and a flop), Smith’s ten-year-old son, Jaden, appeared with Reeves in The Day The Earth Stood Still, 2008.
- Chris Tucker, Rush Hour, 1998. The spec script by novelist Ross LaMann in 1995 was first aimed at two black cops, Martin Lawrence - and stand-up Dave Chappelle as Detective James Carter. Then black and white with Lawrence and Chris Farley (who ODed at 33 in 1997). Next Carters included Eddie Murphy, Tupac Shakur (mjurdered at and Smith. Disney was far from keen on director Brett Ratner’s final Asian/black duo - Jackie Chan, Chris Rock - and the $33m project moved to New Line. And global glory: $244, 386, 864. And global glory: $244, 386, 864. Sorry about that, Disney.
- Chris Rock, Dogma, 1999. Said Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers: Thou shalt not stop laughing… For another of his askew views of the world, New Jersey (over) writer and director Kevin Smith talked with Smith and Samuel Jackson about Rufus. But Rock rolled as the 13th apostle.
- Samuel L Jackson, Shaft, 2000. Writer-producer-director John Singleton’s re-make went from Don Cheadle to Smith to Wesley Snipes to Sam... to hell. No lustre. "The scenario was terrible,” said Snipes. “An insult to Afro-Americans and to the icon that is Shaft, himself.” And, naturally, he added that it would have made far more money if he had been John Shaft - as proved by his triumphant Blade movies
- Kevin Spacey, K-Pax, 2001. Then along came Ali...Andhis alien’s shrink, Kevin Spacey, became the alien.
- - Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, 2002.
Michael Bay’s choice for Stu Shepard. But Bay wasn’t happy - nothing to blow up! Farrell said he’d heard that Bay was saying: “How can we get him out of the phone booth?” Alfred Hitchcock was taken with Larry Cohen’s story 40 years earlier but could never explain what kept the guy stuck in the booth for so long. The 90s answer? A sniper! It was now or never - with cell phones everywhere, phone-booths were going out of style. Director Joel Schumacher talked to Jim Carrey when they made Batman Forever, 1994, then ,Mel Gibson, Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg and, finally, the young Irish lad he’d made into a sudden star with Tigerland, 1999. They shot it all in nine days! “It was a blast,” said Farrell, “the most intense experience of my life.” Cohen retooled his Booth for the mobile generation two years later in Cellular, where the hero was still trapped on a phone, but now able to move around… Michael Bay remained unimpressed.
- George Clooney, Intolerable Cruelty, 2002. After losing Richard Gere, helmer Jonathan Demme took the much adapted scenario to Will - also wanted by Demme when recycling Charade…into the video bin.
- John Cusack, Runaway Jury, 2002. Two years earlier, UK director Mike Newell asked Smith to be John Grisham’s treacherous jury member - with Jennifer Connelly as his girlfriend and co-conspirator.Gary Fleder made the final film with Cusack and Rachel Weisz.
- Bruce Willis, Jersey Girl, 2003. During his meltdown as a New York publicist, Ben Affleck insults a movie star. Bruce Willis. Until he could not be “secured.” OK, Smith took his place. “Yeah,” said Affleck’s Ollie, “like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is ever gonna have a movie career.” Co-stars Affleck and Liv Tyler had shared Armageddon with Willis. Kevin Smith would direct him in Cop Out, 2009 - “the unhappiest, most bitter, and meanest emo-bitch I’ve ever met at any job I've held down.” Their relationship can best be summed by Willis telling Smith: “I’m Bruce Willis! I’ve been Bruce Willis successfully for 25 years! How long you been Silent Bob, motherfucker?”
- Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda, 2004. Investors preferred names - Will or Denzel Washington - but Terry George kept the faith with Don.
- Denzel Washington, Man on Fire, 2004. UK director Tony Scott’s re-make of the thrillerhe was supposed to have made in 1987. Robert De Niro and Brue Willis were also offered the role of Creasy. All three stars had previously worked with Scott.
- Johnny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. Will as Willy Wonka - was among director Tim Burton’s often bizarre fancies. The 22 others? One ole Beetlejuice Michael Keaton, three Monty Pythons - John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin - plus Rowan Atkinson, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Martin, Leslie Nielsen, Brad Pitt, 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.
- Brad Pitt, Mr and Mrs Smith, 2005. Executive thinking - get Smith for Smith? Opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones at the time.
- Brandon Routh, Superman Returns, 2005.
- Adam Sandler, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, 2006. Smith andNicolas Cage (or James Gandolfini) as two straight New York firemen (Joe and Benny in 2001) having a gay marriage to win lost health benefits was a plan long before the project reached Sandler (and Kevin James) - and became what Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers trounced as“mealy-mouthed hypocrisy.”
- Jamie Foxx, Dreamgirls, 2006. Smith lost the musical to Foxx but never held it against him. Or not for long… When Will produced the third film version of the Annie musical, he chose Foxx for Will Stacks… the script’s new name for Daddy Warbucks.
- Denzel Washington, American Gangster, 2007. In the loop for the 1970s’ (real) Manhattan’s drug overlord. Likewise, Don Cheadle. Washington won it back when Ridley Scott took charge.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, 2009. According to the (often unreliable) Hollywood Reporter, feelers were put out to Smith and Brad Pitt, before Leo snapped up Cobb... within the architecture of the mind.
- Chris Evans, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2010. In early talks to be Steve Rogers, the super-serumed alter-ego of America's symbol of liberty (from WW II to Obama) and part of Marvel’s superhero squad. Also missing the nine-picture deal for Cap Am sequels, Avengers movies and cross-overs were… Jensen Ackles, Dane Cook, Chace Crawford, Kellan Lutz, Johnny Pacar, Ryan Phllippe, Alexander Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Channing Tatum, Mike Vogel, Sam Worthington. And the siblings Kevin and Nick of the Jonas Brothers band.
- Josh Brolin, Oldboy, 2012. Brolin joined Smith in Men in Black 3 in 2011 - and then replaced him when Spike Lee took over from Steven Spielberg as helmer of the re-tread of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 Korean study on vengeance. Pity ! A Will and Spike movie would, surely, be something. The 140 minute film was slashed by Sony to 105 which is why this is pnly A Spike Lee Film and not, as per usual, A Spike Lee Joint.
- Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher, 2012. UK writer Lee Child’s tough cop thriller - a kind of Sherlock homeless! - seemed perfect for Smith’s annual box-office assault, but he declined.LikewiseJamie Foxx, Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn.
- Jesse L Martin, Sexual Healing, 2013. Not so much the same film as the same role… Motown legend, Marvin Gaye. Cameron Crowe had “many meetings” with Smith about a biopic. “He couldn't say yes. It’s a tough thing to play Marvin Gaye. He’s a towering figure… Who’d want to be the guy who played Marvin and didn’t nail it? Will isn’t wrong. The guy who plays it should be a guy who tears into it and knows it’s the right thing, and I don't think he ever came around the corner on it.” Martin, star of Broadway’sRent musical and TV’sLaw & Order, wasall of that - for Julien Temple’s look at Marvin during his Euro rehabilitation in the early 60s. With Brendan Gleason as Freddy Cousaert, the UK music promoter helping get Marvin’s career back on tack with his biggest-selling album, Midnight Love. Martin had alsobeen selected by actor-producer James Gandolfini for his (thwarted) version of Healing - eight years earlier.
- Jamie Foxx, Annie, 2014. Smith had made his son, Jaden, a star. Now it was Willow’s turn. But that was in 2011 and with all the delays that ensued she growed like Topsy. Her successor was the then youngest ever Oscar nominee for Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2000 (aged nine years, 135 days - a mere six in the film). With Willow gone, Will was not so keen anymore on playing Will Stacks, the updated Daddy Warbucks - and gave him to Foxx. Nothing, of course, to do with the fact that Jamie had an Oscar and Will did not...
- Liam Hemsworth, Independence Day: Resurgence, 2015. When a studio keeps its star waitng 20 years for a sequel - as if there was anything left for Fox to blow up! - the suits musy have figured on problems. They got ‘em… Smith reportedlywanted $50m for two sequels. Enter: Hemsworth, aka Gale Hawthorne of The Hunger Games franchise, and younger brother of Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor. Not as Smith’s Captain Steve Hiller but President Bill Pullman’s son, James.