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Will Smith

 

  1. 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.
  2. Cuba Gooding Jr, Boyz n the Hood, 1990.    Too busy with his series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, to be Tre Styles, based on the debuting auteur John Singleton’s early life in South LA, where his mortgage-broker father (Laurence Fishburne) kept him out of trouble and into college. This tribute to his dad made him the youngest  best director Oscar nominee - two years younger than  the previous title-holder. Orson Welles.
  3. Michael Jai White, Spawn, 1996. All the obvious heavyweights - Smith, Cuba Gooding Jr, Wesley Snipes, Tony Todd (Candyman), Denzel Washington  and Tarantino favourites Samuel L Jackson, Ving Rhames - were seen for the movies’ first black superhero. (The later filmed Black Pantherwas born first, in a 1966 comic - 26 yearsbefore Spawn).  Plus the usual rappers LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur. And the inevitable unknown: Allen Payne, from New Jack City (with Snipes).  Smith felt the role would upset his current squeaky-clean image. Not easy, said White, to win audience sympathy for “the most tragic character I’ve encountered,” a government assassin back from hell. Hence, Spawn 2 and Spawn 3: The Ultimate Battle never battled.
  4. 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.
  5. Chris Rock, Lethal Weapon 4, 1998.   One sequel is enough! Roger Ebert’s Chicago Tribune review made #1 a hit way beyond Warner’s meagre expectations He felt  #4 was mere out-takes…  All the usual black suspects - Combs (aka Puff Daddy in those day), Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Chris Tucker, Larenz Tate- rejected the gay cop, Lee Butters. Rock rolled, but as, suddenly,\ the father of Danny Glover’s grandchild! As usual Glover said: “I’m too old for this shit!”. This time he meant it, as he and Mel Gibson finally reached the ages of Murtaugh and Riggs as scripted back in 1986.

  6. Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, 1998.  
    “I didn't get it when I read it. It's a hard movie to pitch - everybody lives inside a computer…  It was only when I saw it that I really got it.”  The score’s composer Don Davis said Johnny Depp was first Neo 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. Because, he said, of an agent’s bad advice, and not wanting to be the The Alien Guy after Men In Black, he “turd” it down for Wild Wild West - the movie he regrets making the most. “But that’s the role Keanu was born to play. When I see the choices he made, there are a hundred occasions where I would have messed that up...  At that point I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don't try and perform every momen.”  If Will had accepted Neo, Val Kilmer and not Laurence Fishburne would have been Morpheus. “In short, one leading black man is OK - not two!”  Mrs Will, Jada Plnkett Smith, joined the next two chapters. Nine years later, in another sf film (a re-make flop), their son, Jaden, 10, appeared with Reeves in The Day The Earth Stood Still, 2008

  7. 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.
  8. John Travolta, A Civil Action, 1998.  Smith had been first choice for the true court case about the pollution deaths of 12 childen from leukemia. Chicago critic Roger Ebert nailed it as ”John Grisham for adults… The law is about who wins, not about who should win.” Sole surprise was the lightweight Travolta appearing for the kids’ families. Smith would have been dynamite.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
  11. Kevin Spacey, K-Pax, 2001.    Then along came Ali...Andhis alien’s shrink, Kevin Spacey, became the alien.

  12. - 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.

  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Mark Wahlberg, The Truth About Charlie, 2002.  How do you re-make a gem like Charade?  Jonathan Demmer thought of matching Smith and Thanndi Newton when watching the original 1962 couple, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.  Smith got delayed on Aliand could never get to Paris in time.  Wahlberg was rushed into his (and Cary’s) place, which is why Newton stole it all. I was hired to write publicity material, started interviewing  director Demme, as wary of me as I was of his ghastly script,  and then I was told no material was required. I was paid off in full - like an A Lister with a pay or play deal.  I wuz right. Film stank. Wahlberg called it his worst. Demme’s, too.
  16. Bernie Mac, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. 2002.   Murray was not a happy camper on the first film in 2000. Director McG said the actor attacked him in-set - denied by Murray. But he certainly had a blazing row with co-star Lisa Liu that halted shooting for a day!  Allegedly, Murray told her: “What the hell are you doing here? You can't act!" He refused to reprise Charlie’s right-hand man, Bosley, the sequel… allowing the character to become, suddenly, black. Inevitablyu, Smith and Jamie Foxx were considered - but pricey. Enter: burly Mac. Film flopped, so no 3 or 4. Indeed no more Angels until actress-turned-auteur Elizabeth Banks’ lukewarm 2019 reboot. With Bosley as a woman. Banks, in fact. Next time, Peter Dinklage?
  17. Denzel Washington, Man on Fire,2003.   Cruise, Robert Duvall, Will Smith, Bruce Willis  - different ages and colours - were offered  action man John W Creasy – in one of the quickest re-make on record. Just seven years had a lapsed since Scott Glenn was the  ex-US  Special Ops hero.  UK director Tony Scott  had wanted  Marlon Brando (who had worked on the script) or Robert Duvall in 1983, when the suits thought he was too inexperienced and put it on hold until choosing Lelouch apprentice  Élie Chouraqui , who, like Scott, had never made an actioner!   Scott  got  on with his Hollywood career.  Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II. Revenge, Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Crimson Tide, The Fan, Enemy of the State, Spy Game. (Or: Costner, Cruise, De Niro, Murphy, Pitt, Redford, Smith Washington, Willis, etc). And got the re-tread.  And Denzel… after running into him at his doctor’s office!
  18. 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?”
  19. Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda, 2004.     Investors preferred names - Will or Denzel Washington - but Terry George kept the faith with Don.

  20. Johnny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004.   
    Will as Willy Wonka - was among director Tim Burton’s often bizarre fancies for the chocolatier . The 29 others went from his ole Beetlejuice Michael Keaton, to… Rowan Atkinson, Dan Aykroyd, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Chevy Chase, Warwick Davis, Robert De Niro, James Gandolfini, Dwayne Johnson, Ian McKellen, Marilyn Manson, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, John Neville, Leslie Nielsen, Brad Pitt, Peter Sallis, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Will Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, Christopher Walken, Robin Williams. And the surviving Monty Python crew (also up for the 1970 version): John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Among the five exec producers, author Roald Dahl’s widow, Liccy, wanted her husband’s favourite Willy - Dustin Hoffman.   If not possible she voted for UK comics, Eddie Izzard or David Walliams. She was quite happy with Depp… who found Willy’s voice while riffing on a stoned George W Bush!

  21. Brad Pitt, Mr and Mrs Smith, 2005.    Executive thinking - get Smith for Smith?  Opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones at the time.
  22. Brandon Routh, Superman Returns, 2005. 
  23. Jamie Foxx, Miami Vice, 2005.    Although the TV  show’s creator Michael Mann considered the obvious big A Listers  for Detective Ricardo Tubbs - Smith,  Samuel L Jackson, Denzel Washington - it was obvious that Foxx would get the smart threads gig. He it was, after  all, who suggested a movie of the series to Mann in the first place. He just didn’t think it would be oh so serious…  Having worked with both superstars,  Foxx told Deadline Hollywood’s Mike Fleming that Smith and Tom Cruise were ultimate alpha males, the most competitive people he’d ever met. “That’s what it takes to be #12.”
  24. 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.
  25. Adam Sandler, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, 2006.      Smith and Nicolas 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.”
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. Chris Evans, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2010.  The first screen version of the WWII propaganda comicbook hero - Defender of the Defenceless - since Republic’s 1944 serial (with Dick Purcell), two 1979  tele-quickies (Rep Brown) and the 1989 movie (Matt Salinger, son of the monumental JD, no less). A 1981 Universal plan for Jeff Bridges  never flew. Nor did Cannon’s 1984 take which UK director Michael Winner never got around to casting (well, not out loud).Also missing the 2010 nine-picture deal for Cap Am sequels, Avengers movies and cross-overs were… Jensen Ackles, Wilson Bethel, Michael Cassidy, Dane Cook, Chace Crawford, Garrett Hedlund, Kellan Lutz, Ryan Phillippe, Scott Porter, Alexander Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan (chosen for Bucky Barnes), Channing Tatum (in last three), Mike Vogel, Sam Worthington.  Plus two of the Jonas brothers  band (Joe and Kevin), three of the TV-Marvelverse: Wilson Bethel (Daredevil), Chad Michael Murray (Agent Carter), Derek Theler (New Warriors).  And John Krasinski. “This is stupid,” he yelled during his costumed test, “I’m not Captain America!” And he wasn’t. But he was Amazon’s TV’s surprise Jack Ryan  in 2018. While Smith ditched Marvel for  DC’s Suicide Squad in 2015.
  29. 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.
  30. 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.

  31. Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, 2012.  
    Quentin Tarantino was planning his first Western (well, second after Reservoir Dogs!). and wanted Will to saddle up,. But he let  Will let Django go…  “Django wasn't the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character was the lead! I was like, 'No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!' I thought it was brilliant. Just not for me.”   Smith had been the lead in The Wild Wild West.  Didn’t do him any good.

  32. 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’s Rent musical and TV’sLaw & Order, was all 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 also been selected by actor-producer James Gandolfini for his (thwarted) version of Healing - eight years earlier.

  33. 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...
  34. 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. 
  35. Ben Affleck, Triple Frontier, 2019.    Five buddies take down a South American drug lord. But whichmagnificent five?  Well, it was only the squad leaders  mentioned – one wrinklie, one younger –as the script lay on the ropes for eight years, going from directors Kathleen Bigelow to JC Chandor and from Paramount to, but of course, Netflix.  Tom Hanks-Johnny Depp were the 2010 duo, followed by Denzel Washington-Sean Penn, Tom Hardy-Channing Tatum, plus Ben Affleck and his bro, Casey. Minus any cited pardner, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith  and Mark Wahlberg also featured in the mixes.
  36. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Trial Of The Chicago 7, 2019Steven Spielberg signed the great scenarist Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, etc) to dramatise the 2006 Chicago 10 documentary produced by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter about the infamous trial of seven guys charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, etc., for their anti-war protests during Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention.   Paul Greengrass, even Ben Stiller, were possibles to take over when the 2007 Writers Guild strike upset Spielberg’s  schedule. Ten years later, impressed by Sorkin’s directing debut, Molly’s Game, Spielberg said he should helm his shelved scenario. Sorkin saw no reason to alter  Spielberg’s choice of Sacha Baron Coehn for Abbie Hoffman, while necessarily having to change other planned players – such as Abdul-Mateen II replacing  Majors as Bobby Seale, the eighth man charged. He  had his trial severed during the proceedings, lowering the number from eight to seven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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