- Alan Vint, Panic In Needle Park, 1971. "He was a dream, got the first part I ever sent him up for," boasted his late manager Bob LeMond. Not true. Director Jerry Schatzberg rejected him. John got the next job. An h.i.s. trousers commercial.
- Randy Quaid, The Last Detail, 1973. Director Hal Ashby saw him as a teenager whose father had just died - in a Mutual commercial. His audition led to a casting director getting him his major TV break - Welcome Back Kotter, 1975-79. When they finally met years later, Jack Nicholson remembered him - not from Saturday Night Fever but "that great commercial."
- Ted Neely, Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973. “This kid will be a very big star,” wrote Robert Stigwood after auditioning Travolta for Christ in the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. To prove himself right, the Australian pop tycoon produced John’s 1977-78 star-making double-whammy of Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
- Michael Sarrazin, For Pete's Sake, 1974. Convinced that she made all her partners into stars (Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford), Barbra Streisand passed on Travolta.
- 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 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 Travolta (more into Grease and threby a rare box-office double-whammy after Saturday Night Fever), 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)… plus such flat out surprises as , Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone (prepping FIST), even the creepy Joe Pesci and Christopher Walken.
- Richard Gere, Days of Heaven, 1978. TV made it impossible and made him depressed. "One week later, Robert Stigwood came up with a deal that was mind-boggling: $1m for three pictures" - Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Moment By Moment.
- Brad Davis, Midnight Express, 1978. If Travolta was up for it then, as night follows day and Tom follows Jerry, so was Gere.
- Richard Gere, Blood Brothers, 1978. "I don't know John well, but he's a very personable, genuinely nice - which is rare," says the Buddhist of the Scientologist. "He's got a good heart." He needed it.
- Christopher Atkins, The Blue Lagoon, 1979. Director Randal Kleiser wanted his Grease star to be part of a shipwrecked couple on a desert isle - and nude throughout the re-make. No thank you, said John.
- Richard Gere, An American Gigolo, 1979.
“The biggest star in the world at the time” split for all kinds of true/false reasons - apparently Travolta wanted $3m, no nudity and final cut (!) or simply a break as his girlfriend had just died…” “Best thing that happened to the film,” LA auteur Paul Schrader told me in London. "I'd softened it quite a bit for John."Gere had been first choice, until Travolta showed interest in 1978. "It’s Paul’s best work, his sole script with redeemable characters." Schrader, felt that Travolta lost his passion after the flop of Moment By Moment (a more saccharine version of his own young man-older woman affair). "He kept asking for so many delays I became concerned. Those kind of delays often result in the film not being made. Then our mothers had died the same week. I asked Paramount to give him a firm start date - 'with you or without you.' He said: 'Without me'.” “We had a weekend to go get another actor,” co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer told Deadline Hollywood’s Mike Fleming Jr in December 2013. “The studio wanted Christopher Reeve because he was Superman …the perfect star. But he didn’t really fit the part.” Schrader went back to Geare. “There were some hard feelings to soothe over…” Bruckheimer focused on convincing Gere, “but we didn’t tell Paramount. And so Monday morning, we go into the office and said that Reeves had passed but we got Gere. He’d just come off LookingFor Mr. Goodbar, so he was a hot commodity. They said fine, but you have to cut the budget. We did, and got the movie made.” “John was very romantic.,” said Gere’s co-star Lauren Hutton. “If John had played the role, it would have been much more romantic and you would have seen the gigolo kiss. With Richard, you never really see the gigolo kissing. You see everything leading up to it. You see his expertise in dressing, more than his expertise at romance.”
Michael Beck, Xanadu, 1979. Despite (or because?) his Grease girl, Olivia Newton John, was starring, Travolta zana-didn’t touch this alleged musical (Gene Kelly’s finale). Andy Gibb of the Bee Gees band, also fled what proved such a disaster that Olivia refused any other filmusical for 30 years!
Dudley Moore, Arthur, 1980. Had no interest in being a comic drunk millionaire. “Don't you wish you were me? I know I do.”]
Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1980.
- Treat Williams, Prince of the City, 1981. Due for director Brian De Palma in 1978. Sidney Lumet took it over. “What you turn down can be a gift to someone else. There is enough to go around.” Obviously, Gere had a day job at the time.
- Dudley Moore, Arthur, 1981. "I was probably less preoccupied with my career than others were. I was turning down movies that I should have taken."
- Henry Winkler, Night Shift, 1982. "I'd just finished Blow Out and wanted something lighter." Like... Arthur?
- Richard Gere, An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982. "The girl had the best part." When the film became a hit, Travolta asked Warren Beatty if he should have made it. "You have two of the biggest movies in history [Saturday Night Fever, Grease]. Why do you need another? Just do good movies, John." For John, Beatty, "who has the ultimate show-business viewpoint," was right. "I don't need another blockbuster for my career. In the list of top-grossing movies - I may be the only actor the public went to see instead of a shark." That could not last for long. And did not.
- Sylvester Stallone, First Blood (aka Rambo),1982.
- Steven Bauer, Scarface, 1982. Director Brian De Palma calls again. But about Manny Ribera, not the titular Tony Montana. With Bauer, he obtained at least one true Cuban for Al’s Cuban gang.
- Richard Gere, Breathless, 1983. For once, Gere was inheriting not merely from Travolta, but Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, too. "His instincts are very different than mine and our careers, too," comments Gere about five times subbing Travolta. "Those projects would've been very different had John done them."
- Vincent Spano, Baby It's You, 1983. Writer-director John Sayles' one and only studio movie was not helped by Paramount bickering over A Name, even if he was too old. They even suggested The Name's Brother, Joey!
- Rex Smith, The Pirates of Penzance, 1983. A few surprising names were mentioned - Travolta, Brooke Shields!! - before Hollywood (almost uniquely) went with the Broadway cast.
- Prince, Purple Rain, 1983. Oh, Hollywood - Chapter 1,500,836… When Prince’s managers were searching for funding for the rock icon’s dream movie (scribbled over the years in his notebook while tour buses and planes) , the Warner Bros suits said: Yeah, sure. If you get Travolta to play Prince!
- Jack Nicholson Prizzi’s Honour, 1984. ”Do I ice her? Do I marry her?” Conundrum for Charley Partanna, hit-man for the Prizzi Family, when he falls for a fellow contractor: Kathleen Turner. John Huston had ten other Charley notions, each as mad as the other. Italians Travolta, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, made more sense than, say, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Ryan O’Neal, Christopher Reeve (!), Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight. Of course, Nicholson was the unlikeliest Brooklyn Mafioso since the Corleones' James Caan, but terrific… because Huston kept reminding him: ”Remember, he’s stupid!”
- Zeljko Ivanek, Mass Appeal, 1984. To prove his worth as the young priest, Travolta did a Colorado stage production with Charles Durning in Jack Lemmon's screen line-up.
- Tom Hanks, Splash, 1984. Forgetting Beatty's advice about "good movies, John, " he went through a succession of almighty flops. Then, CAA's über-agent Mike Ovitz warned him off director Ron Howard’s comedy because Beatty was prepping his own mermaid number. Due to Splash's splash, Beatty fled. And Travolta quit CAA.
- Cameron English, A Chorus Line, 1985. Offered $5m in 1980. "Too close to the truth. And it's inappropriate being so familiar to the public to take part in a film about a chorus line." He did his own version: Staying Alive. Difficult to guage the bigger mess.
- Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction, 1987.
- Tom Hanks, Big, 1987. Harrison Ford (and Albert Brooks) rejected the script by Steven Spielberg’s sister, Anne. And Fox rejected Gary Busey and… well, poor Trtavolta was Box Office Poison. First choice Hanks had to finish Dragnet and Punchline before he could head up Anne’s third and last filmed script, ninth and last producing gig. She’d also acted - in Escape To Nowhere in 1961, when her brother directed. At 13.
- Adam Coleman Howard, Slaves of New York, 1989. He originally agreed to be the painter Stach Stoltz.
Richard Gere, Internal Affairs, 1989. UK director Mike Figgis said Paramount wanted Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell (big hits in ’88’s Tequila Sunrise) as the badass cop-cum-hit man. “If we’d hired a movie star to play Peck,” noted producer Frank Mancuso Jr, “we might not have been able to so successfully explore the darkness of the character.” Some 19 other stars - Travolta, Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone…and four outsiders Richard Dean Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Ron Silver - all passed Peck to Gere for a double whammy comeback with Pretty Woman. “I've never been away,” snapped Gere. Oh, but he had. Almost to Palookaville.
Christopher Rydell, Blood and Sand, 1989. First mooted as a l978 re-make for Travolta by ex-porno producer Manuel S Conde, head of outfit called Manny's Filmmakers Inc. Rydell's partner, Sharon Stone, later planned The Lady Takes An Ace with Travolta - it nevcr took off.
Richard Gere, Pretty Woman, 1989.
- Franc D'Ambrosio, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
- John Heard, Home Alone, 1990. An astonishing 37 stars (Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc) were considered for the forgetful parents - nothing roles in a film written for and duly stolen by the stranded kid, Macauley Culkin.
- Stephen Tobolowsky, Thelma & Louise, 1990.
- Val Kilmer, The Doors, 1991.
“I had it down, worked on this guy for months.Really disappointing. I wanted to think that the people behind Jim Morrison had some of the magic." No, just squabbles. Producer Aaron Russo contacted Travolta in 1980 with rights to No One Gets Out Of Here Alive by Jerry Hopkins and ex-Doors gofer Danny Sugarman. Except the deal did not cover the music. Exit: Russo. Doors John Densmore and Robby Krieger preferred a docu as no actor could fill Jim's boots. Not the philosophy of Sugarman and a third Door, Ray Manzarek, sticking with Travolta as he interested Paramount and director Brian De Palma - while a back-Doors deal for Warners had helmer William Friedkin musing about "the Raging Bull of rock movies." By April 1982, everyone quit - five months before Rolling Stone's cover: "Jim Morrison - he's hot, he's sexy and he's dead."
- Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct, 1991.
- Bill Murray, Groundhog Day, 1992. The trouble with John, said director and co-writer Harold Ramis, was: “He’s far too nice.” Likewise Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks and Steve Martin.
- Tim Robbins, The Player, 1994. Independent (very) director Robert Altman made his comeback just before Travolta's due to an eleventh hour switch. It was correct decision. Because, as. Robbins' lady Susan Sarandon says: "Nobody plays assholes better than Tim."
- Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump, 1994. Life is like a box of projects, you never know what you're gonna refuse. Hey, passing one hit to Hanks was enough... “I probably should have said yes to But I gave Richard Gere and Tom Hanks a career...!”
- Tom Cruise, Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, 1994. .
- Ed Harris, Apollo 13, 1995. Even his big Pulp Fiction comeback could not win him this cherished role of the legendary NASA flight director Gene Kranz.
- Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible, 1995. Before Tom Cruise and JJ Abrams took it on - for 20-plus years! - Paramount had offered the (expected) franchise to Travolta, Nicolas Cage, George Clooney, Mel Gibson, Bruce Wills. And, inexplicably, Ralph Fiennnes… who would make a right dog’s breakfast out of another TV cult hero, John Steed, in The Avengers three years later.
- Johnny Depp, Nick of Time, 1996. Director John Badham swears he was considering Travolta before Pulp Fiction re-booted him. The studio wanted to wait for the Pulp opening - by which time it could not afford him.
- Johnny Depp, Donnie Brasco, 1996. Nearly off the ground with UK director Stephen Frears the year before when Travolta was one of many seen as the FBI man going undercover into the Mob. The others included: Tom Cruise, John Cusack, Andy Garcia, etc.
- Robin Williams, Jack, 1996. Director Francis Coppola’s movie about a fatal rejuvenating illness, making a kid out of a full grown man and, incidentally, a rotten movie!
- George Clooney, From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996. "One movie can make you, one move can re-make you." Hollywood's biggest comeback since Sinatra's started when Quentin Tarantino contacted the deep-sixed idol in 1993 about this horror-thriller... and then switched offers to Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega, once Michael Madsen withdrew. The Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez casting of Clooney did for him what Pulp Fiction did for Travolta. A new haircut and box-office cred.
- Antonio Banderas, Evita, 1996. An early 80s idea was hopelessly devoted to Danny and Sandy for Che and Eva.
- Christian Slater, Broken Arrow, 1996. You choose, said John Woo. The villain or the hero. No contest, said Travolta, the baddy! Quentin Tarantino had taught him good.
- Danny Glover, Gone Fishin’, 1996. Travolta was first attached as the fishing fanatic. John Candy and Rick Moranis and the film was eventually made with Glover and Joe Pesci after Candy’s death and the semi-retirement of Moranis. “This unbelievably moronic comedy” (Desson Howe, Washington Post) led to the tragic death of a stuntwoman in a boat gag that also injured her husband and father, stunters both.
- Dustin Hoffman, Mad City, 1997. Paris realisateur Costa-Gavras saw Travolta as the journalist and Dustin Hoffman as the hostage-taker - until Hoffman spent 45 minutes convincing Travolta to swop roles. Directors changed, too.
- Alec Baldwin, The Edge, 1997. Baldwin had nearly Faced/Off with Travolta.
- Sylvester Stallone, Cop Land, 1997. Miramax bully Harvey Weinstein did not wish, said director James Mangold, to “pay full freight” for interested A List actors: Cruise, Hanks. Penn. “Harvey’s talked to me about it,” Travolta told Mangold during a Florida meeting at the Church of Scientology, “but he wants me to do it for no money because he thinks I owe him for Pulp Fiction. But I’d like to believe that I had a little something to do with its success... I’ve already set aside the things I’m willing to do as a labour of love and this is not one of them.”
- Michael Keaton, Jackie Brown, 1997. Aw c'mon now, John, Quentin Tarantino steered you back in the charts, now you gotta look after yo'self out there. It's Michael's turn for a boost. He played FBI agent Ray Nicolette again (uncredited) in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight, 1998.
- Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets, 1997. With John, it wouldn’t have been. Suddenly, the reborn Travolta was hotter than the first time around... Not thinner, though.
- Nicolas Cage, Snake Eyes, 1998. He avoided helmer Brian De Palma yet again in this thriller of a US Secretary of Defence being assassinated during a boxing match
- Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, 1998. Chevy Chase, Kevin Costner, Jeff Daniels, Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson (!) and Bruce Willis were also in the mix for the miserable spouse/father, Lester Burnham. UK stage director Sam Mendes fought hard for Spacey. “There’s one thing better than having a really good actor, and that’s having a really good actor who has never done this kind of role before.” Spacey won his second Oscar despite masturbating in the shower - the high point of Lester’s day: “it's all downhill from here.”
- Michael Keaton, Jack Frost, 1998. In for awhile, then George Clooney, then Billy Bob Thornton. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert suggested it could have been co-directed by Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg "and still be unwatchable, because of that damned snowman.
[It] gave me the creeps."
- Richard Gere, The Runaway Bride, 1999.
Sixteen years on and Gere is still shadowing Travolta... The original coupling, Harrison Ford-Geena Davis became Travolta-Sandra Bullock until the brainwave of re-uniting Pretty Woman’s Julie Roberts and Gere. Not that they could save the dullard scenario. Travolta on Gere: “I think he owes me some royalties...”
- Jason Lee, Dogma, 1999. Said Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers: Thou shalt not stop laughing. New Jersey auteur Kevijn Smith reached high (Travolta, Bill Murray) and low (Adam Sandler) for his demon Azrael in his askew view of religion. "It's hard to conceive of a flick without Jason,"he when his mate was not free for the fallen angel, Loki. "Luckily, his schedule freed up and he was able to segue into Azrael. You couldn't ask for a better villain. Jason became the guy people in rehearsals measured themselves against - such was the passion and intensity of his performance."
- Tom Hanks, The Green Mile, 1999. "I wouldn't trade [my career] for anyone's except Tom HankanHankHankss'. Other than Forrest Gump and The Green Mile, which I was offered and should have done - and Splash was written for me - I still like my career better because of what I specifically contribute to it."
- Nicolas Cage, Family Man, 2000. Once Cage exited, Travolta moved in - if he could also interest the Rush Hour director Brett Ratner. He did but walked all the same. Ratner persuaded Cage that he could handle comedy. "Brett knows how to get absurdity out of his actors."
- Kevin Spacey, The Shipping News, 2001. Travolta owed Columbia a movie after side-stepping The Double in Paris. He considered Annie Proulx's Pulitzer-prize winning novel until deciding that the Newfoundland-set story should be shot closer to his home... in Maine. Anyway, Spacey wins Oscars, Travolta doesn't. Anyway, like the disastrous film, the production of Travolta’s science fiction debut, Battlefied Earth, 1999 went way beyond reason. Consequently, his name was mud. Again.
- Richard Gere, Chicago, 2002.
- Harrison Ford, Hollywood Homicide, 2002. The LAPD tecs, Gavilan and Calden, became Ford and Josh Hartnett, in place of Travolta and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A vast improvement.
- Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, 2003. On the titular short-list: Butler, Antonio Banderas, Michael Crawford (Broadway’s Phantom), Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Meat Loaf, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey and Travolta… He would have required a second mask - for his ever-expanding body.
- Christian Bale, Batman Begins, 2004.
- Paul Sorvino, Mr 3000, 2004. For the Milwaukee Brewers' manager. At one time, John or his great rival, Richard Gere, were due to make the film with Denzel Washington, not Bernie Mac.
- Cillian Murphy, Red Eye, 2004. Horrorsmith Wes Craven also saw Kevin Bacon, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Ray Liotta, John Malkovich, Edward Norton, Sean Penn and Michael Pitt. Craven said Murphy’s eyes won the creepy.... Jackson Rippner. (Geddit?)
- Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008. During the enforced shelf life of the curious F Scott Fitzgerald novella, directors ranged from Spielberg to Ron Howard - with Tom Cruise or Travolta as the pygmy man aging backward toward infancy. Inspired by Mark Twain’s comment: “Life would be infinitely happier if only we could be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”
- Larry Hagman, Dallas, TV, 2011. Efforts were made since 2002 to reboot the iconic 1978-1992 series (and tele-films) for the cinema. Result? This pilot for a 2012 series... about JR and Bobby’s rival sons. Directors, stars, genres changed: Robert Luketic, Gurinder Chadha quit, Betty Thomas was to shoot a Southfork comedy; Drew Barrymore, Minka Kelly, Catherine Zeta-Jones were named for Pam, James Brolin as Jock and Jane Fonda, Diane Ladd or Shirley MacLaine as Miss Ellie. Despite talk of Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Tommy Lee Jones, Travolta remained #1 choice for the villainous oil tycoon, JR Ewing. Finally, the original JR led the old-timers returning to their 1978-92 roles.
- Jesse Eisenberg, The Double, 2012. Seventeen years earlier, Roman Polanski had great trouble trying to film the Dostoievski tale of a man faced with his doppleganger and total opposite: confident, charismatic, good with women. (Last made by Bertolucci as Partner, 1968). Travolta turned his back on $8m (and Paris) in June 1995. Anthony Hopkins had no time (booked for Nixon, Picasso, etc). Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino weren’t keen. Steve Martin was but the project collapsed when Isabelle Adjani quit followed by Polanski. Jesse (just 12 at the time) finally made it in London for actor-director Richard Ayoade.
- George Clooney, Gravity, 2013. Science fiction was not Travolta’s strongest card by Battlefied Earth, 1999… When Robert Downey Jr ejected from this sf marvel (“technology and Robert are incompatible, explained Alfonso Cuaron), the Mexican auteur talked “with a bunch of people” for astronaut Matt Kowalski - Kevin Costner, Daniel Craig, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. Most backed off, annoyed that the woman astronaut, Sandra Bullock, had most of the film entirely to herself. “More like 2001 than an action film,” said a delighted Clooney.