Judge Reinhold, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, 1981. “I did about 10 or 12 twelve auditions for it,” recalled Cage, “and didn’t get it, but got a supporting part as Brad’s Bud #1… or #2. [Just Brad’s Bud] I remember my father driving me to work on that. I was 16. I guess that makes me a child actor. Of sorts.... I was Nicolas Coppola, and there was a lot of: Oh, he thinks he can be an actor because he’s Francis Coppola’s nephew. So it occurred to me that 1, I’d have to work twice as hard as the other actors in order to be taken seriously, and 2, that I’d have to change my name. From the musician John Cage and the comic book character Luke Cage. I liked reading comics as boy - I was a nerd - and it was how I learned to read, really.” He once added: “There’d be a congregation outside my trailer quoting lines fom Apocalypse Now... ‘I love the smell of Nicolas in the morning’!” A bit difficult that, as Robert Duvall was not heard loving Napalm until 1989...
Tom Cruise, Risky Business, 1983. “I kept getting rejected. And it got to me, so I wound up in the hospital with hepatitis and mononucleosis. Horrible. And I said: I'm not doing this again. I'll do one more audition and if I don’t get it, I’m done. A lot of my friends were going up to Alaska, working on the crab boats, coming back with $25,000 and buying sports cars. I’m going to go and do that! Sort of a Melville-like existence at sea if I didn’t get the job as an actor. And then I did, and everything was changed.”
- Johnny Depp, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984. Depp’s debut. Before noticing him (accompanying pal, Jackie Earl Haley to the auditions), Ohio auteur Wes Craven had also seen John Cusack, C Thomas Howell, Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland for the heroine’s boyfriend. This was Depp’s movie debut.
- Judd Nelson, The Breakfast Club, 1985. When Emilio Estevez was moved from Bender to the impossible-to-cast lead, teenage angst auteur John Hughes then found Bender difficult to fill, as well. Cage was top choice, but (already) too pricey. His pal, Jim Carrey, also auditioned. When talk began about sequels, Hughes made it clear that he would never work with Nelson again.
- Tom Cruise, Top Gun, 1985. Refused the US Navy pilot ace called Maverick So did: Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, Emilio Estevez, Michael J Fox, Tom Hanks, Matthew Modine, Sean Penn, Patrick Swayze.
- Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction, 1987.
- Jean-Marc Barr, Le grand bleu, France, 1988. Realisateur for the second time, Luc Besson saw everyone. Barr thought he had an audition with Robert Bresson!
- Tim Robbins, Erik The Viking, 1988. There was a flurry of names run up various flagpole for Erik, from Cage and Tom Hulce to... wait for it... Michel Palin and Harrison Ford!!! Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert blasted ther comedy as “ an utterly worthless exercise in waste and wretched excess, uninformed by the slightest spark of humor, wit or coherence.”
- Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July, 1989.
- Rob Lowe, Bad Influence, 1990. With Robert Downey Jr planned as his victim.
Andy Garcia, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
- Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct, 1991.
- Vincent Gallo, Arizona Dream, 1992. When Johnny Depp first hit LA, from Kentucky, via Florida, he planned to be a rock musician - until Nic sent him to his agent. Two days late he got his first film, A Nightmare On Elm Street. They are still waiting to film together, having come close with this US debut of Bosnian director Emir Kusturica.
- Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992. Director Francis Coppola decided to make the old legend "younger, very erotic, very romantic and very horrific." Losing his favourites - Jeremy Irons, Daniel Day-Lewis - Francey looked at everyone else. From nephew Nic to Armand Assante, Antonio Banderas, Nick Cassavetes, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Hugh Grant, Ray Liotta, Kyle MacLachlan, Costas Mandylor, Viggo Mortensen, Dermot Mulroney, Michael Nouri (a long way from Flashdance), Adrian Pasdar, Jason Patric, Aiden Quinn, Keanu Reeves, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater and Sting.
- Bruce Willis, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption, 1993. Also the frame (up) for Stephen King’s prisoner #37927, were: Jeff Bridges, Nicolas Cage, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen. And both Toms. Cruise and Hanks.
- Brad Pitt, Se7en, 1994. Cage and Kevin Costner were in the mix for young cop David Mills investigating murders connected with the seven deadly sins in Ridley Scott’s “dark, grisly, horrifying and intelligent thriller” (as per Roger Ebert). Pitt made an appropriate $7m.
- Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber, 1995. The sadsacks Harold and Lloyd (!) were first due to be Cage and Gary Oldman. Then Nic and his pal Jim Carrey - except when Jim was suddenly geting $7m for his third big film, Cage asked for $2m. Hello Jeff!
- Antonio Banderas, Assassins, 1995. Sylvester Stallone wanted him to be the new hitman in town, “but something in the upper echelon of the producing world went awry.” Same for Sly’s back-up plan: Kevin Bacon.
- Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible, 1995. Before Tom Cruise and JJ Abrams took it on - for 20-plus years! - Paramount offered the (expected) franchise to Cage, George Clooney, Mel Gibson, John Travota, Bruce Wills. And, inexplicably, Ralph Fiennnes… who made a right dog’s breakfast out of another TV cult hero, John Steed, in The Avengers three years later.
- Chris Penn, The Funeral, 1996. Crime family time in the New York 30s. Trouble was Abel Ferrara was directing, not Uncle Francey.
- Wesley Snipes, One Night Stand, 1996. Innovative UK director Mike Figgis naturally asked Nic after his Oscar for their Leaving Las Vegas. “He had just got married and really wasn’t interested in a study of adultery.” Snipes, in his best work, won Best Actor at the 1997 Venice festival. Yet Cage's agent felt Snipes was too cocky. “But this was exactly the same character I had written for Cage. What he meant was he was too cocky for a black man!’
- Sylvester Stallone, Daylight, 1996. “He’s a character actor,” the suits told director Rob Cohen when he wanted Cage. “Sly is far more viable!” Stallone promised this would be his last action film. Oh yeah, sure! Next came Drive, Rocky Balboa, Rambo, The Expendables 1, 2 and 3, Escape Plan, Grudge Match…
- Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, 1998. Sorry guys, too many family commitments… The score’s composer Don Davis said 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: Johnny Depp or Keanu Reeves.
(As if that was a choice). Also seen for the neo-noir Neo: Leonardo DiCaprio (“too many special effects”), David Duchovny (preferred TV’s X-Files), Ewan McGregor (shooting Star Wars: Episode 1), Lou Diamond Phillips (his agent said: instant flop) and the surprisingly honest Will Smith - "I would have messed it up!"
Bruce Willis, Mercury Rising, 1998. Nic chose three other actioners. "Genres tend to come in threes for me." "Only if you let 'em," said Mike Figgis.
John Cusack, The Thin Red Line, 1998. Director Terrence Malick - setting up his first film script for 17 years - crossed Nic off his wish-list when the actor changed his phone number sometime after their 1996 LA dinner.
- Bill Paxton, A Simple Plan, 1998. “You work for the American Dream - you don't steal it.” Due as the Joe Average finding $4m when Ben Stiller was to direct, 1994-6. They split when Nic’s worth increased to more than the cash he’s supposed to find!
Peter Mullen, Miss Julie, 1998. Mike Figgis’ initial plan to let loose Cage and Juliette Binoche on Strindberg was ruined by directing Cage to a 1996 Oscar in Leaving Las Vegas. LAgents got busy and Cage’s salary leapt from $200,000 to $20m.
- Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown, 1999. Cage was morose enough to match Penn.
- Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon, 1999. Over the years before the project reached Czech director Milos Forman, Cage, John Cusak, Edward Norton were seen as possibles for surrealist comic Andy Kaufman.
- George Clooney, The Perfect Storm, 1999. Warners got bored - and tough -when the money talks went on far too long. Bye-bye, Nic.
- George Clooney, Three Kings, 1999. David O Russell (a bullying director, who got into a fist fight with Clooney) thought about Jeff Bridges, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson or Nick Nolte for Archie Gates. “It was written for Eastwood, then offered to Gibson and Cage but not to me,” reported Clooney. “Luckily, both those guys were tied and gagged in my apartment. I fought hard to get the role.” Although respecting his work, Clooney said he’d never work with Russell again. Their fight had been over Russell’s treatment of an extra, throwing him to the ground. And then taunting Clooney: “Hit me!” So, he did
- Mike Myers, Shrek, 2000. Cage fled. He had no wish to look like an ugly ogre. Er, it’s a voice gig, Nic! “When you're drawn… it says more about how children are going to see you than anything else and I so care about that.” Chris Farley took over and ODed in mid-gig. Mike Myers completed the role which - surprise! - did not resemble him at all.
- Brendan Fraser, Moneybone, 2000. At first, the film was to be as dark as the graphic novel. That meant the cartoonist trapped in his own underground creation would inevitably be Cage.
- Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man, 2002.
- Willem Dafoe,Spider-Man, 2002.
- Ralph Fiennes, Red Dragon, 2002. Maybe he found out that Francis Dolarhyde’s back tattoo would take eight hours to apply. Paul Bettany, Sean Penn and Jeremy Piven were also considered.
- Kevin Spacey, The Life of David Gale, 2002. He had the rights but not the time.
James Franco, Sonny, 2002. Cage bought the rights 15 years earlier. Now, he directed. He also supplied a cameo as Acid Yellow - in Liberace’s bright yellow jacket.
- Keanu Reeves, Constantine, 2003. Tarsem Singh, the Indian director of The Cell, quit - “With Cage, I can’t make the film I want” So, Nic also left Alan Moore’s occult Dirty Harry, no longer Liverpudlian but a LA cop, who has been to hell and back, literally. The hell part being was Reeves playing him
- Johnny Depp, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, 2003. Enjoying the film so much when he finished playing Sands (set for Clooney, offered to Nic, Sean Penn, Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis), Depp asked for another part and had even more fun channelling Brando as a priest in a scene with Banderas.
- Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004. Not often thepals were up for the same role.
- Will Smith, I, Robot, 2004. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the guy David Lynch calls “the jazz musician of actors,"also passed.
- Johnny Depp, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2004. Cage would frightening, surely? (Yes but don’t call me Shirley!). But Cage was in director Tim Burton’s 23-strong wish list of one ole Beetlejuice Michael Keaton and three Monty Pythons: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin. Plus Atkinson, Jim Carrey, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Marilyn Manson, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Will Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, Christopher Walken,Robin Williams. Burton said his Willy, as it were, was part Citizen Kane and part Howard Hughes.
- Cillian Murphy, Red Eye, 2004. Horrorsmith Wes Craven also saw Kevin Bacon, Willem Dafoe, Ray Liotta, John Malkovich, Edward Norton, Sean Penn, Michael Pitt and John Travolta. Craven said Murphy’s eyes won the creepy…. Jackson Rippner. (Geddit?)
- Brandon Routh, Superman Returns, 2006.
- Kevin James, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, 2006. Will Smith and 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 Adam Sandler (and James) - and became what Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers trounced as “mealy-mouthed hypocrisy.”
Will Smith,I Am Legend, 2007. During the 30-year history of Warners and Richard Matheson’s sf novel (two films - one Italian - ten directors), Cage was to be the last man on earth (perhaps) in 1989 until director Rob Bowman split for X-Files. Also in the mix: Tom Cruise, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Douglas, Mel Gibson, Ted Levine, Kurt Russell, even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Smith had nearly made the movie in 2002 with flash-bang-wallop helmer Michael Bay - instead they played safe and flash-banged... well, damp-squibed Bad Boys II.
- Matthew Fox, Speed Racer, 2007. Directors kept changing… Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón, the UK’s Julien Temple, Gus Van Sant. Finally, the Wachowski siblings. So did the choices for Racer X from the Japanese anime series. Cage (in the early 90s), Keanu Reeves, Henry Rollins in 1994 and - ten years on - Vince Vaughn was going to produce and star. They were all lucky. Film flopped.
- Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, 2008. The studio wanted Cage for broken-down wrassler Randy “The Ram” Robinson - and he was soon researching at a New York Ring of Honor wrestling event. However, director Darren Aronofsky insisted on Rourke - and he won an Oscar nomination for, as critic Roger Ebert phrased it, “his comeback role, playing Randy the Ram’s comeback.”
- Robert Downey Jr, Iron Man, 2008.
Ghost Rider, in 2006, and the 2010 sequel. (The Village Voice called it: Queasy Rider). Cage tried to set up his Iron Man in 1997. Then, Tom Cruise in 1998… In all, during some 17 years on the back burner, with various directors and studios, Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Timothy Olyphant, Clive Owen and Sam Rockwell were also run up Marvel’s flagpole. Soon after losing the titular, Howard Hughesesque Tony Stark, Cage declared: “I got a little tired of movies where I had to shoot people. I got to thinking about the power of film and what that power is. The power is, in fact, that it really can change people's minds."
- Russell Crowe, State of Play, 2008. Or, State of Delay as Brad Pitt called it after being stalled so long on it. When he finally walked, the role of journalist Cal McAffrey was offered to Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks. Crowe took over - after discussing the film with Ridley Scot… one of the few directors never attached to it.
- Ewan McGregor, The Ghost Writer, 2009. Author and scenarist Robert Harris wasn’t happy when it seemed the writer of a UK Prime Minister’s memoirs was to be an American. Then again, Cage was sole A-Lister to say yes. George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and two Brits - Daniel Craig, Hugh Grant - refused the (incredibly void) Roman Polanski thriller.
- Christophe Waltz, The Green Hornet, 2010. Allegedly angling for more money (he sure needed it with his tax hassles), Cage quit when French director Michael Gondry didn’t fancy Cage’s idea of playing a character called Chudnofsky… with a Jamaican accent. Cage had forgotten (sdo soopn!) that a whole new dastardly villain had been discovered by Quentin Tarantino for his Inglourious Basterds, 2009.
- Cam Gigandet, Trespass, 2010. Originally, Cage was Nicole Kidman’s wife - then switched to being her kidnapper, and then quit the whole shebang... andthen returned as the hubby.
- Robert De Niro, Killing Season, Belgium, 2012. Two Bosnian War vets, one American, one Serbian, face off in the Smoky Mountains… It was Shrapnel when designed as a Face/Off reunion for Cage and John Travolta. Then, director John McTiernan was jailed for lying to the FBI in the Anthony Pellicano wire-tapping case.
- Kesley Grammer, Expendables 3, 2013. Nic was first up for Bonaparte - but not Napoleon! Age-wise, Grammar was odd choice. At 58, he was as nine years older than Cage.
- Jack O’Connell, Unbroken, 2014. Laura Hillenbrand’s book was sub-titled: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The hero, Louis Zamperini, required such attributes again during a 54-year wait for his incredible story to be filmed. Universal bought rights in the 50s for Tony Curtis after Spartacus. Who better for the Depression Era trouble-maker becoming the youngest American competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, crash-landing in the Pacific during WWII, drifting for 47 days in a crowded boat, then enduring unimaginable torture from brutal Japanese guards as a POW (they never broke him). More recently Nic Cage was keen. Then, Angelina Jolie took over the project as director and turned rising UK Skins find, Jack O’Connell, into Zamperini… who saw a rough-cut on Jolie’s laptop weeks before he died in hospital from pneumonia at age 97 on July 2, 2014 The film opened four months later.