- Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1970. Author Roald Dahl’s original choice to play his eccentric chocolatier was BBC radio Goon Spike Milligan. Next? Spike’s co-Goon Peter Sellers was too expensive. LA’s choice, Joel Grey, was “not physically imposing enough.” Ron Moody would have frightened the horses - and the kids. UK comic Frankie Howerd was into two film farces. Jon Pertwee was wed to Doctor Who. Carry On stars Sidney James and Kenneth Williams were as keen as (a way too old) Fred Astaire. One by one, all six Monty Pythons (Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin) were judged not international enough - and Howerd, Milligan and Pertwee were?! Cleese, Idle and Palin were offered the 2005 re-hash; Chapman had died in 1989 and Gilliam and Jones had turned director.
- Graham Chapman, Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1979. One the boil since Eric Idle suggested Jesus Christ: Lust For Glory in 1975, the Brian script was finished in Barbados over Christmas 1977, when the group managed to persuade Cleese not to play Brian Cohen, the reluctant Messiah born in the next stable to Jesus. "And they were absolutely right. It was just that I'd never played one character all the way through a film - I didn't until Giles Flack in Privates On Parade - when I was 42!" In what he considered the group's masterpiece - "that's what I'd like to be judged by in the future" - he played a Wise Man, a Jewish Official, a Roman centurion, and Reg, leader of the People's Front of Judea: "All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?" And the gay alcoholic Chapman finally got off the sauce to become the perfect Brian.
- Shecky Greene, History of the World Part 1, 1980. Sensible refusal. Absolutely no fusion possible between Cleese wit and Mel Brooks farce.
- David Warner, Time Bandits, 1980. According to his 1980 diary, Michael Palin went directly from a meeting with his son’s future headmaster to another with Terry Gilliam - to discuss if Cleese was right for the Evil Genius. No! So he became Robin Hood, instead. Eric Idle was not pleased, feeling that exec producer Dennis O’Brien (who wanted Burt Reynolds as the Evil Genius!) was turning the Terry Gilliam-Michael Palin scenario into a new Monty Python film.
- Richard Pasco, Wagner, 1983. John rejected $500,000 to join Richard Burton as, well... Basil Fawlty, secret agent, in the eight-hour bio. "All the character did was rant and rave and pull a woman's hair. They added insult to injury by saying they thought they might ask Prunella Scales to play my wife!" Difficult, though, to refuse a role called Otto, "He used to call himself Otto at one time," said his mother. "It was when he went a bit mad..." Kevin Kline was an Otto in Cleese’s A Fish Called Wanda).
- Leonard Rossiter, Water, 1984. Michael Palin refused the lead and Cleese nixed the bumbling diplomat, Sir Malcolm Leveridge - based on Terry-Thomas and his 1958 comedy, Carlton-Browne of the FO, but disguised (badly) as a satire of more recent US./UK invasions Grenada and the Falkland Islands.
- Peter O’Toole, Club Paradise, 1986. The, er, comedy died once Cleese and Murray were switched to Peter O’Toole and Robin Williams. As Chicago critic Roger Ebert wrote about Williams: “When the star of a movie seems desperate enough to depend on one-liners, can the rest of the cast be blamed for losing confidence in the script?”
- Michael Caine, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 1988. Or King of the Mountain when created for David Bowie-Mick Jagger. Cleese “reluctantly” refused the Bedtime Story re-make opposite Steve Martin as the con-men created (badly) by Marlon Brando-David Niven in 1963.
- Bruce Willis, Bonfire of the Vanities, 1990. He had learned one thing - never read US scripts. Playing the dissipated - English! - journo could, though, have saved this one from such swift extinction. Paradoxically, Nicholson was also offered the part.
- David Ogden Stiers, Beauty and the Beast, 1990. There were obviously some Monty Python/Fawlty Towers fans of among the eleven scenarists as Cogsworth was written specially for Cleese. He passed, all the same. In the French lingo dub, the rôle as called Big Ben.
- Johnathan Hyde, Richie Rich, 1994. Who cared about accents.? The Australian Hyde’s height was perfect - over 6ft, as were all the cast to disguise Macauley Culkin having reached 5ft. 6in.
- Alan Rickman, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991. Considered between John Malkovich and Richard E Grant. Cleese had been the Sherwood hero in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, 1981.
- Rowan Atkinson, The Lion King, 1993. In the y mix to voice Zazu in the 32nd Disney toon - Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa! - were Chris Barrie, Simon Callow, David Jason, Spike Milligan, Vic Reeves, Patrick Stewart. Plus various UK comedy giants: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; The Two Ronnies: Barker and Ronnie Corbett; The Goodies: Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Odie; and the Monty Pythons: Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin.
- Michael Barrymore, Spice World, 1997. Turned down the Spice Girls. Within a few years, everyone turned down the scandal-ridden Barrymore.
- Johnny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. A major Monty P fan, director Tim Burton also mused over John’s fellow Pythons Eric Idle and Michael Palin for Willy Wonka. (They were also up for the role in 1971!). Burton’s 20 other fancies: his ole Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton, plus Rowan Atkinson, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Will Smith, 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 it.
- Tim Curry, Burke and Hare, 2009. The titular 1828 grave-robbers (Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis) were more diabolically funny than their main customers for corpses (the fresher the better) - the bitchy doctors Monro and Knox, aka Tim and Tom Wilkinson instead of Cleese and Dan Aykroyd.
- James Corden, Into The Woods, 2013