- Michael J Fox, Back To The Future, 1985. Refused by every studio in town, the now iconic role of Marty McFly was always planned for Fox. However, when his TV series, Family Ties, got in the way, his possible successors were Cusack, Johnny Depp, C Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio and the Canadian singer Corey Hart - who never made a movie before or since. Filming actually began with Eric Stoltz, who hadn’t got the heavy Mask out of his system. He was fired. That’s when exec producer Steven Spielberg finally brokered a deal with Ties producer Gary David Goldberg… and poor Fox worked as Alex P Keaton all day and Marty McFly all night. And survived for two sequels.
- 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 Nicolas Cage, C Thomas Howell, Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland for the heroine’s boyfriend.
- 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 also found Bender difficult to fill. Contenders included Cusack (from Hughes’ 1983 debut, Sixteen Candles), the (already) too pricey Nicolas Cage and his pal, Jim Carrey. Hughes killed all talk of sequels by saying he would never work with Nelson again
- Tom Cruise, Top Gun, 1985. Refused the US Navy pilot ace called Maverick So did:Matthew Broderick, Nicolas Cage, Emilio Estevez, Michael J Fox, Tom Hanks, Matthew Modine, Sean Penn, Patrick Swayze.
- Chip Zien, Howard The Duck, 1985. Everybody wanted to voice Marvel’s Howard T Duck… Cusack, Jay Leno, Martin Short, Robin Williams. Plus voicing specialists Townsend Colman and Rob Paulsen (more than 500 credits between them). Zien was not a voice-actor. Howard was the big deal production of the year… massive budget… George Lucas, Mr Star Wars, producing… his American Graffiti writers, writing. And. It. Bombed! Willard Huyck never directed again. And in need of cash for his Skywalker Ranch, Lucas sold to Steve Jobs what became… Pixar!
- Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986. Considered for Ferris. So were:Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, Michael J Fox and Eric Stolz.
- Charlie Sheen, No Man's Land, 1987. Barry Miller and Cusack were original notions for the innocent rookie undercover cop and the coke-fueled, Porsche-stealing, 1980's party-boy. “No one saw it,” said Miller. Well, maybe Brad Pitt - making his film debut. As a waiter.
- Val Kilmer, Willow, 1988. Tested for Madmartigan. He was perfect for a collection of underdogs and odd men out.
- Christopher Lloyd, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988. Producer Steven Spielberg (and the Disney suits) found Tim Curry’s test as Judge Doom quite terrifying. As if Lloyd was not - he never even blinked! And they’d even considered Christopher Lee… Surely, Jon Pertwee was too sweet. Also seen: Cusack, Roddy McDowall, Sting.
- Dwight Schultz, Fat Man and Little Boy (UK: Shadow Makers),1989. UK director Roland Joffé chose Barry Miller, then Cusack to portray J Robert Oppenheimer making the Hiroshima bomb. “The film will be Faustian,” promised Joffe. “A cosmic struggle between God and Science.”Not. Exactly.
- Kevin Anderson, Sleeping With The Enemy, 1991. "In the end, the films you don't do, the money you turn down, is what defines your taste... Does this sound pretentious?" That year, Cusack was due to be the young Spock (opposite Ethan Hawke’s Kirk) in an early, Starfleet Academy draft of Star Trek V1: The Undiscovered Country.Steven Waddington, The Last of the Mohicans, 1992. The Hollywood word on Cusack is that he flirts too often with offers and for too long. He's in, he's out, he's in...
- Steven Waddington, The Last of the Mohicans, 1992. The Hollywood word on Cusack is that he flirts too often with offers and for too long. He's in, he's out, he's in...
- Vincent Gallo, Arizona Dream, 1992. "He gets more offers than he accepts," admitted agent John Burnham. "I never turn anything down without talking to John."
- Robert Downey, Jr, Chaplin, 1992. "If he's interested in a project," added John Burnham, "which isn't often because he's very picky, then he'll read the script. And then he usually passes."
Kevin Spacey, Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992. Everyone wanted into the stellar David Mamet ensemble; just one took longer than most to make up his mind. As usual.
Dermot Mulroney, Point of No Return, 1993.
The Nikita re-maker, Art Linson, lost patience with John's flirtatiousness and told casting director Bonnie Timmerman to tell the actor's agent: "As far as we're concerned, yesterday John Cusack got hit by a bus!"
- Robert Downey, Jr, Natural Born Killers, 1993. "I try to stay away from movies that glorify violence, brutalise women, John Wayne bullshit that I'd be ashamed of."
- Woody Harrelson, Indecent Proposal, 1993. Ran from it. Too busy dating Neve Campbell, Minnie Driver, Alison Eastwood, Claire Forlani, Lily Taylor...
- Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Eric Stoltz, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Bill Paxton, Apollo 13, 1995. John was the first asked to portray NASAstronaut Fred Haise. "We'd heard he was a sweetheart," said an Imagine spokesperson. "He was anything but. We were surprised how truly uncooperative Cusack was." And to his surprise, Paxton finally won a role in his fifth audition for a Ron Howard movie.
- John Leguizamo, To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, 1995. Douglas Carter Beane wrote the drag queen script, sold it to Spielberg and watched most leading men squeezing into dresses... "But," he said, "John Cusack became Joan Cusack."
- Johnny Depp, Donnie Brasco, 1996. As FBI man Joe Pistone (aka. Brasco) working his way undercover into The Mob.
- Jude Law, Gattaca. 1997. "I'm not sure Cusack read the script," said producer Stacey Shore.
- Ben Stiller, Flirting With Disaster, 1996. Rising auteur David O Russell was casting with Miramax bully Harvey Weinstein. Cusack’s name came up. And, immediately, Weinstein phoned him even though it was 6am in LA. “Have you seen Spanking The Monkey? I want you to see it and meet this guy.” That’s as close as Cusack got to Flirting. “He... just woke John Cusack up,” said Russell, “to prove that he could.” The film flopped, Miramax dropped Russell - who copied Weinstein’s bullying on his future projects.
Johnny Depp, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1997. Like Depp, Cusack was a pal of gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson and was on the short-list to play his psychopathic lawyer Raoul Duke.
- Jude Law, Gattaca. 1997. "I'm not sure Cusack read the script," said producer Stacey Shore.
- Matthew McConaughey, Amistad, 1997. Steven Spileberg's worst casting error. McConaughey was just too 20th Century-looking for 1839.
- Greg Kinnear As Good As It Gets, 1997. Too busy writing, filming, and producing Grosse Point Blank to be Jack Nicholson's gay neighbour..
- Keanu Reeves, The Devil's Advocate, 1997. Second time he missed an opportunity to work with Al Pacino.
- John Travolta, The General's Daughter, 1998. Great words for a 33-year-old actor - too young! To be a4 US Army Criminal Investigation Division cop. Travolta looked... too heavy.
- Johnny Depp, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998. The fact that Cusack had played him in a stage version did not count with gonzo-journalist Hunter S Thompson after meeting Depp.
- Bill Paxton, A Simple Plan, 1998. Director Mike Nichols was first to pick up Scott Smith's novel noir about how finding stolen booty affects a hero - and aimed it at Cusack.
- Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon, 1999. John, Nic Cage, Edward Norton were all named for the Andy Kaufman bio until Czech director Milos Forman struck gold...
- Richard Gere, Chicago, 2002.
Matthew Broderick, The Stepford Wives, 2004. Both John and his sister, Joan, as Nicole Kidman's husband and best friend, for unexplained "personal reasons."
- Brendan Fraser, Crash, 2004. Paul Haggis' first thought for his DA in what became a surprise Best Film Oscar-winner.
- Keanu Reeves, The Lake House, 2006. "How do you hold on to someone you've never met?" Presumably, it's easier for Sandra Bullock when it's your old co-star from Speed, 1994, rather than the first choice.
- Michael C Hall, Dexter, TV, 2006-2014. The Showtime cable network shortlisted 14 stars, from the impossible (Dan Aykroyd, Macauley Culkin, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Ben Stiller) to the plausible (Cusack, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Spader) for the Miami Metro PD bloodstain-pattern analyst moonlighting as a serial killer... of serial killers.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt, 2007. Tom Hanks and David Hayden Pierce were also short-listed for Father Flynn, accused by Meryl Streep’s dragon of a nun of sexually abusing an altar boy. As with his 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, auteur John Patrick Shanley told Hoffman whether or not his parish priest was guilty as charged. And no one else.
- Patrick Wilson, Watchmen, 2008. Not so much “Who watches the watchmen?” as Aristotle asked, but who them playeth? And in the 20 years it took for Alan Moore’s DComic-book to be filmed, directors came and went - Darren Aronofsky, Michael Bay, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass. So did their choices for Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl: Cusack, Kevin Costner, Nathan Fillion, Richard Gere, Joaquin Phoenix. (Fillion was also shortlisted for Edward Morgan Blake aka The Comedian).
- Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, TV,2008-2013. “Really? Isn’t there anybody else?” said the AMC suits when creator Vince Gilligan named his #1 choice for his anti-hero Walter White. (They leant more towards Cusack or Matthew Broderick). Trouble was they still saw Cranston shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle. So Gilligan showed them Drive, a 1988 X-Files episode, with a desperate Cranston suffering radiation. The deal was done and Mr Chips turned Scarface - for many years, Emmy awards and stupendous reviews.