- Michael J Fox, Back To The Future, 1984. 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 Depp, John Cusack, 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 lived to make two sequels!
- Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986. And they said no!!! Also rejected as Ferris: Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, John Cusack, Robert Downey Jr, Michael J Fox, Eric Stolz.
- Adrian Pasdar, Near Dark, 1987. Auditioned for farm boy Caleb who, in order to see more of Jenny Wright, needed to join the undead.
- Patrick Swayze, Ghost, 1990. Dropped out to wear Edward's scissorhands.
- Brad Pitt, Thelma & Louise, 1990.
- Christian Slater, Mobsters, 1990. Wise move, like Matt Dillon before him, “I can’t point the finger and blame anybody else,” commented Slater. “Completely my choice. I guarantee you Mobsters will not be in my DVD library.”
- Bill Campbell, The Rocketeer, 1991. Disney wanted him. “He’s a very fine actor but I don’t think he has the vulnerability Bill has, he doesn’t have the innocence,” said director (and ex-ILMagic man) Joe Johnston, who obviously knew little of live actors and nothing of Edward Scissorhands. Kevin Costner, Emilio Estevez, Matthew Modine, Bill Paxton, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell were also disregarded. Of course, Disney finally got Depp - and how! - in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchiseduring 2003-2017.
- William Baldwin, Backdraft, 1991. Phew! What an escape.
- Keanu Reeves, Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992. Poor Francis Coppola got few of his first choices - like Jeremy Irons for Drac and Depp as Jonathan Harker. The Columbia suits complained Depp was no heartthrob. D’oh! Reeves was juged hot. Doble d’oh! William Baldwin and Charlie Sheen were in the mix while Christian Slater lost both Drac and Harker and declared: “If you’re not going to play Dracula in Dracula, why bother? I’d already been Robin Hood's brother.”
- Campbell Scott, Singles, 1992. A reluctant Johnny told Cameron Crowe: “I’m not ready to say ‘I love you’ in a movie the way I would have to say it in Singles.”
- Sebastian Roche, Household Saints, 1992. Vied with Aidan Quinn to play a cameo of... Jesus.
- Robert Downey Jr, Chaplin, 1992. As proved in Benny & Joon and again in Dead Man, Buster Keaton was more an influence on Depp.
- Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, 1992.
- Bruce Willis, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Eric Stoltz, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
- Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption, 1993. Alos in the frame (up) for Stephen King’s prisoner #37927, were: Jeff Bridges, Nicolas Cage, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen. And both Toms. Cruise and Hanks.
- Woody Harrelson, Indecent Proposal, 1993.
First choice after first choice Tom Cruise refused to be the husband selling his wife for a night for $1m to a horny tycoon played by Robert Redford... aided by porno stud Randy West as his body double.. The suits never wanted Johnny when the budget hit a certain high. “What’s Mel Gibson doing at the moment?” And then, never had a studio agreed to Depp so eagerly - after his 2004 Pirates of the Caribbean nomination… and box-office.
- Charlie Sheen, The Three Musketeers, 1993. After the Sherwood Forest clash, four musketeer movies were planned. Johnny agreed to D’Artagnan, the most grimy realistic number, by his Benny & Joon-maker Jeremiah Chechik. Tri-Star refused a pay-or-play deal and the Disney project swept through as the winner wanting Depp for Aramis opposite Brad Pitt (finally O’Donnell) as D’Artagnan..
- Keanu Reeves, Speed, 1993. The studio wanted anyone other than Reeves as the hero of Bus 2525 - the one with a bomb aboard! And Depp was in the Jack mix, alongside the brothers Baldwin (Billy and Stephen), Jeff Bridges, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks(!), Michael Keaton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and, of course, Bruce Willis. Well, it was Die Hard On A Bus!
- Brandon Lee, The Crow, 1993. Also listed for the titular Eric Draven: Michael Jackson, River Phoenix, Christian Slater. Lee won - and died in a terrible accident with a gun shooting blanks during the hero’s murder on March 31, 1993. “It is not without irony that the story involves a hero who returns from the dead,” noted Chicago critic Roger Ebert, “just as, in a sense, Lee has with the release of this film.”
- Brad Pitt, Legends of the Fall, 1994. Passed on the fall from innocence.
- William Baldwin, Sliver, 1994. Billy Baldwin never learned about not picking up Depp’s leavings the first time.
- Tom Cruise, Interview With The Vampire,1994.
- Linden Ashby, Mortal Kombat, 1994. Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, was set for Johnny Cage in the $20m debut of the franchise based on the video game, when accidentally shot dead during The Crow, 1993. Next contenders - Depp, Tom Cruise, Gary Daniels and Jean-Claude Van Damme (how did they get in there?). They were all bypassed by the Floridian surfer and martial arts champ.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, The Basketball Diaries, 1995. Interested some years before in Jim Carroll’s semi-autobiography.
- Kevin Kline, French Kiss, 1995. Director Lawrence Larry Kasdan’s - more Meg Ryan’s - first idea for the passionate Frenchman after Depardieu had no room for it in his packed schedule.
- John Leguizamo, To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, 1995. Johnny is exactly what was required to stop the drag number from being a drag.
- Antonio Banderas, Assassins, 1995. A year earlier, the Sylvester Stallone-Banderas combo was seen as Wesley Snipes-Depp.
- Val Kilmer, Heat, 1995. His price was too high for a budget already paying for Robert De Niro , Al Pacino and auteur Michael Mann.
- Javier Bardem, Perdita Durango, Mexico-USA-Spain, 1996. Romeo wherefore art thou.... He had been Javier Bardem, then Depp when Spanish director Bigas Luna prepped the movie - and finally, Bardem again for Alex de la Iglesia.
- Michael J Fox, Mars Attacks! 1996. Of course, director Tim Burton called on Johnny. And, of course, Johnny said... well, he said No on this occasion. (Very wise). In 2011, Depp and Burton worked on their eighth collaboration, Dark Shadows.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic, 1996.
- Matthew Broderick, Addicted To Love, 1996. Whit Sillman's big time chance - after his independent Metropolitan - was delayed by Meg Ryan being pregnant with Jack Quaid. Griffin Dunne took it over as a debuting director but failed to keep Depp on board. Perhaps he sensed what critic Roger Ebert found out. “It's like bright people got together to make the film and didn’t trust the audience to keep up with them.”
- Val Kilmer, The Saint, 1997. Among Roger Moore’s 80s/90s projects was producing a St Pierce Brosnan (!) or being the ageing hero, finding his illegitimate Saint son - nearly Ralph Fiennes for director Sydney Pollack. Fiennes was then asked to be the real Simon Templar by final director Philip Noyce. So were: the terrible Kilmer, George Clooney, Kevin Costner, Ralph Fiennes, Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant, even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus a certain James Healey, the Irish-born Aussie who actually rejected Mad Max for its sparse dialogue (!) in 1978, leaving the superstar route clear for Gibson. Kilmer later admitted to Moore: “We really screwed that up, didn’t we?””
- Matthew Broderick, Addicted To Love, 1997. Meg Ryan tried again - for Griffin Dunne's directing debut.
- Jude Law, Gattaca, 1997. Now it was Depp’s directing debut (with Brando!!!). And he was too busy preparing The Brave to play third DNA banana to Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.
- James Caviezel, The Thin Red Line, 1998.
“Let’s sign this napkin,” Depp told director Terrence Malick at a bistro. “Tell me where to show up, when, what to play.” Twenty years after Days Of Heaven, the new generation longed to join Malick’s comeback.
- Tom Cruise Eyes Wide Shut, 1998. A better idea for Bill Hartford. Not that Depp could have saved the old-fashioned mess that proved to be Stanley Kubrick’s final film. And he thought, his greatest. Didn’t he ever see the 15 others? (Truth is, it sucked due to Cruise and the misses). Also up for Hartford: Harrison Ford and Steve Martin.
- Michael J Fox, Mars Attacks! 1998. This once, Depp passed on a Tim Burton movie (with reason; it never ignited) and Fox took on the TV journo Jason Stone. In 2011, Depp and Burton worked on their eighth collaboration, Dark Shadows.
- Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, 1998. 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: Depp or Keanu Reeves.
(As if that was a choice). Also seen for the neo-noir Neo: Nicolas Cage (family commitments), 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!"
- Kevin Kline, Wild, Wild West, 1999. Director Barry Sonnenfeld was allowed to go for broke to attract Will Smith as West, James West. Had more trouble filling Artemus Gordon’s boots… also looking at Depp, George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey. Like almost everyone else concerned with the enterprise, the star and director (Will Smith and Barry Sonenfeld) hated the movie.
- Loren Dean, Mumford, 1999. Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan sought him as Mumford town’s popular “shrink.” Dr Mumford.
- James Franco, James Dean, TV, 2001. In the Jimmy mix with Brendan Fraser, Edward Furlong, Gary Oldman and Brad Pitt. Other actors played… Pier Angeli, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Julie Harris, Hedda Hopper, Rock Hudson, Louis Jourdan, Elia Kazan, Raymond Massey, Marilyn Monroe, Geraldine Page, Nicholas Ray, George Stevens, Lee Strasberg - and director Mark Rydell was Jack Warner Oh you hadda be there!
- Sam Rockwell, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, 2002. Johnny talked to Bryan Singer about a fifth true-life role - as Chuck Barris, TV's Gong Show host and, so he claimed, a CIAssassin. Singer quit for X-Men II, letting George Clooney make his (superb) directing debut. Depp stayed around as exec producer. He could not play every cuckoo in town.
- Eric Bana, Hulk, 2002. Director Ang Lee first played the Hulk, himself, using the performance-capture process. During the mid-1990s, Depp was first choice for the green guy. Next candidates were Steve Buscemi, Billy Crudup, Tom Cruise, David Duchovny, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton before (because of Chopper), Bana became Bruce Banner. So did Norton in the 2007 reboot. No better.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can, 2002. Spielberg’s first choice for the 60s’ ace teenage conman Frank Abagnal Jr - that’s him as a cop arresting Leo as his screen self in France. Great fun!
- Mel Gibson, Signs, 2002. The Reverend Graham Hess was first scripted as an older guy. This explains why sliding director M Night Shyamalan offered the dog-collar to Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman. But Depp…? Aw c’mon, Johnny can play any age - anything! - you want.
- Matt Damon, The Brothers Grimm, 2004. Once planned by MGM for Depp, Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman... Except Tim Burton wasn’t directing.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator, 2004. The Hughes brothers, Allen and Albert, planned a Howard Hughes story for their From Hell star. This once, director Martin Scorsese moved faster.
- Kevin Spacey, Beyond The Sea, 2004. When his 164-page scenario did not attract Tom Cruise, auteur Barry Levinson turned (as most people were doing) to Johnny. Finally. it was Spacey, the mega Bobby Darin fan, who wrote, directed acted and sang the biopic - and cut costs by making it (rather well) in Germany.
- Jim Carrey, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004. No time for the lead role - three hours of make-up…
- Jude Law, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004. even to stick around as Lemony’s voice narrating the story.
- Martin Henderson, Bride and Predujice, 2004. Gurinder Chadha’s inevitable first choice for Darcy in her slice of Bollywood Meets Jane Austen. Second choice: Joaquin Phoenix.
- Brad Pitt, Mr and Mrs Smith, 2005. Over-stretched with a mass of projects. If he had not backed out (far too busy and never happy in, well, normal roles monis broad make-up), Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt would never have been born to Brad and Angelina Jolie in 2006. Destiny!
- Benicio Del Torrro, Sin City, 2005. Johnny was reserved for Wallace in Hell And Back until thatFrank Miller tale was dropped. Robert Rodriguez then asked Depp to be Jackie Boy and then, Depp could not get free. Part of Jackie’s story (when he was actually dead) was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino.
- Toby Jones, Infamous, 2006. Second consecutive film study of Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood, with an even better performance than that of the Oscar-awarded Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, 2005. Even the magic Depp could not have bettered Jones.
- Jean Reno, Flushed Away, 2006. Jean Reno proudly beat Johnny, Kevin Kline and Stellan Skarsgard to voicing... wait for it... Le Frog.
- Marlon Brando, Superman Returns, 2006.
- Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns, 2006.
- Colin Farrell, Ask The Dust, 2006. Even with Johnny aboard, Robert Towne’s script was continually shelved by one studio after another muddling the Depression with... depressing.
- Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight, 2007.
- Mathieu Almaric, Le Scaphandre et le papillon, France-US, 2007. Artist-turned-film-maker Julian Schnabel’s first choice for the paralysed Jean-Dominique Bauby had another date... with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Almaric’s brilliance led him to Spielberg and James Bond.
- - Emile Hirsch, Speed Racer, 2007. Depp was keen when Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón were due to direct. He was also happy with Julien Temple in 1995. Not when he wasn’t. Also close to occupying Speed’s driving seat: Zac Efron, Shia Labeouf, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
- 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 Scott... one of the few directors never attached to it.
- Jefffrey Dean Morgan, 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 - from Terry Gilliam to Paul Greengrass. Even Tim Burton was keen - with his usual muse as Edward Morgan Blake aka The Comedian - before they split for Sweeeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Alice in Wonderland. Then Zack Synder went with Morgan because he was that Hollywood rarity, a man’s man. “Grumpy and cool and grizzled… Perfect!”
- John Cusack, Shanghai, 2009. Because he’s made a few, Depp knows a dud when he reads one. Cusack, apparently, does not. Despite a sleek Gong Li and Yun-Fat Cow and a 40s’ setting… Casablanca, it ain’t.
- Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine, 2009.
- Daniel Craig, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2010.
- Ben Kingsley, Hugo, 2010. Depp and producer pal Graham King snapped up Brian Selznick's 2007 novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret - as a kids’ film for cinema fans. (Hence, a perfect vehicle for Martin Scorsese). The main character - after young Hugo - is French silent movie icon Georges Melies, the veritable father of Cameron, Jackson, Lucas, Spielberg... and now, Scorsese. Keeping a producer credit, Depp kept a back seat - and sat on it , playing guitar in the band at at the Gare Monparnasse in Paris.
James Franco, Oz, the Great and Powerful, 2011. When first planning the Wizard of Oz prequel, Disney asked Depp to enter the wizard’s hot-air balloon. Tim Burton wasn’t directing and Johnny was already due as Tonto in the studio’s The Lone Ranger. Downey was just as busy and refusing various offers. Enter: the actor-writer-director-painter-photographer of the moment, studying for a PhD in English at Yale and digital art at the Rhode Island School of Design. A stranger in a stranger land, the ineffectual Franco was basically Dorothy, which is, perhaps, why Depp and Downey were not.
Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, 2011. Like Michael Fassbender - among others - a-hunting, Johnny did not go. Perhaps because the huntsman went by the rather Monty Python name of... Eric.
- Sam Riley, On The Road, 2011. During the long gestation period - 54 years since the Beat Generation opus came out! - Depp was first choice for Sal Paradise, alias the narrator and protagonist and author Jack Kerouac. Next choices included Riley, Billy Crudup, Colin Farrell, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ethan Hawke.
- Pierce Brosnan, A Long Way Down, 2012. Johnny nabbed the movie rights to Nick Hornby’s fourth book before Nick Hornby’s novel hit Amazon shelves. But it was Brosnan helping to form a surrogate family on New Year’s Eve with Rosamund Pike, Aaron Paul and Toni Collette.
- Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2013. Wes Anderson’s follow-up to his 2012 summer hit, Moonrise Kingdom, had first been a Johnny Depp vehicle. He just couldn’t make ’em all. Pity, this one needed him (or Peter Sellers). Fiennes is no light comedian.
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, 2014. When the lead role is called Johnny who else would Robert Rodriguez call… JG-L gave up Godzilla and Guardians of the Galaxy to work with Robert Rodriguez and comic-book writer Frank Miller. Surprised there was room - the credits included 20 exec producers.
- Henry Cavill, The Man From UNCLE, 2013. Superman Cavill goes Solo. Napoleon Solo... After securing the 60s’ TV series rights in 1993, producer John Davis went through 20 years, 14 scripts, four directors (letting slip Soderbergh and Tarantino!), plus 19 Napoleon Solos. From George Clooney in 2010 to Tom Cruise three years later. Plus Johnny… By way of the early-21st century suspects:, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio Joel Edgerton, Michael Fassbender, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Jon Hamm, Joel Kinnaman, Ewan McGregor, Robert Pattinson, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds, Alexander Skarsgård (he switched to Tarzan), Channing Tatum. Even Russell Crowe, surely a better bet at 50 for old Waverly, the UNCLE boss. Poor Davis never got it right!
- Pierce Brosnan, A Long Way Down, 2013. Depp was quick to grab Nick Hornby’s book about four suicide wannabes, forming a surrogate family to help each other. Depp’s Cockney accent would have been better than Brosnan’s as a disgraced TV star.
- James Corden, Into The Woods, 2013.
- Will Smith, Collateral Beauty, 2015. In July, Hugh Jackman slipped out of being the Mad man whose colleagues try to break his depression. Immediately, PalmStar Media chased Depp, whose agenda reached the 22nd Century. Or thereabouts. By the end of August, Smith jumped into the Madison Avenue elevator. With Rooney Mara.
- Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange, 2015. Probably too strange! Like Joaquim Phoenix… Also flown up the Marvel flagpole were Patrick Dempsey, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Hamm, Tom Hardy, Ethan Hawke, Jack Huston, Oscar Isaac, Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey, Ewan McGregor, Vincent Price (in 1986!), Keanu Reeves, Justin Theroux. Finally, production had to wait until after Cumberbatch’s Hamlet stagetriumph in London.. If Iron Man is Mick Jagger, Strange is Jim Morrison… and could be head of the Marvel universe when Robert Downey quits ironmongery.
- Spencer Rocco LoFranco, The Life and Death of John Gotti, 2016. Depp refused The Son (he’d made his Mafia movies: Donnie Brasco, 1996, andBlack Mass, 2015). Also in discussion for Gotti Jr - in what was then Gotti: In The Shadow Of My Father - were Robert Downey Jr, Ben Foster, James Franco, Shia LaBeouf, Jeremy Renner Foster, Channing Tatum, even the British Dominic Cooper. While Juniors,writers, directors (Nick Cassavetes, Barry Levinson) and years sped by, John Travolta remained literally The Teflon Don as Gotti Sr was known when the untouchable head of New York’s Gambino Mafia family. Also firm from Day One: Travolta’s wife and daughter, Kelly Preston and Ella Blue Travolta, playing Gotti’s wife and daughter. As for accessories, the ties were Gotti’s; the cars, Travolta’s. Oh, and Canada’s LoFranco was perfect for Travolta… unknown, far from the A List or stealing movies.
“He didn’t become an actor to be glamorous; he wanted to become characters. Those are the kinds of people I enjoy working with. They're not in it for the celebrity or the perks; they're doing it because they kind of want to hide. (Laughs) That’s why I like him. He’s more like Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff than he is Alan Ladd.” – Tim Burton