William Hurt


  1. James Woods, Once Upon a Time in America, 1982.   After his epic about the West, Sergio Leone planned another on the East – based on The Hoods, “an autobiographical account” of New York Jewish gangster Harry Goldberg. He wrote it in Sing Sing prison as Harry Grey. Leone thought he resembled Edward G Robinson.  Harry probably agreed. He certainly used “a repertoire of cinematic citations, of gestures and words seen and heard thousands of times on the big screen…” But then, so did Leone with a 400 page script packed with echoes of Angels with Dirty Faces, Bullets or Ballots, Dead End, High Sierra, Little Cesar andWhite Heat. In October 1975, he even fancied the elderly James Cagney and Jean Gabin as the older Noodles and Max – the younger beingGérardDepardieu and Richard Dreyfuss. The maestro interviewed “over 3,000 actors,” taping 500 auditions for the 110 speaking roles. Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino passed on Noodles. In 1980, Tom Berenger and Paul Newman were up for Noodles (young andold) with either John Belushi, Dustin Hoffman, William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, John Malkovich or Jon Voight as Max, then Joe Pesci (he became Frankie, instead) and James Woods was Max. And Scott Tiler and Rusty Jacobs were the young Noodles and Max in the three hours-49 minutes unfurled at the ’84 Cannes festival… instead of Leone’s aim: two three-hour movies. 

  2. Christophe(r) Lambert, HIghlander, 1985.   Once Sean Connery refused the lead (for the splashier role of the 2,000-year-old Ramirez), finding the titular and immortal Connor MacLeod was not easy.  Kurt Russell actually won the role but his lover, Goldie Hawn, insisted he stay home; he dealt with Big Trouble in Little China, instead. So you can imagine the anguish of the six producers when, after also being turned down by Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas, Mel Gibson, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Hulk Hogan, William Hurt, David Keith, Mickey Rourke, Sam Shepard, Marc Singer (the too busy top choice), Sting (also asked for a song), Patrick Swayze and Peter Weller… when they discovered that Australian director Russell Mulcahy’s  choice  was  the new (French!) Tarzan.

  3. Mickey  Rourke, A Prayer  Before  Dying,  1986.       Film was completely ruined, says Rourke, by producer Sam Goldwyn Jr – “the son of someone.”

  4. Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon, 1986.     Scripter Shane Black reported: “Someone at the studio actually said: William who?”In all, 39 possibilities for the  off-kilter, ’Nam vet cop Martin Riggs – not as mentally-deranged as in early drafts (he used a rocket launcher on one guy!)  Some ideas were inevitable: Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn (shooting Aliens),Jeff Bridges, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, William Petersen, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Charlie Sheen, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Bruce Willis. Some were inspired: Bryan Brown, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum (he inherited Gibson’s role in The Fly), William Hurt (too dark for Warner Bros), Michael Keaton, Michael Madsen, Liam Neeson, Eric Roberts. Some were insipid: Jim Belushi, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Stephen Lang, Michael Nouri (he joined another cop duo in The Hidden),  Patrick Swayze. Plus TV cops  Don  Johnson, Tom Selleck… three foreign LA cops:  Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dutch Rutger Hauer and French Christophe(r) Lambert. And the inevitable (Aussie) outsider Richard Norton.
  5. Kevin Costner, No Way Out, 1986.  For his excellent thriller – labyrinthine and ingenious,  said Roger Ebert – the under-praised Aussie director Roger Donaldson caught Costner on the cusp of susperstardom (betweern The Untouchables and Field of Dreams) after seeing if the hero’s US Navy uniform would suit… Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn, Jeff Bridges, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, William Hurt, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Michael Nouri, Bill Paxton,  Sean Penn, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, Bruce Willis. Even the French Christophe(r) Lambert  or … Robin Williams?!
  6. Peter O’Toole, The Last Emperor, 1987.    Ciao, ciao… It’s Bernardo Bertolucci calling from Rome… Other callas – about for the child emperor’s tutor, Reginald Johnson –were received by Marlon Brando and Sean Connery.
  7. Jeremy Irons, Dead Ringers, 1988.      Hurt regretted rejecting Canadian director David Cronenberg’s offer to be twins. Cronenberg enjoyed Irons so much, they made M Butterfly, 1993.
  8. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall, 1989.      After 42 drafts, no third act and one bankruptcy, Total Recall became another word for jinx in Hollywood… Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis’ never-ending Martian thriller was nearly made by Richard Dreyfuss in Italy, Patrick Swayze in Australia… and  Hurt for director David Cronenberg… Next up for the heroics were Jeff Bridges, Christopher Reeve, Tom Selleck before almost becoming a B-movie with Harmon (cheapest on the list) or little Matthew Broderick (!). Then, Dino went belly-up… enabling Arnold to take over and (he’d been refused an audition by Dino!) and move Mars to Mexico and box-office glory. Cronenenberg reported working on the project for a year and 12 drafts. “Eventually we got to a point where [co-scenarist] Ron Shusett said: You’ve done the Philip K. Dick version. I said: Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing? He said: No, no, we want Raiders of the Lost Ark Go To Mars!” The Canadian flew back to The Fly. And everyone got the touristas except Arnold – he had his food, water, B12 shots flown in from home after a rotten Mexperience during Predator, 1986.
  9. 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 – Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta… 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.
  10. Michael Keaton, Batman, 1988.
  11. John  Malkovich, The Sheltering  Sky, 1990.      Hello? It’s Bertolucci calling again… now chasing Hurt-Melanie Griffith, before settling for Malkovich-Debra Winger. Author Paul Bowles said his autobiographical novel should never have been filmed. “The ending is idiotic and the rest is pretty bad.”

  12. James Caan, Misery, 1990.   
    “Beatty, Douglas, Dreyfuss… sure, I approached all those people,” said director Rob Reiner. “Every single one of those bastards turned me down… As much as I tried to convince them that I’d try to elevate the genre – which I feel we did – they saw it as a Stephen King, blood and guts kinda  film.” “Leading men hate to be passive; hate to be eunuchised by their female co-stars,” said top scenarist William Goldman on why 22 actors avoided the prospect of being beaten up and beaten to an Oscar by Kathy Bates as the mad fan of writer Paul Sheldon. Warren Beatty prevaricated but never actually said no (nor yes).  Richard Dreyfuss regretted disappointing director Rob Reiner again after refusing When Harry Met Sally, 1988 (they had earlier made a classic of   King’s novella, The Body, as Stand By Me, 1985).   William Hurt refused – twice. Jack Nicholson didn’t want another King guy so soon after The Shining.  While Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino being up  for the same role was nothing new  – but Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman was  Also fleeing the  32nd of Stephen King’s staggering 313 screen credits were Tim Allen, Jeff Daniels, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, close pals Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, Ed Harris, John Heard, Robert Klein, Bill Murray, Ed O’Neill, John Ritter, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams and Bruce Willis… who went on to be Sheldon in Goldman’s  2015 Broadway version.

  13. Tom Berenger, Shattered, 1991.    German director Wolfgang Petersen’s first choice (opposite Sissy Spacek) when preparing Richard Neely’s Plastic Nighmare for his  Hollywood debut.   He had, In fact, been working on it since before his global breakthrough  with Das boot ten years before.
  14. Vincent D’Onofrio, Naked Tango, 1991.      Obvious choice for Leonard Schrader’s 1988 directing debut – the Oscar winner from his 1987 script, Kiss of the Spider Woman.  Hurt didn’t agree.
  15. Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, 1991.      Hurt had moved  to France where he had a daughter, Jeanne, with French star Sandrine Bonnaire. 
  16. Sam Neill, Jurassic Park, 1992.
  17. Martin Sheen, Gettysburg, 1992. General Robert E Lee  (like Ted Turner’s first cinema  project) went through numerous changes. (And 4 hours 8 minutes).  From Hurt to Tommy Lee Jones to Robert Duvall to Sheen.  Duvall played the general in the prequel, Gods and Generals, 2003.
  18. Michael Ontkean, Making Love, 1992.    Several stars were worried about the subject matter: a young husband’s bisexuality being aroused by Harry Hamlin.  Also fleeing: Hurt, Tom Berenger, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, William Hurt, Peter Strauss. Pauline Kael called it: ineffable.  Poor Hamlin lost various films after the gay love story. “It was 10 years too early, I guess, and it completely ended my career. That was the last studio picture I ever did. The door shut with a resounding smash.” And this after Warner Bros had offered him “the Clint” – a three-picture contractnamed after Clint Eastwood’s deal.  The first two films were to be First Blood, the first Rambo movie, and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Three years later, Hurt was gay in The Kiss of the Spider Woman. It did not, er, hurt his career; indeed, he won the first ever Best Actor Oscar, for such a role.
  19. Jeremy Irons, House of the Spirits, 1993.      Irons wins again.  Or, then  again, did he? Full of Euros playing  Latinos, the film was  lamentable!

  20. Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, 1993.      
    “I want to do good rather than evil in my work.”   Various religious leaders assured him that he would not be putting his immortal soul in danger.  “Particularly,” said the rabbis, “if you say Spielberg is directing”!  Steven had chased him for two years, yet Hurt could never reconcile his issues about making a commercial film about the Holocaust.

  21. John Travolta, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
  22. Vincent Gallo, House of Spirits, 1993.    The odd choices of  Danish director Bille August led to his bizarre casting of Anglos (Gallo, Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep and her debuting daughter, Grace Gummer) to play novelist  Isabel Allende’s passionate Chileans! Our favourite  critic Roger Ebert simply made use of  Mark Twain on women swearing. “They know the words, but not the music.”
  23. Bernard Giraudeau, Les caprices d’un fleuve, France, 1995.   Only the French could make a drama called Unpredictable Nature of the River. For a wee while, actor Giraudeau’s sixth outing as auteur was to be shot in English. Feelers were sent out to both Hurt and Harvey Keitel until, as he’d always planned sincediscovering the story, Giraudeau directed himself as thegovernor of a French territory in Africa during slavery, circa 1785.
  24. James Woods, Killer: A Journal of Murder, 1995.   Ed Haris, William Hurt and John Malkovich were considered for Carl Panzram – “one of the most vicious, degenerate criminals of his time,” reported critic Roger Ebert inhis Chicago  Sun-Times review. So, of course, he was played by Jimmy Woods. In the same year, he was also  the killer of black civil rights worker Medgar Evers in Ghosts of Mississippi. 
  25. Lance Henriksen, Millennium, TV, 1996-1999.      The Fox studio  wanted Hurt as the ex-FBI profiler Frank Black – but bowed to the show’s creator Chris Carter (already a Fox deity due to TheX Files, 1993-2002). The 67 episodes never actually made it into   the start of the new millennium in 2000.
  26. Billy Zane, Titanic, 1996.
  27. Eric Roberts, Doctor Who (The Movie), TV, 1996.    
  28. Dylan Baker, Happiness, 1998.    All singing from the same hymn sheet – “Compelling andinteresting materialbut… I’m a father first and an actor second” – a dozen starsfled the therapist who was a pedophile in the bleakly controversialscript by young New Jersey auteur Todd Solondz. The London Sunday Times TV critic, AA Gill, once described Hurt as “an actor everyone admires, but few warm too.He comes from the Alec Guinness School of Less is More.He has so much less that he has become post-minimal…It’s like looking at a Japanese flower arrangement – you know it’s clever, it just makes you feel uncomfortable.”
  29. Bob Balaban, Lady in the Water, 2005.    For his seventh fantasy, director M Night Shyamalan had a list of various top actors – Hurt  Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Chris Cooper, Philip Seymour Hoffman,  Sidney Poitier, etc-for his supportingmale roles, including Irwin’s bookish weirdo who never leaves his room and rarely speaks except for essential truths.
  30. Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2006.     During 25 years in Development Hell, the titular casting also included Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino. Tim Curry was the sole Brit considered and the most absurd notions were… Warren Beatty. Harrison Ford and Robert Redford!

  31. Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables, 2011.   Oh, Hollywood… Since the musical’s 1985 London opening, suggestions for Jean Valjean went from  the logical –  Hurt, Robert De Niro, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Kevin Kline – to the preposterous: Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Christopher Walken.  Plus close pals, rarely rivals, Beatty and Jack Nicholson. However, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman  and Al Pacino were far too short for the hefty hero who, in a signature scene, has to carry Cosette’s lover, away from the battle of the barricades. Put it another way, Hollywood’s last Valjean had been Liam Neeson  – 6ft. 4in.
  32. John Cusack/Paul Dano, Love & Mercy, 2014.   Over the decades, two actors were chosen to portraya Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson – and two more did actually play him… Way back in the 80s, Wilson’s therapist, Dr Eugene Levy (and his associates) tried to set up a biopic with Hurt as Wilson and Richard Dreyfuss as Landy.  In the 90s, Jeff Bridges was to be Wilson. Finally, director Bill Bohlad chose Dano and Cusack as the young and older Wilson in his turbulent years of 1964-1987. Landy was, but of course, Paul Giamatti.
  33. John Doman, The Trial of the Chicago 7, 20191. Thirteen years in the making, from when Steven Spielberg told supreme scenarist Aaron Sorkin about his plans to make a film about the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the insane trial of seven of the Vietnam war protestors… to Sorkin directing his own scenario. Spielberg had immediately cast Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, wanted Will Smith to be Bobby Seale and as for Tom Hayden, he had a meet planned with Heath Ledger… who ODed the day before. Their roles went to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eddie Redmayne. Just as Hurt passed attorney-general John Mitchell to Doman.
  34. Harrison Ford, Captain America: New World Order, 2022.  At age 80, Indiana Solo Deckard enters the Marvelverse… Following the death of Hurt that year, Ford agreed to take over General Thaddeus ”Thunderbolt” Ross.  Basing him on Moby Dick‘s Captain Ahab, Hurt  succeeded  the 2002  Hulk’s Sam Elliott as General  Ross in The Incredible Hulk, 2007, and as Secretary of State  Ross in Captain America: Civil War, 2015.





 Birth year: 1950Death year: 2022Other name: Casting Calls:  33