Nick Nolte

  1. Michael Ontkean, Slap Shot, 1975. After the former  stage actor broke through a year later in  TV’s Rich Man, Poor Man, he was buried in three  picture deals. “I’d say: What are the pictures? And they were always crap.” Which is why he tried to join Paul Newman’s ice-hockey mooners.But there was no time for Nolte to take skating lessons.  Don Most, aka Malph in the Happy Daysseries, auditioned for the same role in Paul Newman’s Charlestown Chiefs’ squad.  But the Canadian or Vancouverian Ontkean was the real thing. He had been a useful hockey player who turned down a New York Rangers pro contract to take up acting. 
  2. Roy Scheider, Sorcerer, 1976.    … and director William Friedkin’s unwise, un-good and unsuccessful re-make of HG Clouzot’s Le salaire de la peur/The Wages of Fear, 1953.
  3. Harrison Ford,Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1976.
  4. Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1978.
  5. John Heard, Cutter’s Way, (ex-Cutter and Boone), 1980.   Once Dustin Hoffman’s schedule clashed, producer Paul Gurian was keen on Nolte or Tommy Lee Jones as Alex Cuitter, while Czech director Ivan Passer preferred Heard. Passer later complained: “UA murdered the film. Or, at least, they tried to murder it.”
  6. Ken Wahl, Fort Apache the Bronx,1980.   New York mayor Ed Koch called it racist. Yeah, right, with a civil rights champion starring!  Floating around for some years – once with Steve McQueen  and Nolte attached – was based on New York detectives, Tom Mulheran and Peter Tessitore (respun as Murphy and Corelli). Their 41st Precinct beat was known as Fort Apache because of the huge crime rate. Must have improved. It was later known as… Little House on the Prairie.
  7. Harrison FordRaiders of the Lost Ark, 1981.
  8. Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, 1981.  UK wiz Ridley Scott spent a long time sniffing out the perfect Deckard.  From top notchers Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman (the first choice was keen… on making it a totally different character, of course), Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino…  to such excellent journeymen as William Devane, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Frederic Forrest, Scott Glenn, Tommy Lee Jones, Raul Julia, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken.  Martin Sheen was too exhausted after Apocalypse Now. In sheer desperation, choices lowered to Cliff Gorman, Judd Hirsch. Even the Virginian Morgan Paull stood a chance, having played Deckard in Scott’s tests of potential Rachaels. (He was given Holden for his pains). Plus Arnold Schwarzenegger, not yet seen as Conan, much less Terminator.  And for probably the last time in such an illustrious list,  the fading star of Burt Reynolds.
  9. Kurt Russell, The Thing, 1981.    “The ultimate in alien terror.” Bah! Not even close. Which explains why Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Kevin Kline passed on John Carpenter’s unwanted re-hash of the (so-so) 1950 original produced (some say, directed) by Howard Hawks.  So Carpenter actually thought about Chuck Norris!!! (Could have been worse,  Universal had wanted Tobe Hooper to direct). Fred Ward fought for the lead  but Russell won the third of his five Carpenter movies.  
  10. Sylvester Stallone, First Blood (Rambo), 1981.

  11. Martin Sheen, That Championship Season, 1982.    Announced with George C Scott by director William Friedkin in the 70s.
  12. Chuck Norris, Code of Silence, 1984.  When Clint Eastwood passed on what was first called Dirty Harry IV: Code of Silence, the next rewrite of George LaFountaine’s 1976 French book, Le Pétard recalcitrant, was offered to Jeff Bridges Charles Bronson, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Gene Hackman, Tommy Lee Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell and Jon Voight. Coming so soon after Burt Reynolds’ Dirty Harryish Sharkey’s Machine, 1981, this one was put down as Dirty Chuckie
  13. Don Johnson, Miami Vice,TV, 1984-1990.   The legendary pitch, from NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff, was simple.  “MTV cops!”  Anthony Kerkovich and Michael Mann did the splashy rest – as, originally,Gold Coast. TV stars Richard Dean Anderson and Larry Wilcox were seen seen for vice cop Sonny Crockett.  Plus Nolte, Jeff Bridges and Mickey Rourke, although TV was still t sneered at by film folk back in the day.  The show gave some of their earliest screen acting gigs to such folk as Annette Bening, Julia Robers, Jimmy Smits, John Turturro,  Bruce Willis,… even Miles Davis and Little  Richard! 
  14. Mickey Rourke, Year of the Dragon, 1984.   Except when released in ’95, it was the less punchy Year of the Ox…  Rourke  said (and he should jnow) the fewrocious script was written for Clint Eastwood or Paul Newman. The writers, Oliver Stone and Michel Cimino, also thought of Bridges and Nick Nolte for the NYPD detective trying to clean up Chinatown.   Cimino owed his career to Clint, who liked his Thunderbolt and Lightfoot script and let him direct it – co-starring Bridges!   Cimino also helmed  Rourke in the ill-fated Heaven’s Gate and Dangerous Hours.
  15. Willem Dafoe, Platoon,1985.    Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Johnny Depp (way too young), Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, Denzel Washington  were on parade for Sergeant Grodin, Elias K. 3365664125 USKC-987654in the only Vietnam war movie made by a Vietnam war veteran.  Auteur Oliver Stone grunted through eight months of ’Nam combat (twice wounded) during 1967-1968  This then, was as  viscerallyclose to the real thing as possible, feasible or desirable – ie, not John Wayne’s spurious propaganda, Green Berets, 1967. Originally,  Stone had wanted to match Nolte and Mickey Rourke as the two sergeants fighting for Charlie Sheen’s soul, as leraders of two factions oif grunts: the heads (into dope) and juicers (booze). Or then again, life death. 
  16. Clancy Brown, HIghlander, 1985.   Sean Connery and Christophe(r) Lambert (!) were set as the Scottish heroes while Australian director Russell Mulcahy set about choosing his villainous Kurgan, the “strongest of all the immortals.” The wish list included Scott Glenn, Rutger Hauer, Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Roy Sheider. Clancy Brown said he based his Kurgan on… Schwarzie’s Terminator. After thoughts about 007’s Oddjob  with the baddy in a good suit and a bowler hat!  (Glenn and Kurt Russell were also seen for Connor MacLeod – and made Backdraft, 1990, also written by Gregory Widen).
  17. Willem Dafoe, Platoon, 1986. 
  18. Jim Belushi, About Last Night, 1986.    Nolte flew to New York to meet Bill Murray about filming David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago. “Not,” reported the then director Rob Cohen, “a match made in heaven.”

  19. Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987.   
    There were 17 possible John McClanes… From Michael Madsen, Tom Berenger, and top TV heroes Don Johnson and Richard Dean Anderson to A-listers Charles Bronson, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone… and Frank Sinatra?  Yes, well, Roderick Thorpe’s book, Nothing Lasts Forever, sequelised  The Detective  – and  that 1967 film  starred Sinatra (as Joe Leland,  changed here to  McClane) and so Sinatra  had first dibs on any sequels. At age 73, old Rheumy BlueEyes wisely passed. Otherwise it could have  been “Dooby-dooby-do”  in place of  “Yippee-ki-yay.”  In his 1980 move debut, The First Deadly Sin, Willis is seen leaving a bar as Sinatra walks in.  So it flows… He was soon  taking roles from most of those on the McClane list.

  20. Kevin Costner, Bull Durham, 1987. Ron Shelton had one helluva  job trying to win backing for his directing debut. “Baseball? Get outa here. Ball movies don’t sell.”  But his producer Thom Mount was part-owner of the real Durham Bulls squad Thandrecognised what Roger Ebert would call a sports movie that knows what it is talking about – because it knows so much about baseball and so little about love.” Orion stumped up $9m, eight weeks, creative freedom – the cast cut their costs because of the script. For the minor-league veteran, Crash Davis, Shelton  looked at: Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones (he was baseball icon Ty Cobb in Shelton’s Cobb, 1994), Michael Keaton, Stephen Lang, Nick Nolte (more into football), Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell (who worked on the script with Shelton), Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis – and even three foreigners to the game: Aussie Mel Gibson, French Christophe(r) Lambert and Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Result: more sports from Shelton (basketball, golf, boxing) and more baseball movies from Hollywood: A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out (with Sheen), Field of Dreams (Costner), Major League I and II  (Berenger and Sheen).

  21. Kurt Russell, Tequila Sunrise, 1988.     The LA buddies on either side of the law – dealer and cop – went from Jeff Bridges-Nick Notle to Beatty-Scott Glenn to producer Thom Mount’s winning combo. Gibson-Kurt Russell.  Towne and Russell based Nick Frescia on another contender, Pat Riley, coach of the LA Lakers basketball team. “Riley’s look was right… arrogantly confident but not offensive,” said Russell. So he used it again as Furious 7 and 8’s Mr Nobody in 2014 and 2016.  
  22. 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 – Nolte, Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, 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.
  23. Robert Redford, Havana, 1990.     Once hailed as the TV Redford, Nolte passed on gambler Jack Weil, setting up a poker game in Cuba 1958 – played by the Dominican Republic and Key West, Florida. This was Redford’s seventh and last (and worst) film with director pal Sydney Pollack after the seven-Oscar highs of their Out of Africa, 1985. Which is why Jack Nicholsn nixed it.
  24. Jeff Daniels, Love Hurts, 1991    .Jonathan Demme could not find backing for Nolte, left it to Bud Yorkin and Daniels.
  25. Mickey Rourke, White Sands, 1991. Having starred in director Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out, 1986, Kevin Costner was the Aussie’s first choice for the hero who had never seen Antonioni/Nicholson’s The Passengerand so never learned that taking over another man’s identity can blow up in the face. Plus Nolte or Jeff Bridges or Nick Nolte as Lennox. They were all too pricey for a modest thriller.  Rourke’s  co-star was Willem Dafoe.
  26. Michael Ironside, Chaindance (US video: Common Bonds), 1991.  Despite a lowly budget, the touching movie required some star appeal. Nolte and John Hurt were talked of. But things worked out how Ironside obviously intended.  He was, after all, the co-writer and producer, and perfect for a career-changing role of a hardass jailbird seconded into a hospital programme to aid a superb Brad Dourif as a cerebral palsy patient. 
  27. Kevin Costner,JFK, 1991.
  28. Robert Downey Jr, Chaplin,1981.  Peter Sellers’ dream role for decades…  The studio wanted to play safe: Billy Crystal or Robin Williams.  UK director Richard Attenborough had even more  bizzare ideas for his biopic: Jeff Bridges, Jim Carrey, John Cusack, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Kevin Kline (he became Douglas Fairbanks Jr). Plus Nick Nolte as the older Charlie. And one Brit only, the West End stage star Anthony Sher. Oh, and inexplicably, Nicolas Cage!!??? The first time she saw Downey dressed up on-set, Geraldine Chaplin (playing her paternal grandmother Hannah Chaplin) was so choked up she could scarcely breathe. 
  29. Bruce Willis, Death Becomes Her, 1992.    After Kevin Kline and Jeff Bridges passed, Nick agreed with them and Robert Zemeckis went to a fourth choice of co-star… as if Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn weren’t big enough names for the whacky comedy wannabe.
  30. Don Johnson, Born Yesterday, 1992.    Disney’s cost-conscious Hollywood Pictures cut the re-make’s budget from three stars to one – Melanie Griffith. Not saying much for John Goodman and her eventually added husband.

  31. Michael Douglas, Falling Down, 1992.  I lost my job. Well, actually I didn’t lose it, it lost me. I am over-educated, under-skilled. Maybe it’s the other way around, I forget. But I’m obsolete. I’m not economically viable.” The guy known only by his car number-plate, D-FENS, is suffering from society and melting down. Dangerously. Perfect, therefore, for Alec Baldwin, Jeff Bridges, Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Robin Williams – and, indeed, director Joel Schumacher’s choice of his pal, Douglas, in a Spartacus  buzz-cut, glasses and, finally, his very own Cuckoo’s Nest.  

  32. Harrison Ford, The Fugitive, 1993.  Paging Dr Kimble…  There was a queue answering the call for the film of David Janssen’s 1963-1967 series. Alec Baldwin, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner (directing as well), Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia,  Richard Gere, Mel Gibson (also up for the relentless cop, Gerard), Michael Keaton, Nick Nolte (director Walter Hill’s choice, but Andrew Davis made the movie – the fourth in his home town, Chicago), Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve,Arnold Schwarzengger. “The minute Harrison Ford shows up, they drop everything and sign up Harrison Ford,” Baldwiin complained. (It’s called being a star, Alec). Mel Gibson was up for either Kimble or his Javert-like hunter, Lieutenant Gerard – an Oscared gig for Tommy Lee Jones.
  33. Richard Gere, Intersection, 1994.    Nolte had already re-made Michel Simon and Gérard Depardieu classics and producer Frederic Golchan also saw him for Michel Piccoli’s classic role in the (bad – what else?) re-tread of Les choses de la vie.
  34. Bruce Willis, 12 Monkeys, 1995. Director Terry Gilliam nearly fled when The Money Men closed ranks against Nolte and Jeff Bridges.
  35. Tom Hanks, Forest Gump, 1995.    A bright notion as Frank Oz, Joe Dante, Penny Marshall, Robert Zemeckis all rejected the script. Zemeckis changed his mind and won an Oscar – presented, by chance (?), by his mentor, Steven Spielberg.
  36. Al Pacino, Heat, 1995.   Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were first reserves in case the planned first face-to-face meeting in a movie of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino did not happen (due to, say, Pacino’s facelift going askew). And if Nolte-Bridges also passed, Tom Sizemore was to replace one or the other The much anticipated De Niro-Pacino scene matched  auteurs Michael Mann’s film –   not what it was cracked up to be.
  37. Liam Neeson, Before And After, 1996. Columbia wanted Nolte or (again!) Jeff Bridges to be Meryl Streep’s husband. Barbert Schroeder kept the faith with the big Irishman.
  38. Jon Voight, The Rainmaker, 1996.    For an insurance company man as Francis Coppola lowered his sights – and tackled John Grisham.  “The best adaptation of any of my books,” said Grisham. “I love the movie. It’s so well done.”
  39. Peter Fonda,Ulee’s Gold, 1997.    Winning his first Oscar nomination, Fonda yelled: “Thank God for Nick Nolte…!”
  40. George Clooney, Three Kings, 11998.  Or two, anyway. Director David O Russell and his star, Clooney.  Well, not his star, actually. He’d wanted  Jeff Bridges, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson or Nolte  (the only one to admit he was too old for Major Gates). Or even Nicolas Cage, but he was Bringing Out The Dead. So as far as Russell was concered, he was stuck with Clooney – working three days a week on ER in LA, and four for Russell. Their  main fight had been over Russell’s treatment of an extra, throwing him to the ground. He then foolishly taunted Clooney: “Hit me!”  So, he did.

  41. James Woods, Northfolk, 2003.    Nolte loved the Polish brothers’ script but preferred the parish priest Father Harlan and “Jimmy was already circling the Walter role, ” noted Michael Polish who directed. His co-writer-producer twin, Mark, played Jimmy’s son.
  42. Jon Voight, Pride and Glory, 2006.    Benched by an old knee injury… 9/ll postponed the movie when original co-stars Hugh Jackman and Mark Wahlberg agreed that after the Twin Tower heroics was not the time for an NYPD corruption exposé. Once made, the movie was shelved for two years… as Wahlberg took over Jackman’s role in The Lovely Bones, 2008.
  43. John Colton, Frenchy, Hong Kong-Thailand-US, 2008.   Neither the pitch  (ex-mercenary haunted by his past ) nor the film, the second from producer-auteur-star Jean-Claude Van Damme (then called The Eagle Path) seduced buyers at the 2010 Cannes festival. Two years later, it failed again to win a distributor as Soldier –  idem  in 2014 as Full Love.  Last I heard in 2021, it  was finally made over as Frenchy (JCVD’s hero role) He had considered pals Nolte and Forest Whitakers for roles in a cast including his daughter  Bianca Bree and son Kristopher Van Varenberg (also billed as co-producer).  Neither one has made another  film since 2008.  
  44. Aaron Eckhart, The Rum Diary, 2009.     Booked for Sanderson opposite Johnny Depp’s Kemp (aka the young gonzo journo Hunter S Thompson) in a 2000 version that rocked but never rolled. Never giving up, Depp made it happen nine years on.
  45. Richard Jenkins, The Rum Diary, 2011.  Nolte, Benicio Del Toro, John Hartnett and Brad Pitt were the first line-up for what became Johnny  Depp’s second outing as his pal, gonzo journo Hunter S Thompson  – after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,1997, which co-starred Del Toro.. In both cases the directors misfired: Terry Gilliam in Vegas and Bruce Robinson making his first movie since 1992 for Diary.  Del Toro had once been  due to hlm.
  46. Paul Schrader, Dog Eat Dog, 2016.    The crooks are so dumb, this is Carry On Tarantino. But the director, Paul Schrader, said: “The film is as much about crime films as it is about criminals. There’s kind of a meta quality to it.” Just not enough to interest Nolte, Michael Douglas, Rupert Everett, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Michael Wincott in playing a mobster called The Greek. Schrader also asked fellow directors – but Italian Americans! – Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Then, Nic Cage persuaded his director to go Greek, himself.  



 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  46