Sir Michael Palin

  1. 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 (Palin, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones) were judged not international enough (and Howerd, Milligan and Pertwee were?!)  Cleese, Idle and Palin were offered the 2004 re-hash, by which time Chapman had died and Gilliam and Jones  turned director.

  2. Graham Chapman, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979.     On the boil since Eric Idle suggested Jesus Christ: Lust For Glor in 1975, the Brian script was finished in Barbados over Christmas 1977, when the group managed to persuade Palin andf John Cleese not to play Brian Cohen, the reluctant Messiah born in the next stable to Jesus .”But it was clear to anyone, Iike me,” said Eric Idle, “that Gaham was far and away the best choice.” Or he was with the aid of an elastic band after director Terry Jones said he did not look Jewish during his full fronal nudity!

  3. Dudley Moore, Arthur, 1980.    He heard the somewhat surprising Hollywood offer on January 7, 1980. But he was committed to Time Bandits.  Palin saw Dud’s film in ’82. “That rare thing – a comedy with laughs all the way through and a happy ending. Dudley very funny – manages to make all his jokes and gags have that attractive quality of spontaneous asides.”  But John Cleese always maintained that Palin was the funniest man in the world.

  4. John Cleese, Time Bandits, 1981.      Director Terry Gilliam had two sheets of paper with this kid on – a kid loking at his cupboard, doors open  and a knight bursts out on hos horse… right into a time warp, and going from time to time..  George Harrison loved it: How much?  “Say $3m.”  “Terry is brilliant,” said George, “and I think we need to make films with people like him.” “I quite liked it,:” said Palin but it was not a Python film – though it had four Pythons aboard. Dennis O’Brien said: “We need a part for John – Robin Hood!”  “But Mike is playing him,” said Gilliam.  “Wouldn’t John be better?” “And Mike being Mike, a very nice guy, agreed he’d be better.”  Palin said: ”He was brilliant much better than I could ever have done. So i wrote myself in as Vincent.” As a result of this casting, Cleese was asked to be Robin in the quickie version being made to beat Kevin Coster’s epic to the cinemas in 1991.

  5. Martin Hewitt, Yellowbeard, 1982.     Eric Idle, annoyed at how Time Bandits almost turned into a Monty Python film (when it wasn’t) , was thethe only star happy about this one. It had John Cleese and Graham Chapman wrote and starred in the title role but Terry Jones kept refusing it. Likewise, Palin: “I’m not budging,” he told exec producer Dennis O’Brien. With reason. Cleese called the script “one of the worst I’veever read.”
  6. Sting, Brimstone and Treacle, 1982.Palin had tried to persuade Richard Loncraine to direct one of his TVRipping Yarns. Now Loncraine asked him to star in the film version of the Dennis Potter TV play. But for it to head Palin’s ’81 work load, as he told his diary, it would need to be “totally and unequivocally unmissable. And it wasn’t that.” (Loncraine directed Palin’s next script and starring venture, The Missionary – aka“Mish” 1982).
  7. Michael Caine, Water, 1984.Not for the first/last time, Palin is told that a HandMade film already has John Cleese (or Terry Jones). It doesn’t.Palin, non plus.He’s not impressed by writer-director Dick Clement’sinternational comedy – “a very dangerous concept,” feels Palin.Worse, after 16 wonderful pages, the script falls apart, laughs stop, “no characters are developed, new characters are thrust in… jokes become stretched and laboured.” So, inevitably,Caine said yes!
  8. Barrie Ingham, The Great Mouse Detective, 1985. After John Cleese passed, fellow-Python Palin and Peter Cook were consisdered for Basil, the mouse living in Sherlock Holmes 221B Baker Street and catching the great man’s deductive powers.
  9. Alexander Godunov, The Money Pit, 1985.  
    “Heart falls at the title,” said Palin, when actor-turned-director Richard Benjamin asked him to join  Universal’s Xmas biggie. “Hundreds of relentlessly funny New York Jewish one-liners… [no] real warmth, depth of character or indeed charm of any kind.” When shoved out around Easter, Chicago critic Roger Ebert was more trenchant: “one funny scene and 91 minutes of running time to kill.”

  10. Tom Courteney, Leonard Part 6, 1987. “The sledge-hammer of zaniness has been wielded mercilessly,” said Palin of the script. “It’s cruel, corny, clumsy stuff and… I’m not yet ready to do anything for money – even be Bill Cosby’s butler with some good linsc.”The “comedy” was so awful that Cosby told people not to go see it and both the TV rights to make sure it was never seen on the box.
  11. Jeroen Krabbé, A World Apart, 1987.     Palin’s phone rings: Could he fly to Zimbabwe to be Joe Slovo, “the nicest man in the world” and an important figure in the South Africa liberation struggle. “Makes a change from the camp butler or the zany transvestite English hairdresser.”No, he was rehearsing A Wish Called Wanda.Phone rings again: “Prince Edward here…” about joining a TV show for charity.

  12. Terry Gilliam, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1987.     Fellow Python Terry Gilliam asked Palin to play his Prime Minister of the Moon – before dropping the character. Gilliam then offered the consolation part of a man who is discovered in a corner singing a mournful song, prior to falling dead from his seat… “l’m happy to sit this one out.” Palin demurred. Gilliam sang for his own supper.
  13. Robin Williams, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1987.   … then,next, when Sean Connery withdrew from his King of the Moon cameo, Gilliam called up Palin again  – while another Python in the film, Eric Idle, had persuaded Williams to do it.   Gilliam withdrew his offer to Palin. “That’s what friends are for.To treat them shabbily.  It was a very unpleasant moment.”
  14. Peter O’Toole, High Spirits, 1987.     Midway through auteur Neil Jordan’s “Irish-American hokum,” Palin had a surge of enthusiasm, for his “interestingly manic” character. Then, heread on. “The comedy becomes more separate… the laughs cruder.. [with]all the hallmarks of Hollywood’s corrosive influence.”
  15. Michael Caine, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 1988.     Or King of the Mountain, when director Frank Oz asked him to form a con-man duo with Steve Martin. “Different for me – I’m not the victim or the shopkeeper but the dominant instigator of most of the events – and a meaty role which would place considerable demands on my acting, but that’s what I need.” Two days later, an embarrassed Oz tellshim another actor has changed his mind and now wants in again… Richard Dreyfuss. It’s Dirty Rotten Criminals when Palin is called for New York talks. Dreyfuss returns to the mix until Caine strolls in. “It’s between you three,” said a rather harrassed Oz.
  16. Tim Robbins, Erik The Viking, 1988.There was a flurry of names run up various flagpoles to be Erik,from Nicolas Cage and Tom Hulce to Michael Palin and… wit for it… Harrison Ford!!!
  17. Robbie Coltrane, Nuns on the Run, 1989.    “The Story of an Immaculate Deception”  was a  kind of Some Like It Nun…  and  copied  by Sister Act, 1991.  The only UK film from Yes, Minister’s co-creator, Jonathan Lynn, arrived, as Palin’s diary, December 14, 1987, “with Eric’s blessing.”   Palin was too busy so no Python double act as Eric Idle co-starred with Coltrane. They were London gangsters on the lam as, respectvely, Sister Euphemia of the Five Wounds and Sister Inviolata of the Immaculate Conception.  It was the last movie made by George Harrison’s Hand Made Films. He never  saw any mystique about making films.  “In fact, I don’t really think the film business is all it’s cracked up to be.”
  18. Rowan Atkinson, The Lion King, 1993.     Also in the 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: Palin, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle.
  19. Paul McGann, Doctor Who (The Movie), TV, 1996.   
  20. Johnny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004.  
    A major Monty P fan, director Tim Burton mused over the surviving Pythons – Palin, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones – for chocolatier Willy Wonka. (They’d also been up for the 1970 version). Burton’s 25 other fancies were ole Betelgeuse, Michael Keaton, plus Rowan Atkinson, Dan Aykroyd, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Chevy Chase, Warwick Davis, Robert De Niro, James Gandolfini, Dwayne Johnson, Ian McKellen, Marilyn Manson, Steve Martin, Rik Mayall, Bill Murray, Mjke Myers, John Neville, Brad Pitt, Peter Sallis, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Will Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, Christopher Walken, Robin Williams. Among the five exec producers, author Roald Dahl’s widow, Liccy, wanted her husband’s favourite Williy – Dustin Hoffman.   If not possible she voted for UK comics, Eddie Izzard or David Walliams. She was quite happy with Depp… who found Willy’s voice while riffing on a stoned George W Bush!

  21. Jonathan Pryce,The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, 2017.


 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  21