‘The low point of my career’: 13 times actors were fired from Hollywood roles

Megan Fox, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore have all been let go from high-profile roles  (Getty)
Megan Fox, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore have all been let go from high-profile roles (Getty)

Once an actor has nailed their audition and been cast in a film, you’d think that they’re locked in for the long haul. But that’s far from the case.

Some of the biggest, most celebrated stars in Hollywood have been let go from high-profile movies – an experience that’s surely only made worse if the news then makes headlines around the world.

Sometimes, a performer and their director clash behind the scenes, whether that’s over bad behaviour or their totally different approaches to the source material. Sometimes, there’s no real backstage drama – it’s simply the case that, once the filmmakers see them on set, in costume and interacting with their co-stars, the actor just doesn’t make sense in the role they’ve been hired to play.

Here are some of the most infamous Hollywood firings to date…

Julianne Moore, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Production was about to begin on Can You Ever Forgive Me?, with Julianne Moore cast as notorious literary forger Lee Israel, the author who wrote and sold fake letters from famous writers like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. But a few days before shooting started, Moore was sent packing. “Nicole [Holofcener, the film’s co-writer and then-director] fired me,” the actor later revealed. “I think she didn’t like what I was doing. I think that her idea of where the character was, was different than where my idea of where the character was, and so she fired me.” Richard E Grant, who played Israel’s friend Jack in the finished film opposite Melissa McCarthy in the lead role, later claimed that Moore had “wanted to wear a fat suit and a fake nose”.

Julianne Moore and her director had very different ideas about the role (Getty Images)
Julianne Moore and her director had very different ideas about the role (Getty Images)

After Moore’s departure, the production collapsed – an experience that Holofcener described as “traumatic” and “terrible” –  and later underwent a significant shake-up, with a new cast and new director, Marielle Heller. Still Holofcener and her co-writer Jeff Whitty eventually earned an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, with McCarthy and Grant picking up acting nominations too. As for Moore? When she last discussed this episode back in 2019, she still hadn’t seen the film, because “it’s still kind of painful”.

Ryan Gosling, The Lovely Bones

When Ryan Gosling was cast as a father grieving his murdered daughter in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Noughties bestseller The Lovely Bones, he set to work preparing for the role in a somewhat unorthodox way: by drinking melted Haagen Dazs ice cream in order to put on weight. He ended up gaining about 60 pounds – apparently prompting Jackson to do a double take when Gosling arrived for filming.

“We had a different idea of how the character should look. I really believed he should be 210 pounds,” the actor later told a Hollywood Reporter roundtable. “We didn’t talk very much during the pre-production process which was the problem,” he added. “It was a huge movie, and there’s so many things to deal with, and he couldn’t deal with the actors individually. I just showed up on the set, and I had gotten it wrong. Then I was fat and unemployed.” Writer and producer Fran Walsh, who is also Jackson’s partner, gave a slightly different perspective on Gosling’s departure, suggesting that the star, who was then in his late twenties, had come to feel that he was too young to play the father of a teenager. Mark Wahlberg was eventually drafted in to fill the role.

Megan Fox, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

In 2009, with two blockbuster Transformers movies under her belt, Megan Fox’s star was firmly on the rise. Like any actor in their ascendancy, she sat down with a magazine, in this case Wonderland, for an interview… and then things went awry. In the resulting profile, Fox likened Transformers director Michael Bay to Hitler. “He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad man reputation,” she told the publication. “He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is.”

Her character Mikaela didn’t appear in the next instalment of the franchise, with model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley joining as a new love interest for main character Sam (Shia LaBeouf). In 2011, Bay claimed that the film’s executive producer Steven Spielberg had asked for Fox to be fired. “You know the Hitler thing? Steven said ‘fire her right now,’” he told GQ. Fox later described the incident as “absolutely the low point of my career”, but said she learned from it, too. “Without ‘that thing’, I wouldn’t have learned as quickly as I did,” she told Cosmopolitan. “All I had to do was apologise, and I refused. I was so self-righteous at 23, I couldn’t see [that] it was for the greater good. I really thought I was Joan of Arc.”

Natalie Portman, Romeo + Juliet

Natalie Portman was deemed too young to carry on filming ‘Romeo + Juliet’ (Getty Images)
Natalie Portman was deemed too young to carry on filming ‘Romeo + Juliet’ (Getty Images)

It’s now hard to imagine anyone but Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles in Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic film adaptation of Shakespeare’s love story. Before the cameras started rolling in Luhrmann’s version of fair Verona, though, Natalie Portman had been cast as Juliet, beating hundreds of young hopefuls to the role.

But Portman was in her early teens, and during initial rehearsals it soon became clear that romantic scenes between her and 21-year-old DiCaprio weren’t “appropriate”, and she left the film. “It was a complicated situation,” the actor said later. “At the time I was 13 and Leonardo was 21, and it wasn’t appropriate in the eyes of the film company or the director, Baz. It was kind of a mutual decision too that it just wasn’t going to be right at the time.” Luhrmann shone more light on the reasoning behind her departure in a 2022 interview, telling the New York Times: “When you [saw] Leo in the flesh, he’s a tall, young man and you just realised, she was too young. Natalie was amazing in the footage, but it was too much of a burden for her at that age.”

Stuart Townsend, The Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Ring could’ve looked very different. When Peter Jackson was assembling the cast for his screen version of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy epic, he lined up Irish actor Stuart Townsend to play Aragorn. But after months of training and rehearsals, Townsend was let go from the film – just a few days into the shoot. “The director wanted me and then apparently thought better of it because he really wanted someone 20 years older than me and completely different,” Townsend told Entertainment Weekly a few years later, adding that he had “no good feelings for those people in charge”.

The producers then phoned Viggo Mortensen (14 years Townsend’s senior) and asked him to fly out to New Zealand for filming at the last minute. “When I was told that I would be replacing someone I felt awkward about it,” he reflected later. “I wondered if I would meet the actor but he was gone when I got there. I was just thrown into it and had to do the best I could.”

Viggo Mortensen, Platoon

Viggo Mortensen learned that he had been fired after reading a newspaper report (Getty Images)
Viggo Mortensen learned that he had been fired after reading a newspaper report (Getty Images)

Mortensen, meanwhile, had already had his own experience of being unexpectedly (and unceremoniously) dropped from a cast. The star told The Independent that he auditioned for Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War drama Platoon, only for the director to tell him that he needed to raise more money before filming began. Mortensen then spent a year getting into character, “reading every possible thing about Vietnam” – only to read in a newspaper that Stone was now making the film with Willem Dafoe in the role he’d thought was his.

The movie, Mortensen later learned during a phone call, now had “a bigger budget” and Stone wanted a higher profile star to match. Still, the actor now feels pretty magnanimous about the incident. “I wouldn’t have done the other things I’d done if that had happened – and if I had that sort of initial success, maybe I’d have got tired of the whole thing and quit,” he reasoned.

Eric Stoltz, Back to the Future

When the producers of Back to the Future were looking to cast a young actor as Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox was at the top of their list. But Fox was busy working on the sitcom Family Ties, prompting the filmmakers to sign up Eric Stoltz in the lead role. But after a few weeks of filming, it became clear that Stoltz just didn’t have the comic timing to pull off the part. Plus, his method approach to the role reportedly riled up some of his fellow cast and crew. Eventually, director Robert Zemeckis decided that Stoltz had to go. “I simply miscast him and I learned a very serious lesson,” Zemeckis recalled, adding that breaking the news to the actor “was the worst experience of my career”.

Fox, the producers’ first choice, was finally drafted in (though he would have to continue filming Family Ties during the day, then would shoot Back to the Future at night). Stoltz, meanwhile, later described his firing as a “freeing” experience. “In retrospect, I think just getting through that difficult period helped me realise how freeing it really was,” he told Moviehole. “I went back to acting school, I moved to Europe, I did some plays in New York, and I actually invested in myself in a way that was much healthier for me.”

Harvey Keitel, Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now’s journey to the big screen was a famously tumultuous one. One of the first snags in the production? When director Francis Ford Coppola decided that his leading man Harvey Keitel just wasn’t right for the role of Willard, the soldier ordered to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). “I could see [Keitel] was very uncomfortable about conditions in the jungle,” Coppola claimed in the book Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now. “And I thought, ‘Not only do I think he’s wrong casting, but what’s it going to be like for six months in these difficult conditions in the jungle for a city guy who’s afraid of it?’” Keitel later took issue with this version of events, telling Insider: “Well, Harvey Keitel spent three years in the United States Marines Corps in the jungle.” He was replaced by Martin Sheen, who faced his own struggles during filming (including suffering a heart attack at the age of just 36).

Richard Gere, The Lords of Flatbush

At the start of his career, Gere reportedly had a major falling out with Sylvester Stallone (Getty Images)
At the start of his career, Gere reportedly had a major falling out with Sylvester Stallone (Getty Images)

Long before they became two of Hollywood’s biggest names, Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone were both cast in The Lords of Flatbush, a coming of age story set in the Fifties. The pair immediately took a dislike to one another. “He would strut around in his oversized motorcycle jacket like he was the baddest night at the round table,” a still-disgruntled Stallone recalled in a 2006 interview.

The final straw, though, was when some of Gere’s lunch – “a half a chicken covered in mustard with grease nearly dripping out of the aluminium wrapper” – ended up on Stallone when they were sitting alongside each other in a car. “A small, greasy river of mustard lands on my thigh,” he said. “I elbowed him in the side of the head and basically pushed him out of the car.” Eventually, Stallone said, “the director had to make a choice” between him and Gere… and the latter was “given his walking papers”. Decades later, the pair reportedly ended up getting into a fight over Princess Diana, according to a scene from Sir Elton John’s memoirs. When they both turned up at the same event, Stallone wasn’t happy to see that Gere seemed to be getting on famously with Diana; later, Sir Elton’s partner David Furnish spotted the erstwhile colleagues “in the corridor, squaring up to each other, apparently about to settle their differences over Diana by having a fist-fight”.

Jean Claude van Damme, Predator

There are various different stories circulating about why Jean-Claude van Damme’s take on Predator’s titular role never made it to the big screen. Van Damme himself says that he hated wearing the outfit – and stilts – required to transform him into the villainous alien, and that he struggled to breathe inside it. His then co-star Bill Duke even claimed that the action star was given the boot after passing out in the costume due to dehydration, with a producer warning him: “If you pass out again, I’m gonna fire you.”

Others state that the filmmakers weren’t happy with the overall look of the film’s bad guy, and once the costume had been redesigned, they decided to take a different approach with casting too: they chose the tallest actor they could find to replace van Damme, which ended up being seven foot two basketball player Kevin Peter Hall. Then there’s another rumour that the producers got annoyed after van Damme allegedly threw the alien’s head to the floor and damaged it in the process. Perhaps the final straw, though, was the fact that the star apparently wanted the Predator to be a kickboxer.

James Remar, Aliens

Character actor James Remar was lined up to take the role of Corporal Dwayne Hicks in 1986’s Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi horror. But after just a few weeks on set, Remar left the film and was replaced by Michael Biehn. At the time, it was reported that Remar had to leave the London shoot to attend to “urgent matters at home”, but the actor later opened up about the real reason behind his departure. “I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it,” he revealed. “I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit [...] I was initially cast as Corporal Hicks, and I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs.”

Kel O’Neill, There Will Be Blood

Working alongside Daniel Day Lewis might, you can imagine, be a little intimidating for some performers. The actor’s painstaking Method approach to roles is well-documented (as is the fact that he’s the only performer to win three Best Actor Oscars). So when reports emerged that Kel O’Neill had left Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood because he was intimidated by Day Lewis, it all seemed to tally with the veteran actor’s mystique. Anderson, for his part, simply said that O’Neill “just wasn’t the right fit”. Paul Dano ended up taking on O’Neill’s role; he’d already been cast as O’Neill’s on-screen brother, so ended up playing two parts after the siblings were conveniently rewritten to become twins.

About a decade after the film’s release, though, O’Neill put forward his own version of events in an interview with Vulture, claiming that it was he and Anderson who hadn’t got on.  “Some directors I’ve worked with just had a way of making me feel comfortable,” he said. “For some reason, even though every other actor I know had a relationship with Paul that was super positive and where they did their best work, that just didn’t happen with me.”

Dennis Hopper, The Truman Show

By the Nineties, Dennis Hopper was a go-to Hollywood villain, playing nasty characters in films like Speed and the notorious flop Waterworld. So when it came to casting the role of Christof, the creepy, Svengali-like figure pulling the strings in The Truman Show, Hopper seemed like a strong choice on paper. However, the filmmakers weren’t entirely convinced, and became even less so when the cameras started rolling. After just one day, Hopper left the production. “Scott Rudin, the producer, had made an agreement with the director [Peter Weir] that [...] he didn’t want me to do the part, and if he didn’t like what I did after the first day’s dailies then he would fire me,” he later explained. “And they fired me.” Ed Harris, Hooper’s replacement, eventually received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his work on the movie.