by Cole Albinder
Almost Cast is a monthly column here on Non-Stop Film Talk that looks at actors who were almost cast in famous roles, and how getting those roles would have affected their career trajectories.
Jon Hamm as Derek Huff in Step Brothers
Starting off this column with a banger (a Catalina Fucking Wine Mixer-sized one) is that Jon Hamm, towards the beginning of his acclaimed tenure as suave yet self-destructive ad exec Don Draper on Mad Men, auditioned to play the scene-stealing part of Derek, brother to Will Ferrell’s Brennan in 2008’s Step Brothers. On a 2012 episode of the Nerdist podcast Making It, comedian and The Odd Couple star Thomas Lennon (pictured below), revealed it came down to himself, Hamm, and Adam Scott for the part before Scott nabbed it.
Given Step Brothers‘s release in 2008, it stands that it was filmed in 2007-the same year Mad Men premiered on AMC. While this wouldn’t have caused Hamm to miss out on his breakthrough role, the floodgates to more comedic roles would have opened for him , much like it did for Adam Scott, bringing him stardom through starring roles on Party Down and Parks and Recreation. Had Scott not scored this role and proven himself a talented comedic actor, it’s possible that other actors could have gotten his roles on those aforementioned series and not been as successful.
Even without Step Brothers, Jon Hamm has showed off his comedic chops extensively, from his role as Kristen Wiig’s scumbag hook-up in Bridesmaids to a more pathetic version of himself in the second season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. While his role in the former proves he can be lovably detestable (and his good looks could have made him more of a “perfect son” compared to Will Ferrell’s character), Adam Scott just hit all the right beats in his performance, and Hamm might not have been able to do as well, as he had yet to properly hone his comedic chops. Still, it’s fun to imagine what could have been.
Charlie Hunnam as Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
One of my all-time favorite movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall works so well because of how it mines humor and pathos from what it feels like to get over the break-up of a long-standing relationship. Another reason it works so well is because of the committed performances from the cast, particularly Russell Brand as uninhibited rock star and recovering drug addict Aldous Snow. But had Jason Segel gotten his first choice for the part, we would have had a completely different movie.
Charlie Hunnam, known to most (myself included) as Jax Teller, the charismatic, bad-ass biker from the (PHENOMENAL) FX series Sons of Anarchy, has a history with Segel; the two of them (along with Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel) had starred on a short-lived Fox sitcom called Undeclared back in 2001, which was created by present-day comedy auteur Judd Apatow. Though they hadn’t worked together since that show ended, Segel initially thought of Hunnam when writing Aldous Snow, who was originally going to be an author rather than a rock star. Hunnam reportedly turned down the part to star on Sons, which coincidentally came out the same year as Sarah Marshall. Russell Brand’s audition caused Segel to rewrite the character entirely, and the rest is history.
As Hunnam was focusing on more serious roles at the time (such as his part a few years before in Green Street Hooligans), it’s understandable that he wasn’t completely interested in the part. It’s not entirely clear where his career could have gone had he taken the role; the movie could have flopped had it decided to go in its original direction, and everyone could have suffered for it. Joining Sons of Anarchy was ultimately the right move for Hunnam, as it allowed him to move on to bigger projects like Pacific Rim and (most recently) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. And frankly, I can’t imagine this movie without Brand’s Inside of You scene. But here’s hoping that Hunnam and Segel make a movie together in the near future, one that benefits them both. Here’s some parts of an interview from a few years back where Hunnam talks about passing on the role:
“It was in a really difficult time in my career where a lot of directors that I really loved and respected wanted to hire me, but then they would go with the idea to the studio and the studio would say, ‘Listen, we think he’s great. He’s just not a big enough star for us to justify gambling this big of an investment on. So you can’t hire him.’ And I had my heart broken time and time again. Like we kind of discussed a little earlier, I had a really, really specific idea of the type of work that I wanted to do. And it was much more dramatically based. And I just felt at that point I was really, really primed to go and do something that I needed to do that was going to be a catharsis for this massive amount of period of time that I’d been out of work and struggling. So when that came along it just felt like the wrong thing for me to do at that time. So I did the read-through, and it went really well and everything, and they made the financial offer and I just said, ‘Listen, guys. I’m so sorry. I really, really appreciate the opportunity …’ [Jason] was one of my best friends. I said, ‘Thank you so much. I know this is going to be kind of a blow for you, but I just can’t go and do this movie right now.’ Judd was pretty pissed off about it. He didn’t fully understand where I was coming from, but hopefully now that he’s seen me stick to my guns and go and do the type of work that I do want to do that in hindsight he may understand the reasoning behind it.”
After seeing how “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” turned out, did you have any regrets?
No. You know what? I did have some regrets. Because after that period, after I turned that down, I still had another whole year of complete unemployment. They went off and made this movie and had a wonderful experience and everyone got paid a lot of money. They had offered me a [bleep]-load of money that would have been life-changing for me at that point, but I just couldn’t do it. I toiled with myself for that whole year, like, “Why? Why am I so cerebral? Why didn’t I just go and have a good time with my friends and go and do this thing and what the hell is the matter with me?” All those type of thoughts.
And then it’s funny; I couldn’t see the movie for a while because I was a bit tortured by it. And then I went and did some projects—I got “Sons of Anarchy” and I made a couple movies that I was really excited about. Then I saw it right after I had seen Russell Brand do some stand-up on TV. It just seemed to me that it had all gone exactly the way it was supposed to go.
Russell Brand did a so much better job than I would have done in the movie. He was so much more equipped for that role. The role was different; he wasn’t a rock star. He was a young actor in the version that I was going to do. And there was actually a very, very funny reveal where I had this really big Texas twang for the first half of the movie and then I get into an argument with Sarah Marshall and she goes, “Can you stop doing that goddamn accent?!” And then I’d say (in English accent), “But honey, how am I ever going to get work in America if I don’t practice my accent?” And then there’s the big reveal that I was actually English. We had a lot of laughs in the read-through, but like I said, it was bad timing for me.”
Shia LaBeouf and Jesse Eisenberg in War Dogs
Scheduling conflicts in 2014 prevented LaBeouf and Eisenberg from starring in Todd Phillips’s crime comedy-drama, based on the true story about two 20-somethings who receive a contract from the U.S. Army to supply the Afghan National Army with munitions worth $300 million. Eisenberg chose Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice instead, whereas LaBeouf was in jail after disrupting a Broadway performance of Cabaret. This pairing could have been interesting, yet it’s possible that given LaBeouf’s penchant for causing trouble, the two actors could have clashed behind-the-scenes, and that could have made for bad chemistry in the film as a whole. As with Hunnam and Segel, let’s hope that LaBeouf and Eisenberg get to be in a movie some day, when both of their schedules match up accordingly.
Like what you read? Leave thoights in the comments section, whether it’s about this article or about topics you’d want to see me tackle. Expect the next issue of this column out on August 1st.