‘August: Osage County’ director John Wells on family dynamics
The role: Dr. Ryan Stone, the beginner astronaut suddenly stuck in space when her space shuttle is damaged, and her thirst for life deepened.
The final pick: Sandra Bullock. Jolie was set to star alongside Robert Downey Jr. But Jolie’s management team wasn’t able to come to an agreement with Warner Bros.
The movie: “The Matrix” series
The role: Neo, a superhuman with the power to perform every single martial art and fighting style.
The final pick: Keanu Reeves. Smith passed on the role because he couldn’t envision the concept of “The Matrix.” Looking back, Smith said he wouldn’t have been “smart” enough to play the role at the time. He later starred in the sci-fi action film “I, Robot.”(Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros.; Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for MTV)
The role: Bella Swan, a teenager turned vampire with the skill to shield herself and others from mental harm. All the while, she’s madly in love with mind-reading vampire Edward Cullen.
The final pick: Kristen Stewart. Lawrence later landed the role of Katniss Everdeen in the equally popular series “The Hunger Games.”(Samir Hussein / Getty Images; Kimberley French)
The movie: “Michael Clayton”
The role: Michael Clayton, an attorney with a conscience, who breaks down the corruption surrounding a chemical scandal.
The final pick: George Clooney. To this day, Washington regrets turning down the role. “With ‘Clayton,’ it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong,” Washington said.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press; Myles Aronowitz)
The role: Forrest Gump, a not-so intelligent former military man set to tell the story of his life.
The final pick: Tom Hanks. Travolta simply turned down the role and later admitted his decision was a mistake. For Hanks, the role earned him an Oscar for best actor in 1994.(Francois Durand / Getty Images )
The role: Cher Horowitz, the wealthy Valley girl up for anything that involves fashion, makeovers and, like, boys.
The final pick: Alicia Silverstone. Gellar couldn’t commit due to scheduling conflicts.(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press; Paramount Pictures)
The role: Will Turner, an ace swordsman and budding pirate.
The final pick: Orlando Bloom. Law auditioned for the role to play Keira Knightley’s love interest, but was shoved aside for Bloom.(Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images; Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises )
The role: Black Widow, a femme fatale formerly known as a Russian spy.
The final pick: Scarlett Johansson. Blunt passed on the role saying: “Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world.”(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)
The role: Gandalf, a wizard and leader of the Fellowship of the Ring with great mental and physical power.
The final pick: Ian McKellen. Despite director Peter Jackson’s many attempts for Connery to play Gandalf -- he offered Connery $30 million on top of 15% of the film’s box office revenue -- Connery said he simply didn’t understand the story. During his audition read, Connery mistakenly referred to hobbits as bobbits.(Jason Szenes / EPA; New Line Productions)
The role: Vivian Ward, an assertive Hollywood Boulevard prostitute who finds love with a wealthy lawyer.
The final pick: Julia Roberts. Hannah rejected the role since she believed it was belittling to women. “They sold it as a romantic fairytale when in fact it’s a story about a prostitute who becomes a lady by being kept by a rich and powerful man,” Hannah said. Hannah, however, later portrayed a stripper in the drama “Dancing at the Blue Iguana.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times; Buena Vista / Getty Images)
The role: Spider-Man, the web-slinging, wall-crawling figure who has proved to be one of the most commercially successful superheroes.
The final pick: Tobey Maguire. A disappointed Prinze Jr. told late-night radio personality Howard Stern that he was originally cast as Spider-Man, but director Sam Raimi went with Maguire instead.(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times; Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures)
The role: Han Solo, a sarcastic yet compassionate hero who helps for the common good.
The final pick: Harrison Ford. Al Pacino dismissed the role, saying: “It was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script.” Pacino turned down the “Star Wars” series and later starred in the Godfather trilogy, but found it to be “a long, awful, tiring story.”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Industrial Light & Magic)
The role: J.D., the money-stealing, good-looking thief who strikes up a romantic relationship with Thelma (Geena Davis), and ends up educating her on his holdup tactics.
The final pick: Brad Pitt. Clooney read with Davis several times, only to be booted for Pitt. Clooney admitted he didn’t see the movie for years, then decided to rent it one night and realized that Pitt was perfect for the role.(Brad Barket / Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; MGM)
The role: Scarlett O’Hara, a smart and charming woman searching high and low for love.
The final pick: Vivien Leigh. Davis turned down the role under the impression that Errol Flynn would play the part of Rhett Butler. (Clark Gable actually got the role.) Davis had refused to work with Flynn earlier, as their relationship off-screen was rocky. Davis even reportedly once slapped Flynn on the face.(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles Times Archives)
The role: James Bond, a British secret agent, with the code name 007.
The final pick: Sean Connery. Grant was 58 years old at the time of the audition and turned down the role because he was only interested in doing one Bond film.(Van Ness Films Inc.; Los Angeles Times Archives)
Most families aren’t as fractious or dysfunctional as the Weston clan of the upcoming drama “August: Osage County” (adapted from the Tracy Letts play), who gather for an explosive few days at the home of their matriarch in rural Oklahoma. But according to director John Wells, part of what makes “August: Osage County” so compelling is that just about everyone can relate to the underlying family dynamics.
Speaking at the Envelope Screening Series, Wells said that on set, “Everybody, I think, ended up talking about their own families.”
He continued: “I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the piece, and it’s what struck me when I saw it — I saw it on Broadway a couple of times before I knew I’d have anything to do with it. At the end, people sort of stood up around me and were talking about their aunt and uncle and their brother. It’s not that it’s exactly your family, but I can’t tell you how many people at the test screenings, when we were testing the film, said, ‘Yeah, that’s my dad,’ and ‘Yeah, Mom had a little bit of a trouble with drink’ — those kinds of conversations. And then talking about just the difficulties of being a family.”
While shooting the film, Wells said, “We would finish takes and the prop guy would come over and start telling us a story about what happened with his dad last year. I think that’s a bit of the quality that Tracy has tapped so beautifully in this film.”
During the aforementioned test screenings, Wells also re-examined the film’s tone, which treads a thin line between cutting comedy and turbulent drama.
“I think people who aren’t familiar with the piece are surprised that it’s funny,” he said. “And so a lot of the process — through the editorial process, the testing process — was finding ways to make certain that the humor was actually working because the audience wasn’t as familiar with it. … In the early going, there was a stretch at the beginning where people really didn’t know if they were supposed to laugh or not. It took a while.”
For more from the cast and crew of “August: Osage County,” watch the full video above.
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