River Phoenix’s final film, ‘Dark Blood,’ to play in Santa Monica
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)
This Halloween marks the 20th anniversary of the death of actor River Phoenix, who succumbed to an accidental drug overdose outside a West Hollywood nightclub in 1993 at the age of 23. On Tuesday, two days before the anniversary, the actor’s unreleased final film, “Dark Blood,” will play in the Los Angeles area for the first time.
The screening, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, represents the latest but perhaps not the last leg of a turbulent two-decade journey for both the film, which to this day remains in a sort of legal limbo, and its director, the now-81-year-old Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer.
“It’s nice that people can see it,” Sluizer said by phone from his residence in Nice, France, “but not yet everybody.”
As detailed in The Times in February, the story of “Dark Blood” stretches back to 1993 and includes the near-destruction of the original footage as well as a brush with death for Sluizer, who will attend the Santa Monica screening.
At the time of filming, Sluizer was making a foray into Hollywood and Phoenix was a rising star. Sluizer recalled their relationship fondly. “We never had any problem, not even a little one, one single day,” the director said. Phoenix “was a very gentle person and respectful.”
Set in the Utah desert, “Dark Blood” costars Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis as a Hollywood couple whose second honeymoon goes awry when their car breaks down and they have to seek help from a disaffected young widower, played by Phoenix.
At the time of Phoenix’s death, about 75% of the scenes had been shot, and salvaging the movie was deemed unfeasible. Production was quickly shuttered, and an insurance company took possession of the film.
Sluizer was devastated. “I was so sad about River’s death that I nearly wanted to quit my profession,” he said. “On the other hand, I was also angry that we could not finish the movie.”
The story probably would have ended there had Sluizer not learned in 1999 that the original footage, which he had unsuccessfully tried to acquire, was scheduled to be disposed of. At the 11th hour, and on murky legal ground, Sluizer had the film removed from the storage facility. (“I call it saving, not stealing,” Sluizer maintains.)
Sluizer didn’t touch the footage for nearly a decade, when a life-threatening ailment prompted him to finally make something of the material. With backing from the Netherlands Film Fund, the crowd-funding website Cinecrowd and his own pocket, Sluizer rewrote and edited the film in 2012, filling in missing scenes with his own narration and photographs.
Since then, the film has been well received at festivals across the globe, in Miami, Hong Kong; Istanbul, Turkey; Moscow; Durban, South Africa; Jerusalem and elsewhere. “I know that the film has an audience,” Sluizer said. “I know that the film, let’s say, works.”
Theatrical distribution remains a thorny issue, however, as the rights to the original footage presumably reside with the insurance company, with whom Sluizer says he and his lawyers have been negotiating for more than a year. He hopes to finally settle things within the next three months.
“I hope it’s coming to an end soon, but I can’t guarantee,” he said.
The Phoenix family, according to Sluizer, have made it clear they do not wish to be involved with the film in any way.
Phoenix’s brother, actor Joaquin Phoenix, declined via his publicist to comment to The Times.
For Sluizer, the journey continues. “This is, I guess, very personal, a personal need,” he said. “Like any artist needs to finish a painting or a musician needs to finish his symphony, I had a feeling that this cannot just disappear.”
“Dark Blood” screens Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, with an introduction by Gavin Edwards, author of the new book “Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind.” For more information, go to the American Cinematheque website.
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