10 TV and Movie Roles That Were Successfully Recast

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Casting for a television series or movie is an inexact science. A casting director can only hope she gets it right and locks in both the director’s first choice, and the best actor for the job. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But once in awhile, an even trickier task comes up: trying to swap a brand new actor into an established role.

We’re not talking about the James Bond films, where it’s really become part of that franchise’s charm to speculate about who the next 007 will be. We’re also not talking about cases like Eric Stoltz being cast as Marty McFly before Michael J. Fox became available. What we’re talking about are actors who did the work and appeared in the finished product, only to have the unexpected need to replace them arise. It’s not an enviable position, but as these cases show, sometimes the casting director hits it out of the park.

10. Back to the Future – Jennifer Parker

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We already mentioned Marty McFly, so we may as well stick with the Back to the Future franchise, right? In the first film, Jennifer Parker wasn’t a particularly big part, given the fact that our intrepid skateboarding hero spent the bulk of the movie 30 years in the past. But Marty’s girlfriend made bookend appearances, and the film ended with Doc Brown scooping both Marty and Jennifer up and whisking them away to 2015.

And then Back to the Future II came out, promising eager children that they’d have hoverboards and then dashing our hopes when the toy industry failed to deliver last year. Oh, and there was suddenly a new actress playing the role of Jennifer, just in time for her to actually participate in the plot. Claudia Wells played the original Jennifer, and was replaced by everyone’s favorite ‘80s crush, Elisabeth Shue when Wells backed out of the films to care for her dying mother.

By the way, we use the term “original” Jennifer loosely, since you probably didn’t realize that another actress was cast prior to Wells: Melora Hardin, best known as Jan from the US version of The Office.

9. Game of Thrones – Daario Naharis

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For the most part, the casting directors for Game of Thrones have hit home runs with virtually every role, to the point where it seems inconceivable that they’d ever want or need to recast any of the major speaking parts. Somewhat surprisingly, they’ve actually done it a few times – from the Mountain to Tommen Baratheon. But in most cases, the character had originally been so minor that no one noticed.

That wasn’t the case with the role of Daario Naharis, though. One of Daenarys Targaryen’s most trusted warriors, actor Ed Skrein originated the role on screen, only to be replaced for reasons that remain a little unclear. Skrein – currently seen in theaters torturing Deadpool as a guy who hates being called Francis – supposedly left the show in order to take over the Transporter series from Jason Statham, but the actor insists it was “politics” that led to his recasting. Michiel Huisman took over the role in the fourth season and, despite a pretty jarring physical change to the character, has settled in well and made it his own.

8. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Aunt Viv

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Everyone loved Aunt Viv, right? The cool, strong, funny aunt to Will Smith’s…well, Will Smith character on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the kind of extended family member everyone wanted. She’d always fight for her family and wouldn’t let anyone push her around. Except apparently, the actress who originally played Aunt Viv (Janet Hubert) would rather push Will Smith in front of a bus than save him from being hit.

Things were, and remain more than a little contentious between Hubert and the erstwhile Fresh Prince. The feud between Hubert and Smith really took off when, she says, Smith had her removed from the series. Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro, meanwhile, paint a different picture – that of a bitter, controlling actress who would fly off the handle for virtually no reason. The feud is far from over, too, given that Hubert recently took to the internet with a video calling out Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith for their comments about boycotting the Oscars.

Still, things managed to chug right along with Fresh Prince after Daphne Maxwell Reid stepped into the Aunt Viv role, and the series even gave a little wink and a nudge to the audience in her first appearance, with the character of Jazz noting something amiss about “Vivian Banks” while everyone else pretended not to notice.

7. The Dark Knight – Rachel Dawes

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Usually when you talk about comic book movies doing some recasting, you’re referring to a situation like the jump from Batman Returns to Batman Forever, where Bruce Wayne changed from Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer. Of course those movies were connected in name only, much the way you can’t really call Andrew Garfield being cast as Spider-Man a “recasting” after Tobey Maguire originated the role on screen. But in the case of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, there was one very notable recasting, and frankly, most people seem to agree it worked out for the best.

Rachel Dawes is really a fairly minor part of the Batman mythos, but she was an essential motivating factor for Christian Bale’s Batman. Katie Holmes originated the character, but the rumors have flown that she was pretty unpopular on the set of Batman Begins, leading to her replacement by Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight. Now, Holmes insists that it was her decision to move on from the Dark Knight series in order to make a movie called Mad Money but, frankly, if you’ve ever even seen the trailer for that film you have to realize no one would willingly put themselves through that kind of torture if they had a better alternative.

6. Iron Man 2 – James Rhodes/War Machine

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It’s kind of amazing to think that a supporting actor in a superhero franchise would not only expect, but demand to make the same kind of money as the titular hero, but that’s sort of what happened with Terrence Howard in the Iron Man franchise. Now, that’s maybe a bit misleading, so let’s straighten things out, at least from Howard’s perspective: in the first Iron Man, the actor received $8 million to portray James Rhodes – the man who would be War Machine – and once the sequel was in the works, Marvel decided it only needed to pay Howard $1 million, while Robert Downey Jr. got a significant pay increase.

So rather than sit around trying to negotiate with a bitter actor trying to fill the sidekick role, the studio moved on and locked in Don Cheadle – in the process, really upgrading the work being done as James Rhodes. While Howard’s a fine actor, of course, it quickly became apparent in the subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe films that Cheadle’s easy rapport with Downey was better than Howard’s. And the rest, as they say, is movie history.

5. Roseanne – Becky Conner

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We already mentioned a tendency for sitcoms to kind of wink knowingly at the audience when a key cast member needs to be replaced in the entry about Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but no show in history has ever taken as much joy at twisting the laughs out of a recasting like Roseanne. Lecy Goranson originated the role of oldest Conner offspring Becky, and churned out five seasons in the part before deciding to leave the show – and Hollywood – in order to go to college.

The series moved on quickly, casting Sarah Chalke (who you probably know best from Scrubs) as the “new” Becky, and made frequent jokes about the jarring difference between the two actresses. Chalke was solid in the role, but it was that sly sense of humor about the whole situation that really elevates this recasting. In one late episode, they even have a flash forward of John Goodman as a grown-up DJ Conner, now seeing a psychiatrist and repeating the phrase, “They say she’s the same but she’s not the same” in reference to his oldest sister.

4. The Honeymooners – Alice Kramden

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“What are you talking about,” we’re sure you’re saying right now. “There was only ever one Alice Kramden, you liar!” Well first of all, please remember that words hurt. And also, you’re the one who is wrong, because there most certainly was a first, decidedly non-Audrey Meadows version of Ralph Kramden’s long-suffering wife on the iconic sitcom The Honeymooners. Initially, an actress named Pert Kelton, who starred alongside Jackie Gleason for seven episodes, played Alice.

And then, Joseph McCarthy had to go and ruin everything. Yes, believe it or not one of the most famous television wives in history had to be recast thanks to one of every American’s favorite domestic embarrassment, McCarthyism. Kelton and her husband were blacklisted, leading to her being booted from the show despite Gleason fighting for her to remain a part of the series. Unfortunately, the Red Scare won out and Kelton left the show under the pretenses of “heart trouble.” Eventually, Gleason brought Kelton back not as Alice, but Alice’s mother, in a second, musical version of The Honeymooners in the 1960s.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Dumbledore

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Long before Severus Snape killed Dumbledore (um…spoilers?), Hodgkin’s disease and pneumonia did in the most famous Hogwarts headmaster of them all. When Richard Harris passed away in 2002, it left the filmmakers behind the Harry Potter series in a bit of a bind, since Harris had only starred in two of the films, and there were five more books left to be translated to the big screen.

After some initial pushback from the fans who were unsure of what to make of Michael Gambon’s performance as Albus Dumbledore, the actor soon made the role his own and won over the skeptics in the audience, probably at least in part because they realized the Sorcerer’s Stone isn’t real, and Richard Harris wasn’t coming back. Gambon added a bit of whimsy to the character that Harris, who had plenty of gravitas but played the role more or less straight and decidedly cuddlier, never really had. Gambon’s Dumbledore was more playful and a bit more sly and egotistical, ultimately hewing closer to those aspects of the character that popped up in the books – kind of amazing when you consider Gambon never bothered to read the series.

2. Batman (TV Series) – Catwoman

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Batman has had many foes over the years, but apart from perhaps the Joker, none have been quite so beloved as his sometime love interest, sometime nemesis Catwoman. And during the 1960s television run for Adam West’s Batman, it must have gotten a little confusing for the Caped Crusader when he was tasked with taking down his feline enemy considering she was portrayed by three different actresses.

Originally, the role was played by Julie Newmar for two seasons, before Lee Meriwether stepped into the role. But perhaps the most memorable version of Catwoman was also the last from the series, in a bit of recasting that, if done today, would set the internet comments sections aflame considering what had up to that point been a role played by two white actresses was recast with a black performer, Eartha Kitt.

1. Bewitched – Darrin Stephens

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And of course, the top spot is reserved for perhaps the most famous television recasting of them all. It’s not as successful as some of the other recasting jobs on the list, but given its place in TV history, it has to be right here at number one. We’re talking, of course, about Dick Sargent replacing Dick York on the series Bewitched. This wasn’t just some random side character that was being recast, either. This was more or less the equivalent of Ted Danson suddenly being swapped out on Cheers.

That’s because Darrin Stephens, while a supporting role to Elizabeth Montgomery’s lead witch character of Samantha, was one of the two leads on the show. Dick York originated the role of Darrin, but unfortunately, the actor had suffered a serious injury while working on a movie and, with his health in serious jeopardy, he decided it was in everyone’s best interest if he quit the show. Dick Sargent took over the role, performing admirably, though ultimately the fans found the change too jarring and the show was canceled relatively shortly into Sargent’s run as Darrin.

Jeff’s pretty sure that his wife would gladly recast his role with Timothy Olyphant, and frankly wouldn’t blame her, but while he’s still himself, you can follow him on Twitter.


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4 Comments

  1. Seinfeld frank costanza was recast from another actor to jerry stiller , jerry stiller nailed it and went on to become one the most entertaining character in already outstanding show

  2. Wtf… ???.. You didn’t include mark Ruffalo for the hulk.. He is the best when it comes to retelecast. Hulk failed two times in the screens and he took the hulk to his status now.. Mark Ruffalo should at least be in top 3.

  3. Jose Saldivia on

    Pat Priest’s Marilyn at “The Munsters” was also a succesful recasting (original Marilyn was Beverly Owen)

  4. Alias Darker on

    I disagree with Aunt Viv ,James Rhodes ,,Darrin Stephen and Dumbledore ( how disrespectful to the former actor who died !!! and that’s why he was recast !)

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