Aspiring actors will take whatever role is given to them. But the biggest stars in the world are so respected and coveted that some of them get to rewrite their roles themselves to match their preferences — and end up making the performance that much more iconic. Check out which stars were big enough to give some of their most famous roles a rewrite, and the wild stories from behind the scenes.
1. Michelle Rodriguez, The Fast and the Furious
Actress Michelle Rodriguez was about to throw away her big break in her first real Hollywood film — which would become one of her most famous roles — over a disagreement on the script. When filming The Fast and the Furious in 2001, Rodriguez’s character Letty Ortiz was originally supposed to cheat on her boyfriend, played by Vin Diesel, with his buddy Brian O’Conner, played by Paul Walker.
“Is it realistic for a Latin girl who’s with the alpha-est of the alpha males to cheat on him with the cute boy? I had to put my foot down,” Rodriguez told The Daily Beast. “I basically cried and said, I’m going to quit.” In the end, the writers rewrote her plot line. Oh, and that punch during the movie’s “Race War?” Rodriguez fought to get that moment in, as well.
2. Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk
There’s a reason that Edward Norton was later replaced by Mark Ruffalo to play the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk. The drama with Norton versus Marvel began when the actor was first approached by Marvel to play in their upcoming film. And Norton agreed, with the stipulation that he could rework some of the movie’s script.
Shortly before filming, Norton submitted some of his edits, which mostly included a bit more character development and dialogue. But once the producers got to the editing stage, much of Norton’s edits were left on the cutting room floor. Reporting at the time said that Norton was pretty unhappy, but all he has said publicly about the disagreement has been: “I wanted a better script.”
3. Crispin Glover, Charlie’s Angels
Sometimes when actors rewrite their own characters, they end up giving their roles a bit more dialogue or character development. But the exact opposite was true for Crispin Glover, who played the incredibly creepy Thin Man in Charlie’s Angels. Instead, Glover begged the director to take away all of his lines.
In an interview with The Guardian, Glover said that when he went to his initial casting meeting for Charlie’s Angels, he said he would not be in the film because of the script. “The dialogue was just expositional,” he said. He suggested that Thin Man be completely silent for the entire film and, to his surprise, the director agreed.
4. Jack Nicholson, The Departed
With too many famous roles to count, three-time Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson is probably one of the only people who could turn down the chance to be a part of a Martin Scorsese film. When he was recruited to play the role of Frank Costello in The Departed, he initially declined because the character had very few lines. It took Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese himself to convince Nicholson to sign onto the film, but with a catch.
He wanted his character to be rewritten, and got to work behind the scenes alongside Scorsese to make it happen. “Marty is very free with his ideas,” Nicholson told Variety. “We built this character layer by layer, until we had something that fit inside a great genre film.”
5. Carrie Fisher, Star Wars
It’s one of the most famous roles in the history of women in cinema. When it comes to Star Wars, fans of the franchise seem to hang on every word spoken defiantly by Princess Leia, played by the legendary Carrie Fisher. But it seems that behind the scenes, it was actually Fisher who was having to hang on to every word from her costar Harrison Ford.
“Harrison Ford was rewriting his stuff in all the Star Wars movies, and it became annoying because it impacted my stuff,” Fisher said in an interview with the Daily Dot. Because she was in so many scenes with Ford, the actor’s changes made it so that Fisher had to come up with her own rewrites on the fly. As if her performances could not have gotten any more impressive.
6. Tom Cruise, The Mummy
The 2017 reboot of The Mummy was supposed to be the start of an entire franchise. Instead, the movie tanked in box offices and was panned by critics, receiving a scathingly harsh 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But insiders say that the filmmakers have actor Tom Cruise to thank for the downfall of the film.
That is because, according to reports, Cruise had the movie rewritten from a horror flick to an action-adventure story. Cruise brought writers in to completely rewrite the film and expand his screen time. The actor had “an excessive amount of control” and the movie had “become a textbook case of a movie star run amok”, according to Variety.
7. Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now
The story of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now changes depending on who you ask. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, superstar Marlon Brando showed up on set to play Colonel Kurtz without having read the Joseph Conrad novel which the movie was based on, and without memorizing any of the lines. Coppola said Brando was “like a kid, very irresponsible”, during an interview at the time.
But a Brando biographer, Susan L. Mizruchi, tells a different story. According to her accounts, “Brando not only was well-prepared for the production, but he also contributed ideas and script revisions that shaped the entire film.” By either account, Brando’s performance was his creation, shot in shadow, speaking enigmatically. The horror!
8. Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow
Actress Scarlett Johansson has played one of her most iconic and famous roles, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, since 2012, when she was cast in Marvel‘s The Avengers. She later revisited the role in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019. In 2020, she finally landed the starring role for her character with the release of Black Widow.
And after all those years playing the Marvel character, no one knew the Black Widow better than Johansson — not even the writers. So when scripting Black Widow, Johansson reportedly had a lot of input on the writing, and was not afraid to speak out when she disagreed with her character’s direction, even tweaking some lines to better reflect her personality.
9. Dacre Montgomery, Stranger Things
In season 2 of Stranger Things, an obsessed audience was introduced to Billy Hargrove — and immediately grew to hate him. The character is almost a caricature of a 1980s bad-boy villain type. But the actor who played Hargrove, Dacre Montgomery, wanted something more out of his character, and asked creators for a bit of a rewrite.
In doing so, he helped create scenes meant to humanize his character, showing complicated relationships with his father and mother. “No one is just bad,” Montgomery told Bustle, “There’s always a reason, right?” His season 3 finale performance where he confronts his mother was written to portray exactly that.
10. Chris Evans, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
When you’re a bona fide star like Chris Evans, and have proven yourself over years of playing the same character, you get afforded certain rights. One of those rights includes the ability to rewrite parts of the movie script in which you’re starring. And for Evans, this privilege came when filming Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Evans was already so well-versed in his character after years of playing Captain America that the writers let him change some of the lines to better reflect how he felt his character would respond to disputations. “I think actors very often know their voices better than I do,” scriptwriter Stephen McFeely admitted in an interview.
11. Reese Witherspoon, Cruel Intentions
The beloved cult classic and sinful teen drama Cruel Intentions just would not have been the same without Reese Witherspoon. And that’s because Witherspoon actually played a huge role when it came to writing her own major Hollywood character, even though Witherspoon was only 22 years old at the time.
“She came and sat with me for a week, and we worked on the dialogue together,” the film’s writer and director Roger Kumble said. “Annette was the character most removed from me. There’s no way the movie would have its success if it weren’t for [Reese’s] talent as a writer.” Pretty impressive for anyone, especially that young! Her breakout moment, this was one of her most famous roles, paving the way for her Oscar five years later.
12. Denzel Washington, The Pelican Brief
How did Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts make it through filming The Pelican Brief without one single kiss? Well, it certainly wasn’t Roberts’ idea. “I have taken so much [expletive] over the years about not kissing Denzel in that film. Don’t I have a pulse? Of course I wanted to kiss Denzel. It was his idea to take the scenes out,” Roberts revealed in an interview.
And Washington did not deny taking the scene (or scenes) out of the 1993 film. In an interview with Newsweek in 2002, Washington revealed that he did not want his character to engage in a love story with a white woman. “Black women are not often seen as objects of desire on film,” Washington explained. “They have always been my core audience.”
13. Naya Rivera, Glee
One of Glee‘s most iconic characters was never actually supposed to be on the series at all. In fact, Naya Rivera was only supposed to have just a few lines of script in the show’s pilot, and was definitely not supposed to be a series regular.
But after watching her performance for the first two episodes, the show’s creators knew they had to rewrite their script to cast Rivera as an integral part of the series, making her one of the most famous roles on the legendary show. And when it came time for her character, Santana, to engage in one of the first lesbian relationships on network television, she helped write her scenes “with dignity, strength, and pure intentions”, according to the show’s creators.
14. Harrison Ford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The demise of Han Solo was a punch in the gut for anyone who had followed the Star Wars franchise for years. But while audiences were saddened by the scene, anyone who knew what was happening behind the scenes knew that Solo’s demise was a long time coming. And actor Harrison Ford himself, who plays the character, had been lobbying for it for decades.
According to an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A on Tumblr, Ford had been telling writers to kill off his character since the 1983 film Return of the Jedi. “I’ve been arguing for Han Solo to die for about 30 years, not because I was tired of him or because he’s boring, but his sacrifice for the other characters would lend gravitas and emotional weight.”
15. Aziz Ansari, Master Of None
Actor Aziz Ansari did not exactly rewrite a specific script. Instead, he flipped the entire Hollywood script and gave himself a role he felt was not available from any other show. Ansari rose to fame playing characters like Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation, but over time he noticed that there were not many leading roles for actors of color.
So instead of continuing to search for one, he wrote one himself. The result was Master of None, the critically-acclaimed Netflix show that he calls “semi-autobiographical”. For the series, Ansari cast himself as the lead, along with his own parents, and fellow Indian-American costars.
16. Liam Neeson, A Million Ways To Die In The West
Any actor knows that acting is not just about reading the words on a script, it is equally about the delivery. So by those terms, changing the way in which a character reads their lines qualifies as a rewrite. Take, for example, Liam Neeson in A Million Ways To Die In The West.
A few years prior to Seth MacFarlane’s film, another one of his creations, Family Guy, made fun of the idea of Neeson playing in a Western film with “that funny accent of his”. So when MacFarlane called Neeson to offer him a part in a Western film, Neeson agreed to do it only if he could use his “funny accent” — and went on to play the cowboyish role with a Northern Irish twist.
17. Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man 3
Word travels fast in Hollywood, and over the years, actor Robert Downey Jr. has gained a reputation of rewriting some of his most famous roles, or getting a little more involved in the writing process than other actors. And so writers were no surprised when Downey would call “Time!” right in the middle of shooting a scene for Iron Man 3.
“We’d go back to the trailer, and we’d all write because he wanted new lines,” director Shane Black said in an interview. “We’ve had a great deal of fun incorporating input from talented people who haven’t been looking at the same pages for two years.”
18. Alan Rickman, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Who knew moments of genius could happen at a Pizza Express? Apparently that is what happened with Alan Rickman and the role that won him a BAFTA award: the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Rickman had received what he called a “terrible” script and discussed it with friend Peter Barnes over pizza.
“I said ‘Will you have a look at this script because it’s terrible, and I need some good lines.’ So he did, and, you know, with kind of pizza and bacon and egg all over the script,” Rickman said in an interview. The lines were secretly accepted by the director and no one knew about the changes until filming resumed.
19. Mike Myers, Shrek
This $4 million script change was totally worth it, if you ask us. When Mike Myers, the voice of the beloved ogre who leads the animated film Shrek, saw an early version, he loved everything except for Shrek’s voice, and wanted a redo.
“It took a few times for me to get the voice right,” Myers said. “I first tried in a sort of Canadian accent, but it just didn’t connect, and, because fairytales are a European thing and ogres are more earthy, the Scottish accent just felt right.” The switch mean that entire animated scenes had to be scrapped to better time mouth movements and hand gestures.
20. Nicholas Cage, Con Air
When filming the 1997 action-thriller Con Air, actor Nicolas Cage had just a few ideas on how to better write his character up his sleeves — or, well, lack thereof, considering Cage spent most of his role in a tank top. It was actually Cage’s idea, according to reports, for his character to take on a Southern drawl.
In fact, Cage was so committed to perfecting his accent that he sojourned in Alabama for a time in order to work on it. And getting into his character also meant adding a few lines here and there, including the most memorable moment from the film, where Cage straight up improvised his “put the bunny in the box” line.
21. Sylvester Stallone, Beverly Hills Cop
We know what everyone might be thinking. “But, wait, Sylvester Stallone was not even in Beverly Hills Cop!” And that’s true, but there’s good reason. It seemed that Stallone tried to go so far with his rewrites that he was kicked out of the film entirely, and lost out on the role.
When he was asked to play the part, Stallone came up with a new idea for an action film, and basically changed the entire Beverly Hills Cop script. As anyone can imagine, this move was not received very well. Stallone was dropped from the movie. Eddie Murphy was recast in the role, and the movie went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1984, sparking two sequels.
22. Dwayne Johnson, Rampage
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was willing to put his acting role on the line in order to save the life of his animated BFF. When reading through the script for Rampage, Johnson was shocked to find that his on-screen friend George, who just so happened to be a gigantic animated gorilla, was supposed to suddenly die.
“I’m like ‘No. Did I miss something?'” Johnson told Rolling Stone. “I don’t like a sad ending. Life brings that stuff — I don’t want it in my movies. When the credits roll, I want to feel great.” Johnson ended up giving the director an ultimatum: he would quit the film if George was not rewritten to live. The writers eventually relented. Talk about a ride-or-die best friend.
23. Justin Theroux, The Leftovers
When writers began scripting the HBO series The Leftovers, they wrote Kevin Garvey as a character with an angry streak. “Our original plan for Garvey was that he was a cop who had all this anger inside him, and because he was repressing that anger, it was creating all these issues,” creator Damon Lindelof told Backstage.
But that all changed when Justin Theroux tried out for the part. Instead of playing the role out of a place of rage, Theroux interpreted Garvey’s harshness as more scared and guarded, and the show’s creators preferred this new take. “[He] started playing [Garvey] in a much more vulnerable way, and we started writing to that idea,” Lindelof said.
24. Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe
Sometimes, actors come into a role and ask for a film to be rewritten to fit their strengths and weaknesses on screen. Other times, rewrites are done because the actor believes a character may respond to a situation differently than what is written.
But in the case of Irish actress and writer Sharon Horgan and her comedic show Catastrophe, Horgan wrote and, later, rewrote her own lines for her own character, played by herself, based on real life experiences. Horgan later joked that it was a “bit selfish”, but it seems that it worked out well for her in the end.
25. Michael Douglas, The Ghost and the Darkness
When Michael Douglas first saw the script for The Ghost and the Darkness, his original plan was to simply help produce it. He had no intention of actually starring in the film. But as the script, along with the character Remington, began to fully form, Douglas was having regrets. “I began to like this character,” he said.
Douglas asked to be considered for the role of Remington, and once he got the part, he began making suggestions to the film’s writer, William Goldman, about how to add to his new character. A reluctant Goldman agreed, and got to work beefing up the Remington character to include more of a back story.
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