Robin Williams

10 Major Roles Robin Williams Didn’t Get or Turned Down

Robin Williams brought many iconic roles to life, but there were several he didn't get. Here are 10 major roles that he didn't get or turned down.

Mrs. Doubtfire. The Genie. Alan Parrish. Patch Adams. Mork. These are just a few of the roles played by the late actor and comedian Robin Williams. Over his lengthy career, Williams succeeded in both comedy and drama, and was responsible for many great roles and movies. Yet there are some iconic and surprising roles he didn’t get. Many of these seemed like natural fits for his abilities, while others might not have worked out. Here are ten big roles that Robin Williams didn’t get or turned down.

10Jack Torrance – The Shining (1980)

A scene from The Shining
  • Warner Bros./ Columbia-EMI-Warner Distributors

When casting The Shining, about a family tormented in a hotel, director Stanley Kubrick considered casting Williams as Jack, a writer who loses his sanity. The studio, and book writer Stephen King, didn’t like the consideration, and the role went to Jack Nicholson. Coming when Williams was early in his career and known for comedy, he was admittedly an odd choice. While it would have shown Williams’ dramatic abilities much earlier, it’s hard to imagine the movie with anyone but Nicholson.

9Voice of Howard – Howard the Duck (1986)

A scene from Howard the Duck
Universal Pictures

Howard the Duck tells the story of Howard, a duck who lands on earth and must return home. Chip Zien is the voice of Howard, but the role originally belonged to Williams. When recording his dialogue, Williams learned that the puppet’s movements had been filmed to match the puppeteer reading the lines. This meant Williams couldn’t improvise, or give the character much personality. Frustrated, Williams quit the movie after three days. It’s interesting to wonder if Williams could have helped the movie, which was widely panned.

8Ned – Three Amigos (1986)

A scene from Three Amigos
Orion Pictures 

Steven Spielberg originally planned to make Three Amigos, about silent film stars mistaken for heroes, in the early ’80s. The cast he had in mind were Bill Murray, Steve Martin, and Williams. Spielberg made E.T. instead, and when the movie was made by John Landis a few years later, only Martin remained. Ned, the part planned for Williams, would go to Martin Short. The casting was perfect, but Williams arguably would have done just as well with his comedic abilities in a movie of strong comedians.

7Jonathan – Midnight Run (1988)

Midnight RunA scene from Midnight Run
Universal Pictures

Midnight Run is a buddy comedy starring Robert De Niro as Jack, a bounty hunter who has to capture Jonathan, an accountant played by Charles Grodin. Williams wanted to play Jonathan, and auditioned for the part. However, Grodin had already done some screen tests with De Niro, and director Martin Brest enjoyed their chemistry so much, he kept them both. This likely would have been a big part for Williams, though the movie stands great as it is.

6The Joker – Batman (1989)

A scene from Batman
Warner Bros.

Batman marks the second time that Williams lost a role to Jack Nicholson. When casting the villain, Williams lobbied hard for the Joker, but Nicholson was the studio’s top choice. When Nicholson wasn’t responding, the studio offered the role to Williams. SlashFilm shared that Williams believed they offered him the role to force Nicholson to respond, and never intended to cast him. It worked, and Nicholson would get high praise for his performance. Years later, when offered the role of the Riddler in Batman Forever, Williams turned it down due to what happened with the Joker.

5Joe – Philadelphia (1993)

A scene from Philadelphia
TriStar Pictures

Philadelphia stars Tom Hanks as Andy, a gay man who hires Joe (Denzel Washington), a lawyer, to sue his employers for firing him due to his AIDS diagnosis. With such a serious movie, director Jonathan Demme originally considered casting a comedian to offset the drama. His top choices were Williams and Bill Murray, but when Washington became available, he got the part instead. Williams had shown his strength in dramatic roles with Dead Poets Society, and could have succeeded in the drama and comedy.

4Hagrid and Lupin – Harry Potter (2001-2011)

A scene from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Warner Bros. Pictures

Harry Potter is one of the biggest franchises ever, and Williams was eager to be included in the story of the boy wizard. When casting began for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Williams expressed interest in playing Hagrid, the gamekeeper. Yahoo shared that even director Chris Columbus thought he would have done well. Williams didn’t get it for a simple reason: the creative team only wanted British actors. Despite this, Williams reached out to play Remus Lupin in Prisoner of Azkaban, and was turned down for the same reason. Hagrid would be played by Robbie Coltrane, while Lupin went to David Thewlis.

3Willy Wonka – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

A scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Warner Bros. Pictures

Tim Burton’s adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is known for its great visual appeal and darker tone. The main role of Willy Wonka, candy factory owner, is played by Johnny Depp. Many actors were considered in the early stages, including Williams, before Burton went with his frequent collaborator. Williams would’ve been different from Depp, but he likely would’ve been a great fit, with plenty of comedic and improv opportunities in the movie.

2Frank – Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

A scene from Little Miss Sunshine
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Little Miss Sunshine follows a dysfunctional family who travel across the country to bring Olive (Abigail Breslin) to a pageant. One of the family members is Olive’s uncle, Frank (Steve Carell), a scholar who recently attempted suicide. In the movie’s early stages, the role was written for Bill Murray, with Williams also largely desired. Carell, despite being popular now, was a risk at the time; when filming began, The Office hadn’t premiered, and he wasn’t well-known. Yet he got the part after meeting with the directors and understanding their ideas.

1Harvey Milk – Milk (2008)

Sean Penn in Milk
Focus Features

Another serious role Williams almost got was Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, in the biopic Milk. Ideas for the movie began in the 1990s, and Williams was attached to the lead role. Williams stayed attached when director Gus Van Sant joined the project, but in the years it took to start, Williams moved on. The role would go to Sean Penn, who won a Best Actor Oscar. Williams, who by 2008 had won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, might have also picked up the award if he got the part.

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