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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The Lost Roles of Dumb & Dumber

Jim Carrey recently mentioned to the press that a Dumb & Dumber sequel is in development, presumably with writer/directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly and Carrey’s co-star Jeff Daniels willing to return. Given the way the Farrellys' Hall Pass and Carrey's Mr. Popper's Penguins turned out, it's no surprise all parties are looking to revisit these classic characters. One of the big reasons Dumb & Dumber is an effective comedy (and one that still holds up) is that Daniels and Carrey are so perfectly cast as Harry and Lloyd, and the chemistry between them is incredible. Believe it or not, these two weren't the original choices for the title roles in Dumb & Dumber. Let's take a look at some of the guys who came close to playing Harry and Lloyd.

Nicolas Cage and Gary Oldman as Harry and Lloyd
The Farrellys originally wanted Nicolas Cage and Gary Oldman to play Harry and Lloyd but that plan never came together. Although Nicolas Cage's recent slate of films have fallen into the accidental comedy category, he's proven in the past that he can give an effective performance in movies that are intended to be funny. Jim Carrey was perfectly suited for this role and Nicolas Cage couldn't have come close to nailing it like he did, but Cage has shown a propensity for playing comically unintelligent characters in films like Raising Arizona and Adaptation. Cage could have been good as Lloyd, and sticking with this project may have added another hit to his resume, but appearing in such a widely-seen broad comedy might have kept directors from considering him for serious fare in the years to come. Being a popular comedic actor would have caused Hollywood to peg Nicolas Cage for humorous roles and to miss out on a lot of his well-known projects, including Leaving Las Vegas, the film that won him an Oscar.

Like Nicolas Cage, Gary Oldman is best known as a dramatic actor, but unlike Cage, he's never had a big turn in a broad comedy. Who knows what kind of comedic actor Gary Oldman would have made? He also doesn't have much experience playing goofy or dumb characters, but it would have been interesting to see what he would have done with this role. The interplay between Cage and Oldman would have also been very different from the Carrey-Daniels pairing, but maybe the two would have synced up nicely and found each other's rhythms. Even if it worked out for the best, though, the dynamic between Nicolas Cage and Gary Oldman couldn't have been as perfect as that between Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

Rob Lowe
The role: Harry Dunne
Who got it: Jeff Daniels
After Jim Carrey had joined the project and Nicolas Cage and Gary Oldman were long gone, Rob Lowe was one of the actors to audition for the part that later became Jeff Daniels’. While Lowe has done great comedic work elsewhere, I don't know if he would have been a good fit for this type of comedy. Lowe's at his best as slick, confident guys, but playing an intellectually-challenged character is something else entirely. Lowe's been funny in Wayne's World and on Saturday Night Live guest hosting stints in the past, but he didn't fully fulfill his comic potential until just this past year when he began playing Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation. Taking the Dumb & Dumber part might have shown his comic abilities in full bloom much earlier, but on the other hand, he doesn’t seem like quite the right choice for the character.

Rob Lowe winning the part would have caused this role to slip through Jeff Daniels’s fingers. While Jim Carrey took many more parts in similarly-broad comedies following Dumb & Dumber, Jeff Daniels spent the next few years of his career trying to distance himself from the project by showing off his versatility as an actor and taking on a wide range of diverse projects. Not starring in Dumb & Dumber would have made it so that Jeff Daniels wouldn’t have felt the need to avoid typecasting, affecting both the parts that were offered to him and the types of roles he went after.

Martin Short
The role: Lloyd Christmas
Who got it: Jim Carrey
Martin Short was offered the role of Lloyd before Jim Carrey came onboard, but he turned it down. This was towards the end of the era in which Short had the clout to topline movies, but taking this part could have resurrected his film career. Although it seems foolish in retrospect for Short to have passed this movie up, expectations weren't high for Dumb & Dumber as the Farrelly Brothers were untried and fairly new to the industry with no film credits and only a writing job on one episode of Seinfeld — albeit a very popular one — under their belts. Dumb & Dumber could have kept Martin Short in the spotlight, but his decision to skip this one is completely understandable given the inexperience of the directors.

Chris Elliott
The role: Harry Dunne
Who got it: Jeff Daniels
Chris Elliott was also amongst the actors considered for the part of Harry. Elliott would have been at home as such a character. He proved adept in a similar role on the short-lived cult classic Fox series Get a Life just a few years prior to the production of Dumb & Dumber. Jeff Daniels did a great job as Harry and was a big part of why this comedy was so amazing, but he’s no Chris Elliott. If Chris Elliott could have brought the same level of perfection to Harry Dunne that he did to his Get a Life character Chris Peterson, this beloved comedy could have been even stronger. Instead, Elliott spent 1994 on Saturday Night Live in a season that just happened to be one of the most dismal and reviled in the show’s history and  an unfruitful stint on the show for him. Chris Elliott did manage to wring some laughs out of Dumb & Dumber when Jeff Daniels came to host SNL, though. When Daniels hosted the show to promote Dumb & Dumber, he appeared in a Chris Elliott sketch, “Film Beat,” in which Elliott played the host of a movie talk show interviewing Daniels, who was playing himself. Elliott’s character repeatedly played a Dumb & Dumber clip in which Daniels’s character had diarrhea, just to embarrass him. Elliott would work with the Farrellys just a few years later as Ben Stiller’s best friend in There’s Something About Mary.

Chris Elliott is one of the most underrated comedic actors alive, and taking a lead role in Dumb & Dumber could have given a big boost to his movie career, allowing him more leeway to create his own projects. It’s really a shame he missed out on this one, as it would have opened some doors for him and allowed him to generate even more outstanding comedy.

Steve Martin
The role: Lloyd Christmas
Who got it: Jim Carrey
Martin Short's frequent costar Steve Martin also turned down the role of Lloyd. His career didn't suffer any, though, as he was a very popular actor in the mid-90s (and remains one today). Martin's demonstrated a knack for playing characters like Harry and Lloyd in The Jerk, his first starring role and a movie that seems like a big influence on Dumb & Dumber. Martin would have been in his element in Dumb & Dumber and it could have given his career a little boost, but he's continued to thrive as a big name actor nevertheless.

If Steve Martin or Martin Short had accepted the part, Jim Carrey wouldn’t have been able to take what was a landmark role for him. Even without the Dumb & Dumber part, though, Carrey was having a pretty spectacular 1994, already starring in two monstrous hits prior to Dumb & Dumber’s release: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask. Carrey’s career already had so much red-hot momentum at this point that missing out on Dumb & Dumber wouldn’t have been a hindrance in the slightest.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

  • HerooftheBeach

    If the sequel were to come together and they were to cast Chris Elliot in a major role, that would be the first sign that it was going to be a really good movie. We can dream…

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @HerooftheBeach It would be pretty spectacular to see Chris Elliott work with these guys again.

  • rcshowman

    I'd contend that "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" is a comedy, and Oldman is hilarious in that.

    • Alexis Smith

      scrolled to comments to write the same thing.

  • Jason Farr@facebook

    I remember Jim Carrey saying they had a lot of comics come in and read for Harry with him. Carrey felt like most of them were just trying to make him laugh and were kinda jokey which kept him from connecting with them. But with Daniels they connected and had normal conversation. I'm paraphrasing, but that wast he gist of what I heard him say about the casting of this.