A Year of Lost Roles: Looking Back at 12 Awesome, Weird, and Terrible Movies and Shows that Never Happened
Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring “what might have been” in movie and TV comedy, as we take a different actor, writer, or comedian each week and examine the parts they turned down, wanted but didn’t get, and the projects that fell apart altogether. To close out 2012, we’ve put together a list of 12 of the most interesting movies, shows, or alternate casting choices that almost happened but didn’t – some good, some bad, some just super weird. Read on for the best abandoned projects we’ve covered in 2012, including an SNL reality show in which comedians would have competed to be cast members on the show, a live-action Simpsons spin-off based around Krusty the Clown, and Mad Men starring Rob Huebel as Don Draper.
After Comedy Central canceled South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s George W. Bush-centric sitcom That’s My Bush because of its high production costs in 2001, the duo started working on a movie about the then-President called George W. Bush and the Secret of the Glass Tiger. The plot would have followed Bush foiling a Chinese invasion of America. Matt Stone explained, “We want to make a really [messed up] spoof of basically the Cold War fear movies where the Russians just ate babies and were like super mean and bad all the time — but do it with the Chinese. And George W. Bush has to save the world a la John Woo/Mission: Impossible style.” The movie was put into development in August 2001 and possibly called off because of 9/11, which led to Parker and Stone working on Team America: World Police instead.
11. Chris Farley as Shrek (1996-1997)
Prior to his tragic death, Chris Farley had been hired to voice the title character in the animated movie Shrek, with Janeane Garofalo as Princess Fiona. The script Farley was working with was wildly different from the final version of the movie, following a teenage ogre who doesn’t want to go into the family business of scaring people and instead wants to be a knight. Farley recorded, by varying accounts, 80% to 95% of his dialogue for the film, working up until the week prior to his passing. Everyone involved in the project was fond of Farley’s performance, but instead of hiring a soundalike to finish his dialogue, the filmmakers opted to bring in Mike Myers, who ordered a rewrite to make the character less Farley-esque and decided to make the character have a Scottish accent.
With The Simpsons at the height of its popularity in the 1990s, Matt Groening began working on a spin-off that would have starred voice actor Dan Castellaneta as a live-action Krusty the Clown. King of Queens creator Michael Weithorn helped Groening write a pilot script about Krusty moving to L.A. to host a talk show, but the project faced some problems in that it felt more like an animated script than a viable live action one.
Matt Groening explained, “We had this running joke in the script that Krusty was living in a house on stilts and there were beavers gnawing their way through the stilts. But somebody at the network pointed out how expensive it was to hire trained beavers — and an equally prohibitive cost would be to get mechanical beavers — so I said, ‘If we animated this, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.'” Groening and Fox then began to work on an animated Krusty show, but contract negotiations stalled, and Groening moved on to developing Futurama, a series that does not require the use of beavers – mechanical or trained.
9. Tina Fey’s Cable News Sitcom (2003)
Still at SNL at the time and searching for her next project, Tina Fey pitched NBC a workplace sitcom about a cable news show. In her book, Bossypants, Fey writes, “I pitched NBC president Kevin Reilly an idea about a cable news producer (me, presumably) who is forced to produce the show of a blowhard right-wing pundit (Alec Baldwin, if we could ever get him) to boost her network’s sagging ratings. Kevin Reilly said, ‘No thank you.’” Reilly suggested that Fey write a show about her experiences at SNL instead, which worked out pretty well, I think.
Looking to cash in on the rampant success of the first two Beverly Hills Cop films, Paramount was desperate to sign Eddie Murphy to a sequel. Paramount Chairman Brandon Tartikoff pitched a sequel that would have paired Murphy’s Cop character Axel Foley with another fish-out-water ’80s film hero, Crocodile Dundee. The crossover idea didn’t make it too far as Eddie Murphy quickly (and wisely) shot it down.
Paul Scheer, star of The League, Human Giant, and NTSF:SD:SUV, gave an interview to Splitsider this year detailing some of the projects he’s worked on that never made it to the screen. One was Meow TV, a TV show aimed at cats, that he was hired to act in early in his career. Here’s Scheer on the matter:
“I did Meow TV, which was television for cats, by cats, sponsored by Meow Mix. It’s basically as dumb as it sounds. It was a show that you were supposed to put your cat in front of the TV and the cat would watch. So, we were doing like comedy pieces for cats. As I think about it now, I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I agreed to do that.’ It was hosted by Annabelle Gurwitch. She was surrounded by cats. I did a couple pieces on that. I did the ‘Cat Home Shopping Network,’ where I was actually selling real cat toys. I also did ‘Cat Puppet Theater,’ which was hand puppets with cats, telling these terrible morality plays. And then there was literally a section of the show where it was a bouncing ball on the screen, and the cat, I guess, would just be interested in watching that show.”
6. T. J. Miller on SNL (2008)
T. J. Miller, stand-up and star of She’s Out of My League and Cloverfield, also did an interview with Splitsider this year, describing some of his more notable casting close calls, including his unsuccessful audition to be an SNL cast member. Here’s Miller telling the story:
“So, I auditioned for SNL… and I thought, ‘Oh, this will be so fun.’ A lot of people audition all at once. It’s very nerve-wracking. You know, it’s everybody’s dream to have that moment. So, it’s 30 Rock, and I brought a backpack full of nice things to give other people that were auditioning, like cookies. I brought a six-pack of beer. I brought chips and little poppers – you know those really fake fireworks that you do on New Year’s Eve? I brought all those to give them to people, like, ‘This is great. We’re all auditioning.’ I got there, and everybody was very competitive. I knew a couple people like Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who now works for the show, but everybody else was really competitive. I got in there, and it was really awkward. I’m like ‘Hey does anybody want a beer? I brought these poppers for after we’re done… Anybody want a cookie?’ And everyone was like, ‘No.’ So I was just a weird guy with a backpack full of goodies that nobody really wants.
So I went in and did my audition. It’s great, and I said thank you. I went outside, and as I was leaving, my backpack was kind of open and some of the stuff spilled out and a beer fell on the ground outside of 30 Rock and, you know, all these poppers and stuff. The security guard looked over like I was like, you know, a crazy person. Some weird homeless guy. And he said, ‘What are you doing out here?’ And I said, ‘I just auditioned for SNL,’ which sounded fake obviously… I don’t know what happened, but the day after, they cast Bobby Moynihan, it came out – and I don’t know how this happened – but they said that I had gone in and bombed the audition on purpose, maybe?
And all of these rumors surfaced… the rumors were that I bombed the audition on purpose, that I threw a beer bottle at Lorne Michaels’s head… Somebody said this about me – that I had entered the audition, saying, “I’m T.J. Miller from Cloverfield, motherfuckers!” Which, by the way, I have never said that. I’ve said, ‘I’m T.J. Miller from Yogi Bear, motherfuckers,’ but I’ve never said, ‘I’m T.J. Miller from Cloverfield, motherfuckers.’ When they announced that Bobby Moynihan had been cast, it was also announced that I had sort of blown this audition and all these crazy things. I mean, can you imagine if I had thrown a beer bottle at Lorne Michaels? He would sue me. I would be in jail right now. So, that was really awkward because, not only did people know I didn’t get it, they know who got it, and they all thought the reason I didn’t get it was that I had either blown it or bombed it on purpose as a joke.”
5. A Richard Pryor Biopic (1995-Present)
For 17 years now, movie studios have been trying to turn Richard Pryor’s life story into a movie. So far, they haven’t been successful, though everyone from Damon Wayans to Mike Epps to Eddie Murphy to Chris Rock to Marlon Wayans to director Martin Scorsese have been tied to the project at one point or another.
4. An SNL Reality Show (2004)
In the wake of the reality show boom in 2004, Lorne Michaels sold NBC a competition show in which comedians squared off for a chance to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live. It was sort of an SNL version of The Apprentice, with Lorne planning on serving as an on-screen presence a la Donald Trump. Lorne Michaels eventually nixed the idea, concluding ” Donald Trump is perfect at being Donald Trump, you know… But for me to be in that role, I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing it… We’re not American Idol in that sense. Not everything has to be opened up to the public… It’s not a bad idea. But it’s a little bit what we make fun of, so it’s hard to then go out and do the straight version of it.”
3. Rob Huebel as Don Draper on Mad Men (2007)
Here’s Human Giant and Childrens Hospital star Rob Huebel telling Spltisider about for the lead role on Mad Men:
“I auditioned to be Don Draper in Mad Men… when I found out about that show, I was like, ‘Oh man, I gotta get this show.’ It’s not a comedy at all, but I was like, ‘All right. I can do a drama. I’ll drama it up. I’ll wear suits.’ I remember I was super-prepared for the audition. Some comedy auditions, you go into it and think, if it’s a comedy, ‘Well, I’ll improvise and stuff. Maybe come up with a couple of my own jokes and throw those in.’ But for a drama, you don’t really do that. You know, someone took a lot of time to write that, and they’re very serious about it.
So, I went in super prepared, and Don Draper gives this whole big monologue about what advertising really is, what it really is that they’re doing. And it was really great. It was a really cool speech, where you’re kind of like ‘Fuck yeah, America! Yes! Let’s go buy some stuff.’ And I got all dressed up and wore a suit and went in. And I did it, and I remember whoever it was auditioning me, I don’t think Matt Weiner was there, I don’t remember. Whoever was casting it was like ‘All right!’ They were really into it, and they had me do it a couple times. And I left there, thinking that I really nailed it. I was really like, ‘Look out! Here comes Don Draper!’
And then I never heard anything, never heard anything, never heard anything. And I thought, ‘Well, I’m sure that show got cancelled. Never even got off the ground. Bunch of dicks, they should have cast me. Serves them right.’ Then, of course, it came on with Jon Hamm, and I was like, ‘Oh! Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. He’s way better. Yeah, he should do that.’ Because he’s so great in it. He really is that guy. I’m not sure that I could have — he’s so handsome. I think I would have been too intimidated to be married to January Jones. I don’t know that I could have pulled it off. I would have just been walking around with a boner the whole time when January Jones was onset. I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Bill Murray is a hero to pretty much every comedy person in the generations that have followed in his footsteps, and big-time comedy dude Judd Apatow is no exception. According to Bill Murray, Apatow has pursued making a movie with him, but he’s not interested because the only Apatow movie he’s seen is Celtic Pride, a little-known 1996 basketball comedy that Apatow co-wrote early in his career. The movie, which starred Daniel Stern, Damon Wayans, and Murray’s buddy Dan Aykroyd, left such a bad taste in Murray’s mouth, with Murray telling GQ, “I know someone who knows him [Apatow], and he apparently really wants to make a movie with me. And the only Apatow movie I ever saw was Celtic Pride. [laughs] That was the only movie I ever saw… It’s just brutal! Totally brutal.”
1. Louis C.K. on SNL (1993)
Here’s Louis C.K. telling AST’s Matt Belknap about his unsuccessful audition to be a Saturday Night Live cast member:
“They had a big audition at Catch [a Rising Star] in New York for every comedian. At the time, every club in the city was closing. The Improv closed, and there was no work anymore, anywhere… the ‘80s comedy surge was gone. At the Comedy Cellar, there would literally be nobody in the audience, and they’d make you do the show, because if somebody happened to wander in, there couldn’t be no show, so you’d literally be on stage in an empty room and you had to do the jokes. I mean, it was fuckin’ awful.
So it was like that for a few years, and I was going broke. And SNL was like the last chance, the last boat leaving, so Dave Attell, Laura Kightlinger, Sarah Silverman, Jay Mohr and me and a bunch of other people all auditioned. I remember that I was put first on the show, and the SNL people hadn’t shown up, and the guy that ran Catch, Louis Faranda, was trying to put me on anyway. He was like, ‘Go on.’
‘But they’re not gonna see me.’
He said, ‘I don’t care.’
It was cruel as shit. And I think that Jon Stewart was there and he offered to go on and stall for me, which he did. But finally I had to go on, and as I went on stage they all filed in, and I remember that David Spade was with them, and he had seen me, so he made them sit down, Jim Downey and them, and said, ‘Watch this guy,’ which I’m forever indebted to him for even though I didn’t get on SNL.
It made a difference, because I went on and I had a really solid, good set, and then over the following week, Laura Kightlinger got cast, Dave Attell, Sarah, Jay, everybody but me [got cast], like everybody that was on that [showcase] but me.”