13 Famous TV Roles That Almost Went to Someone Else

Updated on November 13, 2018
Rachel M Johnson profile image

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for over two years.

It can be extremely difficult to imagine our favorite beloved TV characters portrayed by different actors. The famous faces we know and love become synonymous with the characters, and imagining other actors filling the roles can be hard. Although, it is very interesting thinking about casting what-ifs. This is a list of surprising TV roles that almost went to someone else.

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Matthew Broderick as Walter White (Breaking Bad)

It's hard to imagine another person portraying the infamous, drug making chemistry teacher Walter White. However, Matthew Broderick was initially the front-runner for the role, but ultimately turned it down. John Cusack was also considered for the lead, before he too passed. Bryan Cranston was therefore approached after the executives watched his X-Files episode.

For the iconic role, Cranston won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama series four times, with three consecutive wins. He also earned a Golden Globe, four Screen Actors Guild Awards and six Satellite Awards. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was extremely impressed by Cranston's take on the character, stating that Walter had to be simultaneously loathsome and sympathetic. "Bryan alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it."

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Rob Lowe as Derek Shepherd (Grey's Anatomy)

In his 2011 memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe revealed that he was offered the famous role of Derek Shepherd (A.K.A. McDreamy) on Grey's Anatomy. Surprisingly, Lowe opted out of the job in order to star in CBS' Dr. Vegas; the series only lasted 5 episodes before it was cancelled. Of the reasoning behind his decision, Lowe had said, "Year after year after year, all of ABC's new dramas flopped. CBC was on a hot streak that continued to this day. Although Grey's was a much better script, I chose Dr. Vegas. The odds were just too stacked."

While it's impossible to imagine anyone other than the swoon-worthy Patrick Dempsey as Derek Shepherd, Rob Lowe would have been interesting to watch. Though he never donned scrubs on Grey's, Lowe would go on to find television success as the extremely positive and health-conscious Chris Traeger on Parks & Recreation, and later Code Black.

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Connie Britton as Olivia Pope (Scandal)

Kerry Washington was born to play Scandal's Olivia Pope. The actress was able to bring a balance of fierceness and warmth to the character that few could do. In a feature for The Hollywood Reporter, creator Shonda Rhimes revealed that the casting list for Olivia had initially been comprised of all white women. Connie Britton was the front-runner for the role, but Rhimes had been adamant the character needed to be a black woman, since the character's inspiration was Judy Smith.

Rhimes had said, "I didn't know that there hadn't been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years. When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a call from somebody who said, "This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.' I said, "It would be, except Olivia Pope is black." Washington's strong portrayal of Pope helped change TV and made it more diverse.

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Dana Delany as Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City)

It is unfathomable to think of any one else other than the extremely talented Sarah Jessica Parker wearing the Manolo Blahniks of Carrie Bradshaw. And yet, once upon a time, Dana Delany was offered the role of the iconic Sex and the City New York columnist. According to the actress, "The show's creator Darren Star asked me to play Carrie...Darren got the idea of televising Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City from seeing me and Kim (Kim Cattrall) in Live Nude Girls."

Delany decided to turn down the role mainly because she had done multiple projects involving sex (Live Nude Girls, Exit to Eden). She also had remembered the negative audience reaction she received from her film Exit to Eden. Sarah Jessica Parker went on to Carrie, certifying her as a world-famous actress.

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Paul Giamatti as Michael Scott (The Office)

Steve Carell perfectly portrayed the beloved bumbling boss Michael Scott on The Office. And yet, the comedic actor wasn't the the first choice to head Dunder Mifflin's Scranton Branch. NBC had initially wanted Paul Giamatti to take the lead in the U.S version of The Office. At the time of casting, Giamatti was reveling in the success of his hit dark comedy Sideways, and caught the producers' eye. However, Giamatti would decline the offer, instead appearing in a slew of successful films.

After Giamatti passed, many other actors expressed interest in the role, including Bob Odenkirk, Martin Short and Hank Azaria. The loveable character was then won over by Steve Carell, who had risen in popularity due to his appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The role would help Carell become not only a television star, but a movie star as well.

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Megan Mullally/Rosie O' Donnell as Elaine Benes (Seinfeld)

Seinfeld is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential shows of all time, an impressive feat for a self-proclaimed show about nothing. The colorful cast and characters helped propel the show to success, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' role as Elaine Benes has since become famous. Interestingly, both Megan Mullally and Rosie O'Donnell auditioned for the part of Elaine, but were passed over in favor of Louis-Dreyfus.

Louis-Dreyfus won a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award for the role. Megan Mullally would go on to star in the beloved sitcom Will & Grace, while Rosie O'Donnell found success with her own television talk show and film work.

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Jon Cryer as Chandler Bing (Friends)

Chandler Bing is arguably the best character on Friends, and Matthew Perry was made for the role. But in an alternate casting world, Jon Cryer almost played the hilarious Chandler. One of the show's writer and producers, Martha Kauffman, was a friend of Cryer's and asked the funnyman to audition for the part. He had been oversees performing a play in London, and therefore had to send his audition to the creators. The tape got stuck in customs and never made it to the network execs in time.

Ducky as Chandler Bing? Could that BE any harder to imagine? Matthew Perry embodied Chandler to a tee, and he won over both critics and fans alike with his endearing and hilarious portrayal of the self-deprecating New Yorker. Jon Cryer would later land the role of Alan Harper on the mega-successful Two and a Half Men.

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Katie Holmes as Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

It's almost impossible to imagine anyone else starring as the stake wielding, butt-kicking vampire slayer Buffy Summers. Sarah Michelle Gellar became a household name with the role, not only cementing her place as a beloved TV character but also as a bonafide movie star. Shockingly, Gellar was not the first choice to play the sassy slayer. Katie Holmes was actually offered the lead role, but turned it down in favor of going to high school.

The iconic role therefore went to Gellar, who made an absolutely perfect Buffy. But don't feel too bad for Holmes; while she did turn down the famous role, she would go on to star on another beloved teen show, as Joey Potter on Dawson's Creek. Both shows made the leading ladies Hollywood stars.

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Rumer Willis as Serena Van Der Woodsen (Gossip Girl)

Blake Lively's role as socialite and "It Girl" Serena Van Der Woodsen on Gossip Girl helped the young starlet find success in Hollywood. Although fans loved the blonde bombshell, Lively almost wasn't the fun-loving fashionista Serena. Rumer Willis was actually casting director David Rapaport's first choice, as he was itching for the celebrity daughter Willis to play the dramatic character.

Blake Lively nailed her audition, and was subsequently cast. Willis was surprised to learn she had been such a big contender, looking back. When she heard Rapaport's thoughts, the actress said, "I felt like I did an awful audition back then. I was so young and it was, like, one of the first things I'd ever auditioned for...Blake and Leighton did an incredible job." Thankfully there's no bad blood here!

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Alec Baldwin as Big (Sex and the City)

Let's be honest here: Chris Noth IS Mr. Big. He captured the hearts of many fans for his portrayal of Carrie's on-again off-again love on Sex and the City. But what if Noth never played the smooth and mysterious Big? Series creator Darren Star revealed to Entertainment Weekly that he actually envisioned another actor in the role: Alec Baldwin. He had expressed, "I was thinking of Alec Baldwin for Big initially. I don't remember watching Law & Order, but I met with Chris Noth and thought he was perfect. I remember the first table read, how good he was. I'm not saying that Chris is Mr. Big, but he brought a lot of his own persona to the role..."

While Alec Baldwin probably would have done a good job in the role, Chris Noth was destined to sweep Carrie off her feet. Though he didn't get the role, Baldwin would continue to have a solid film career and went on to star as Jack Donaghy on the smash-hit NBC sitcom 30 Rock.

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Tiffani Thiessen as Rachel Green (Friends)

Kelly Kapowski as one-half of the iconic will they/won't they romantic duo Ross and Rachel? It almost happened! Former Saved by the Bell star Tiffani Thiessen revealed on SiriusXM's You Up With Nikki Glaser that she (among many others) had auditioned for the role of Rachel Green on Friends. Although, the actress realized it wasn't meant to be. "I was just a little too young. I was a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them." At the time, Thiessen was 20 and Jennifer Aniston, who was the youngest cast member, was 25.

Aniston perfectly portrayed the beloved Rachel Green, becoming a mega-star and inspiring women across the country to go to their salons and get "the Rachel." Thiessen also did well for herself, instead appearing in another 90's hit show Beverly Hills, 90210.

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Selma Blair as Joey Potter (Dawson's Creek)

Dawson's Creek helped turn Katie Holmes into superstar due to her role as Dawson Leery's best friend and certified girl next door Joey Potter. The famous role almost went to someone else: Selma Blair. Creator Kevin Williamson admitted to Entertainment Weekly that Blair subsequently lost the role to Holmes. "I really loved Selma until, of course, I got the infamous videotape from the basement of the Holmes family in Toledo, Ohio. And when that video showed up, it changed my whole life."

Katie Holmes was born the play the role of the headstrong and effortlessly beautiful Joey, which made her a sensation and paved the way for her film career. Though Dawson's Creek did not work out for Blair, she did find success in 1999's cult classic Cruel Intentions, as well as Legally Blonde, The Sweetest Thing, and the Hellboy film series.

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Matt LeBlanc as Phil Dunphy (Modern Family)

Modern Family has become a beloved sitcom that continues to bring fans of all ages laughter. Ty Burrell, who perfectly portrays the hilarious real-estate broke Phil Dunphy, was made for the role. However, a different funnyman was offered the role before Burrell. Friends star Matt LeBlanc was sought after by ABC, though producers of the show wanted Burrell. Surprisingly, LeBlanc did not believe he was the right fit for the show and ended up turning down the role.

Of his decision, the actor had explained, "I remember reading it thinking, this is a really good script, (but) I'm not the guy for this. I'd be doing the project an injustice to take this. I know what I can do, I know what I can't do. Plus, I'm having too much fun laying on the couch." Though Modern Family didn't pan out for LeBlanc, he would go on to star in Episodes and the sitcom Man with a Plan.

© 2018 Rachel M Johnson

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