Stories of actors replaced during shootings. The Case of Kevin Spacey

Very often, directors and producers change their minds on actors even before they start shooting. But what happens if they realize that some actor – even famous and talented – is not right for the part only DURING the shooting? They just replace him! You don’t believe it?

The Case of Kevin Spacey

After being accused of sexual harassment, Kevin Spacey has been fired and will no longer appear in Ridley Scott’s forthcoming film, All the money in the world. This is maybe the first case in history of film where an actor is replaced after the movie has already been shot, edited and finished, with a movie poster and an official trailer already released.

Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty in “All the money in the world”, before being fired. (

Producers have also stated that the film will still be released on December the 22nd, as promised, although they have to completely edit Spacey out of the film and replace him with Christopher Plummer. For this role, Spacey was also believed to be one of the next nominees for the Academy Awards 2018.

2. Plummer - Spacey

Christopher Plummer and Kevin Spacey. (

Replacing an actor during the shooting – or, as in this case, after – strongly affects the production’s budget and it can change the outcome of a film in an unpredictable way.

Let’s see what has been lost – and gained –, in the history of cinematography, from directors’ and producers’ (right?) choices.

Vivien Leigh in Elephant Walk (1954)

Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor in “Elephant Walk” (

Originally, the studio wanted Vivien Leigh – known for her memorable interpretation in Gone with the Wind – to play the leading role. She was very enthusiastic about it, but she was forced to withdraw from production shortly after filming, as a result of bipolar disorder.

Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future (1985)

Michael J. Fox and Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly (

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly. Though, before Fox, another actor had been cast for the role: Eric Stoltz. After a few weeks into filming, however, director Robert Zemeckis realized Stoltz was too dramatic for the role. So they chose Michael J. Fox, but the transition couldn’t take place right away: Stoltz was forced to keep working, unaware his days as Marty were numbered.

Michael Keaton in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Michael Keaton in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” before being replaced by Jeff Daniels. (From Woody Allen: a documentary, by Robert B. Weide)

In The Purple Rose of Cairo, the role of the handsome young man was played by Jeff Daniels. But can you imagine Michael Keaton for that role, instead? This was the original choice, but during the shooting Woody Allen changed his mind.

He greatly admired Michael Keaton, and he still does, but never took the time to meet him. And then, once he was there, Woody just felt he was so contemporary for a movie that took place in the ‘30s. (Juliet Taylor, casting director)

So they reshoot everything with Jeff Daniels, who was actually quite wonderful in it.

Part of the cast of September (1987)

Woody Allen on the set of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (From Woody Allen: a documentary, by Robert B. Weide)

Woody is not afraid to change cast members, as it goes along and something doesn’t work out. As in The Purple Rose of Cairo, also in September Woody Allen changed the cast after filming started; and not just one actor, but tree!

Elain Stritch replaced Maureen O’Sullivan in “September” (From Woody Allen: a documentary, by Robert B. Weide)


Jack Warden replaced Charles Durning in “September” (From Woody Allen: a documentary, by Robert B. Weide)


Sam Waterson replaced Sam Shepard in “September” (From Woody Allen: a documentary, by Robert B. Weide)


James Purefoy in V for Vendetta (2005)

A scene from the film “V for Vendetta” (

As he was struggling to wear a mask for the entire film, James Purefoy abandoned his role in V for Vendetta after 4 weeks into filming and was replaced by Hugo Weaving. Thanks to the fact that the real face of V is never shown, Weaving didn’t have to reshoot, but he just dubbed Purefoy in the scenes he’d already shot.

Samantha Morton in Her (2013)

On the right, Samantha Morton. On the left, the movie poster for “Her” (

Speaking of dubbing. The original choice for the role of Samantha, the OS that Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls for, was Samantha Morton. Once in post-production, however, director Spike Jonze realized that they were looking for something else. So they recast and hired Scarlett Johansson instead.

Ryan Gosling in The Lovely Bones (2009)

Ryan Gosling and Mark Wahlberg (

In this case, filming hadn’t started yet, but Gosling had prepared for the part by gaining 60 pounds! Once on the set, he was fired because that was not what director and producers had in mind. So Mark Wahlberg got the part and Gosling went back to the gym!

Ryan Gosling (

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” (

When Heath Ledger died in January 2008, he had already shot one-third of Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. After his death, production stopped for a few months, but eventually they managed to complete Heath Ledger’s last work and pay him tribute. His role was recast with Johnny Depp, Jude Law e Colin Farrell, who played different versions of the character as he travels through a dream world. They took no compensation for their work; instead, they donated their salaries to Heath Ledger’s two-year-old daughter, Matilda.

Maybe Her wouldn’t have had the same charming atmospheres without Scarlett Johansson’s sensual voice, as well as The Purple Rose of Cairo wouldn’t have been the same without the old-fashioned elegance of Jeff Daniels; maybe what makes Back to the Future so attractive is precisely that touch of irony. Maybe our favourite films wouldn’t have been “our favourite films” if directors hadn’t made the right choice at the right time. Or maybe they would. Maybe All the Money in the World will be a great film even without Kevin Spacey, and his replacement/annihilation will be positive. Or maybe not…