James Caan Had the Perfect Reason for Turning Down ‘Apocalypse Now’

by Joe Rutland

James Caan and Francis Ford Coppola worked on a couple of movies together but did you know he was up for Apocalypse Now? Coppola would direct the war-themed film and actually wanted his old friend in there. He even had Caan penciled in to play Capt. Benjamin Willard, one of the main characters opposite Marlon Brando. Caan, who died on Wednesday at 82 years old, decided to turn the role down. Before you think it was for some disagreement between both men, it was not. Caan had a much better reason to say no to his friend.

“My wife was pregnant with my dream child Scott,” Caan said in an interview with Variety. “Francis called me and said he wanted me to play Willard. He said he’d get me a house in Manila with a maid and fly me to location in the jungle every day on a helicopter. I said, ‘Francis there’s two things I hate — heights and tsetse flies, so let’s not do this,'” he said.

Actor James Caan Turned Down ‘Apocalypse Now’ Because of Wife’s Pregnancy

“I couldn’t be away six months while my wife was pregnant,” Caan said. “But I helped write a scene. The letter that Martin Sheen’s character writes to his wife, I helped with that. You didn’t care if the character lived or died without that. You had to make the audience care about Willard.” Sheen would ultimately play Willard in Apocalypse Now, but he was choice No. 2. Harvey Keitel was the first choice and was replaced two weeks into filming, according to IMDB. TV viewers probably recognize Scott Caan from his role as Danny “Danno” Williams in the revised version of Hawaii Five-0. Of course, James MacArthur originally played “Danno” in the classic TV show starring Jack Lord.

Caan’s career spanned many great movies. He would work with Coppola, of course, as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. But he also appeared in films like Rollerball, Misery, and The Gambler. Also, there are many people who remember him from playing in Elf opposite Will Farrell.

TV work did include starring in the series Las Vegas. Would you believe that was Caan’s first starring role in a TV series? Well, a lot of his career was spent on the big screen. Many people were remembering the late actor, including others in the world of show business. For many fans, though, the turn Caan had as Chicago Bears football player Brian Piccolo in the TV movie Brian’s Song is still dear to their hearts. Caan also starred in that one with Billy Dee Williams, who played Bears running back Gale Sayers. Their work together still tugs at the heartstrings of those who watch the film.