Hollywood is rife with stories about last-second casting choices that made careers. Hugh Jackman wasn’t the original first choice for Wolverine in X-Men. But after the original actor dropped out, Jackman made the role iconic. John Travolta said something similar happened for Tom Hanks when the Saving Private Ryan star took over a part meant for the Grease icon.
Travolta opened up to Kevin Hart in his Peacock interview show Hart to Heart about losing out major film roles that became launch pads for other actors. Though, the 67-year-old star said he doesn’t get jealous when another actor succeeds.
“The role in the Tom Hanks’ movie Splash was written for me,” Travolta said. “But then we wouldn’t have Tom Hanks, so let’s have Tom Hanks!”
John Travolta also said Richard Gere benefitted greatly from his busy schedule in the 1970s. It began with Terrance Malick’s classic Days of Heaven. Malick wanted Travolta to play the lead, but producers of Welcome Back Kotter wouldn’t give him the time off to make the movie.
While it was a big loss for John Travolta at the time. He also benefitted massively after an actor dropped out of one of his most iconic roles. Travolta was not Quentin Tarantino’s first choice to play Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. He wrote the part for Michael Madsen, who he’d worked with on Reservoir Dogs. But Madsen had signed on to work with Kevin Costner on a different movie.
“I was already committed to Wyatt Earp,” Madsen says in a documentary about Tarantino called QT8: The First Eight, according to Entertainment Weekly. “And now, here’s Quentin, wants me to do Pulp Fiction. And they were both going at the same time.”
Madsen thinks that Travolta’s image was so far from that of Vincent Vega that the contrast improved the movie.
John Travolta Wanted ‘Happy Days’ Role
John Travolta rocketed to stardom as Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter. He’d solidified his turn on the big screen two years later when he starred in Saturday Night Fever.
But that wasn’t his original plan. In fact, he had pinned a lot of his hopes on landing a role on Happy Days. A role that likely would have kept him from working on some of his most early successes.
John Travolta wanted to be Potsie. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Anson Williams in the role, but Travolta apparently wanted it badly.
“You know it’s funny. I didn’t even know he auditioned until I was interviewed by Marilu Henner and she told me, years later,” Anson Williams said in an interview with Studio 10 in 2017. “Well, I told Marilu to tell John I saved his career, by me getting the part and not him.”
It’s unclear why producers went with Williams over Travolta for the part, but it seems to have worked out well for both of them.