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John Wayne

From John Wayne to Keanu Reeves: Hollywood’s worst casting choices

When the upcoming biopic Daliland was announced as the closing night film for last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, one of its best-known actors was strangely left off the press release: Ezra Miller, the controversial star of The Flash, who plays the young Salvador Dali in flashbacks (Ben Kingsley as an older version of Dali is the film’s lead).
Miller was originally cast in Daliland in 2018, well before they started making headlines for all the wrong reasons – and Mary Harron, the director, has since made a point of describing them as one of the greatest actors she’s worked with. But it’s a reminder that no aspect of filmmaking sparks more argument than casting, sometimes even before audiences and critics see a frame of the final product, depending on the baggage attached to both actor and role.
Sometimes an actor just doesn’t look like what the fans had in mind. Sometimes it’s a matter of perceived talent or temperament, cultural background or life experience – or, as in Miller’s case, whether they’re thought to deserve any sort of movie career.
One way or another, there’s no doubt that mistakes can be made, even if it’s not always the fault of the actors concerned. Here’s our list of some of the more questionable casting choices of all time … or are any of these performances worth defending? Let the debates begin …
John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956)
Oh dear.


Hollywood’s greatest cowboy star as a Mongol chief? To be fair, Dick Powell’s Technicolor epic isn’t far in spirit from a Western, desert backdrops included (the Utah locations were downwind of a nuclear testing site, which is a whole other story). Still, there’s no escaping the camp value of Wayne decked out in swarthy make-up and Fu Manchu moustache, making no effort to alter his all-American drawl. That’s before we get to the bizarre S&M dynamics of the plot, which starts out with the barbaric hero kidnapping a fiery Tartar maiden (Susan Hayward). “Your future promises much discomfort,” he informs her. Sounds about right.

Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly (1970)
Mick Jagger and his bushranger beard.Mick Jagger and his bushranger beard.

Bushrangers were the rock stars of their day, the British director Tony Richardson must have reasoned, so why not bring an actual rock star over to Australia to play the most famous bushranger of them all? But over the course of the trip down under Jagger’s usual cockiness somehow drained out of him, leaving him to recite Ned’s lines in an uncertain Irish accent like a schoolboy aware of not having done his homework (pouty and wispy, he also anticipates Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog). “Such is loife” never sounded less profound.
Lucille Ball in Mame (1974)
Lucille Ball with Robert Preston in the “almost psychedelic” musical <i>Mame</i>.Lucille Ball with Robert Preston in the “almost psychedelic” musical Mame.CREDIT:WARNER BROS

Singing ability isn’t always a prerequisite in musicals, as was proven by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady among others. But when an exhausted-looking Ball is rasping her way through one overscaled production number after another, it’s anyone’s guess what she was expected to bring to the role of Auntie Mame, in theory an eternally stylish non-conformist and life force. Less of a mystery is why Hollywood musicals like this one stopped being made: like other grandiose old-school productions from the same era, this one feels so out of its time, the film almost psychedelic.

Robert De Niro as the Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Robert De Niro in the 1994 film <i>Frankenstein</i> - a disaster.Robert De Niro in the 1994 film Frankenstein – a disaster.CREDIT:GETTY

Kenneth Branagh’s BBC-style take on the novel starts out watchable enough, but from the moment De Niro lurches into view as the scarred, grunting monster, the whole thing starts looking like a metaphor for itself: the story of a would-be visionary whose passion project turns into a total disaster. De Niro is revisiting territory he covered more successfully in Cape Fear, but his earnest efforts to feel himself into the creature’s skin are a big part of the problem. By contrast, John Cleese does surprisingly well in a non-comic role as the hero’s mentor (whose brain becomes the Creature’s – though De Niro thankfully doesn’t attempt a Cleese impression).
Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn as Marion Crane and Norman Bates in Psycho (1998)
Anne Heche in the ill-advised 90s remake of <i>Psycho</i>.Anne Heche in the ill-advised 90s remake of Psycho.CREDIT:REUTERS

Gus van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic was a bold experiment, but the nature of experiments is that they don’t always succeed. Look at his version of the crucial scene where Marion, a thief on the run, checks into the Bates Motel and gets into conversation with its youthfully anxious manager. As if reacting against the perceived theatricality of the original, Heche and Vaughn strive for an offhand ’90s naturalism that removes most of the tension from the encounter, and suggests a couple of students stumbling their way through an exercise in acting class.
Keanu Reeves in Constantine (2005)

Keanu Reeves: definitely a skinny blond geezer from Liverpool.Keanu Reeves: definitely a skinny blond geezer from Liverpool.CREDIT:WARNER BROS

Reeves’ acting has copped its share of unjust criticism, and characters in comic-book movies don’t always have to resemble their counterparts on the page. Still, in this case fans had some reason to be annoyed. Co-created by British comic legend Alan Moore, the “occult detective” John Constantine was originally a skinny blond geezer from Liverpool, usually seen in a tan trench coat and physically modelled after Sting. His Hollywood equivalent is… very much not that, although in hindsight we can see him as a first draft of a more enduring Keanu alter ego named John, black tie, deep voice and all.
Robert Pattinson as Salvador Dali in Little Ashes (2008)
Robert Pattinson mumbles and smirks his way through <i>Little Ashes</i>.Robert Pattinson mumbles and smirks his way through Little Ashes.

Miller wasn’t the first screen Dali to run into trouble. Often an awkward, self-conscious screen presence, Pattinson has rarely been more so than in this ill-fated arthouse production made just after the original Twilight, chronicling the art school days of the future surrealist legend Dali and his buddies Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty) and Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran, a genuine Spaniard flanked by two Brits doing accents). The film doesn’t work, but is Pattinson’s mumbling, smirking performance as terrible as it first appears? Or is it apt enough for a character who is constantly posing yet hasn’t quite worked out who he wants to be?
Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley in Australia (2008)
Nicole Kidman in <i>Australia</i>: an outright mistake.Nicole Kidman in Australia: an outright mistake.CREDIT:20TH CENTURY FOX

Common sense suggests that not one person could be right to play Virginia Woolf, Diane Arbus, Grace Kelly and Lucille Ball, but over her long career Nicole Kidman has risen to the occasion more often than not. If there’s one item in her filmography that qualifies as an outright mistake, it’s her twittery turn as her heroine of Baz Luhrmann’s chaotic super-sized melodrama, a haughty aristocrat who falls for a rugged drover (Hugh Jackman). All the character’s tics are exaggerated to the point of pantomime, which is the Baz hallmark, but drastically reduces any prospect of us being touched by the romance.
Ashton Kutcher in Jobs (2013)
Ashton Kutcher working on his intensity in <i>Jobs</i>.Ashton Kutcher working on his intensity in Jobs.CREDIT:AP

Justice where it’s due: kitted out with the mop-top, the wire-rimmed glasses and the facial hair, Kutcher does look quite a bit like the young Steve Jobs. He has the hunched posture down, and has clearly worked hard on the gestures. But his attempts at intensity don’t appear to have any thought behind them, beyond “I am being intense”. Truthfully, the 2015 Steve Jobs biopic wasn’t much of a movie either, despite an Aaron Sorkin script and a more dynamic central performance from Michael Fassbender. Maybe software development just isn’t as dramatic a subject as people think.
Renee Zellweger in Judy (2019)
Zellweger, squinting and simpering her way through <i>Judy</i>?Zellweger, squinting and simpering her way through Judy?

Yes, she won the Oscar, but let’s be serious. Judy Garland was a powerhouse who poured her heart out every time she appeared on screen. Renee Zellweger squints, simpers, tilts her head, flutters her eyelashes, and generally does a fair-to-middling job of reproducing her subject’s mannerisms, without a trace of the spirit. Perhaps the core problem isn’t so much miscasting as the folly of anyone trying to compete with a performer who dramatised herself as no-one else could. At any rate, long after Judy is forgotten, Judy Garland will still be loved.

Daliland is in cinemas from July 13.

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John Wayne

John Wayne’s Explosive Encounter Standing Up for a Young Marine Against Heckling USC Students Inspired ‘The Green Berets’

The Green Berets actor John Wayne had an abundance of respect for those who put their lives on the line for the United States. This certainly became apparent in his movies, but it also bled into his personal life. Wayne once confronted some USC students heckling a young marine, which led to The Green Berets.

John Wayne plays Col. Mike Kirby in ‘The Green Berets’

John Wayne as Col. Mike Kirby in 'The Green Berets' in a military uniform holding a gun

John Wayne as Col. Mike Kirby | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

The Green Berets follows a cynical reporter named George Beckworth (David Janssen), who is against the Vietnam War. However, he is sent to cover the conflict and must tag along with a group of Green Berets. He meets a tough man named Col. Mike Kirby (Wayne), who leads the team through a top-secret mission. They intend to kidnap an important enemy commander, but nothing is as simple as it seems.

The Green Berets is a financially successful Wayne feature, but it didn’t settle as well with critics. The pro-war messaging offended a lot of reviewers. Nevertheless, his fan base continues to celebrate the passion that the actor had for veterans and the country overall.

John Wayne’s explosive encounter with USC students inspired ‘The Green Berets’

Scott Eyman’s John Wayne: The Life and Legend takes a look at how The Green Berets came to exist. He explained that the “genesis” of the movie comes from an encounter that the actor had on the USC campus. The actor was on the college grounds to discuss a benefit for a children’s hospital and saw some students protesting the Vietnam War. However, an incident really got his blood boiling.

“What got my goat was that these students were heckling a young marine, a corporal, who was going by and heading for his car,” Wayne recalled. “He walked with his back straight as a rod, and he wore his uniform with pride. Then I noticed that where his right arm should have been there was only an empty sleeve which was neatly folded and pinned back.”

Wayne continued: “Turned out he was one of the Ninth Marine Brigade which were the first ground troops America sent to Vietnam. He had a chest full of medals and ribbons and said his drill instructor had taught him to ignore impolite civilians. He said, ‘You don’t give them the satisfaction of noticing them.’ I waved to him as he drove away.”

“And my blood was boiling,” Wayne said. “I ran over to the students and I was just so angry, I drummed my fists into their goddamn table and I said, “You stupid bastards! You stupid fing a**holes! Blame Johnson if you like, blame Kennedy. Blame Eisenhower or Truman or fing goddamn Roosevelt. But don’t you blame that kid. Don’t you dare blame any of those kids. They served! Jesus, the kid lost his arm. I mean what the hell is happening to this country?”

The actor wanted the movie to be ‘as American as apple pie’

John Wayne in The Green Berets. While visiting the troops in Vietnam, he was given a silver friendship bracelet presented by a Montagnard Strike Force unit. He wore the bracelet the rest of his life. More on his travels to Vietnam here:— John Wayne Official (@JohnDukeWayne) December 30, 2018

Eyman continued that the first “concrete sign” of Wayne’s The Green Berets was a letter written on December 29, 1965. The actor wrote to director George Stevens expressing his interest in making a feature film about the Vietnam War. He knew that Stevens’ son worked for the government and would need their help to make this picture possible.

“It will have the scope, integrity and dignity required by the subject matter,” Wayne wrote. “Our film about the exciting new unit fighting in Vietnam will be as American as ‘apple pie’ and as harshly against the ‘beard and sandal’ brigade as possible.”

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John Wayne

John Wayne Shouted a Gay Slur to Describe Kirk Douglas’ Costume Choice

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas didn’t see eye-to-eye throughout their time in the entertainment industry. They disagreed on politics, but it went farther than that point. Nevertheless, Wayne and Douglas ultimately were able to put their differences aside to work on a project, even though it originally got off to a rocky start.

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas co-starred in ‘The War Wagon’

John Wayne as Taw Jackson and Kirk Douglas as Lomax in 'The War Wagon' sitting on horseback in cowboy uniforms

L-R: John Wayne as Taw Jackson and Kirk Douglas as Lomax | Bettmann via Getty Images

Scott Eyman’s John Wayne: The Life and Legend tells the stories of the legendary actor and those around him, including his co-stars. Wayne starred in a Universal movie called The War Wagon with Douglas. Wayne wanted Rod Taylor, but the studio overrode his decision and cast Douglas instead “for $300,000 plus 15 percent of the gross after break-even until he got a total of $675,000. After, he got 10 percent of the worldwide gross.

The War Wagon director Burt Kennedy explained how he was having a difficult time with Wayne hand-picking him. It didn’t help that the actor massively intimidated the director.

“The only reason The War Wagon was a hard time was that Duk started me,” Kennedy said. “[He] picked me up off the street. Kirk Douglas said in his book that I was afraid of Duke. Hell, everybody was afraid of him.”

John Wayne shouted a gay slur to describe Kirk Douglas’ costume choice

John Wayne: The Life and Legend explained how The War Wagon production didn’t start off on a great note. Actors Wayne and Douglas certainly didn’t get along when Douglas showed up on the set with a costume that included a “flamboyant ring worn over a black leather glove.” Eyman stated that this was his attempt at stealing the scene and acted as a test for the director.

However, Wayne wasn’t willing to play around with Douglas. He suddenly shouted a gay slur about him to Kennedy, telling him that if they didn’t get him off the set, he would quit the picture immediately. The director wanted to make peace, so he obediently spoke with Douglas. He said, “Don’t you think the ring is a little much, Kirk?” The actor responded, “No, I think it’s just fine. What do you think?”

Wayne responded to Douglas, “It’s great, just great.” He had no issue with shouting at Kennedy but had some reservations about shouting at actors on the same level as him. Wayne ultimately sidled up to Douglas and asked, “You’re going to play it in that effete fashion?”

“John, I’m trying not to let my effeminacy show,” Douglas responded.

The actors later shared a volatile relationship

Eyman touched on the fact that Wayne and Douglas had a complicated relationship. However, they were ultimately able to work together, despite their differences. Nevertheless, there was always a tension between the two.

One of the primary signs of this is how Douglas always refused to call Wayne “Duke,” which his friends and colleagues always called him.

Their performances ultimately did well for The War Wagon. The movie opened to favorable reviews, especially praising Wayne and Douglas for their performances.

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John Wayne

John Wayne and Steve McQueen Peed on a ‘Wall or Curtain’ Together Backstage at the Golden Globes

Actors like John Wayne and Steve McQueen are icons that continue to represent the movie industry to this day. Their cultural mark on entertainment will never disappear from the history books or the minds of their fans. Additionally, Wayne and McQueen certainly won’t be forgotten by the individual who had to clean their pee off the wall or curtain at the Golden Globes.

Steve McQueen and other movie stars respected John Wayne

Writer Jeremy Roberts interviewed McQueen’s biographer, Marshall Terrill. He wrote several books about the actor, including both his career and his personal life. Terrill wrote about his opinions of several movie stars, including Wayne. He had a great amount of respect for him. Not all actors felt the same way, but Hollywood as a whole respected the impact that he had on their field.

McQueen and Wayne had a friendship that also carried away from the glamor of Hollywood. This is true with several folks in Hollywood, including his frequent collaborator, John Ford. In particular, he loved playing Bridge with anybody willing to join him.

John Wayne and Steve McQueen peed on a ‘wall or curtain’ together backstage at the Golden Globes

John Wayne & Steve McQueen sharing a laugh at a party in 1969. Did you see our Instagram Stories from yesterday? Find out how Duke reacted when a young fan wrote in and confused him with Steve McQueen 😂— John Wayne Official (@JohnDukeWayne) September 6, 2019

Roberts asked Terrill to expand on how Wayne and McQueen got along. He explained that McQueen had a great amount of respect for the Duke. He recalled a hilarious story between the two actors when they both were set to present at the Golden Globes.

“I remember hearing a story most recently from Barbara Minty McQueen,” Terrill said. “She was looking over pictures in Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool and spotted the two pictures of McQueen and Wayne. She chuckled and then told me this great story.”

Terrill continued: “She said the two legends were at an awards ceremony in the 1960s and were either presenters or co-presenters. They were hanging out backstage, waiting to go on, when Wayne didn’t feel like going to the restroom or there wasn’t enough time to find a restroom, and so Wayne took a leak against a wall or curtain.”

However, McQueen didn’t object to Wayne relieving himself there. Rather, he decided to join in.

“She said that Steve started laughing and joined in, also relieving himself. Barbara said Steve remembered the encounter with a huge smile,” Terrill said.” After we both finished laughing, I said, ‘Oh, why did you have to tell me that story after the book was published?’”

The Duke regularly attended award shows

Wayne and McQueen are both widely celebrated actors who attended many award ceremonies, including the Golden Globes and Oscars. Wayne regularly presented awards and honorary awards, which were met with thunderous applause.

However, he also nearly stormed the Oscars stage to pull off actor Sacheen Littlefeather for making a speech in place of Marlon Brando. It took six security men to hold him back and he ultimately made statements after the ceremony to express his frustration at the situation.

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