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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 heartbreak after pleading for one last film before death: ‘Hope to hell I do’

The crowning moment in his acting life came in 1970, when he earned his only Academy Award for Best Actor, as a result of his role in True Grit.

But one project that sadly never made it to life was Beau John, a film Wayne hoped would be his last.
Author Scott Eyman, who wrote ‘John Wayne: The Life and Legend’, discussed what Wayne wanted the project to be like, as well as the confession he made before he sadly passed away.
Eyman noted that Wayne’s wish was made at the end of 1978, just under a year before the western icon died in June.

Wayne reportedly felt directionless without any film work as he’d spent the last years in recovery with health issues as opposed to being behind the camera.
That year, Wayne received the Utah Film Festival’s John Ford Medallion, though he was unable to travel due to his health.
Instead, friend and director Peter Bogdanovich went to accept the award on his behalf, and when the pair were reunited Wayne asked if he’d consider the film he proposed.
Bogdanovich said: “It’s kind of a half-western thing, it’s not cowboys and Indians, you know, it’s — oh, the humour and the wonderful relationship between this grandfather and the son and the son-in-law and the grandson.
JUST IN: John Wayne was buried at unmarked grave with a beautiful message

“Wayne said, ‘I hope to hell I live to do it. Just a wonderful story’.”
His friend reassured Wayne he’d do the project, were he alive long enough to commit to it, and in his later life it became the Oscar winner’s main focus in life.
As he grew even more ill, Wayne then proposed the project to director Ron Howard, though he didn’t want anyone but the dying star to be in it.
According to the book, Wayne told Howard: “I found a book. I think it’s a movie. It’s you and me or it’s nobody.”

John Wayne died in 1979

John Wayne died in 1979 (Image: GETTY)

But sadly for Wayne, he died before anything could be done to start the movie.
Howard added: “It never got past the verbal stage.
“And at that point, he was showing signs of not being well. I was a little doubtful.”
Wayne passed away in 1979 as a result of stomach cancer, and was buried in the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach.
His legacy was secured when the American Film Institute chose him as one of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema.

He was among a select group of stars who managed to negotiate their way from the silent film era of the Twenties, into the talkies that followed.
He had seven children in total, and was married three times.

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John Wayne

John Wayne battled crippling injuries and heartbreaking loss on Rio Lobo set

The sight of The Duke thundering across The West on horseback remains one of cinema’s most indelible images.
Meanwhile, “Get off your horse and drink your milk” has frequently been attributed as one of John Wayne’s most famous ‘quotes.’

Despite some claims that it came from an advert he shot, it is actually almost certainly an urban myth, most likely started by comedians doing drawling impressions of the Hollywood Westerns legend.
Sadly, though, by the time the star came to film 1970’s Rio Lobo (a blatant remake of Rio Bravo) towards the end of his career, he was in so much pain struggled to get on and off his horse.
In fact, the entire film shoot was surrounded by personal tragedies for the actor.
DON’T MISSJohn Wayne revealed his own three favourite films from his career

John Wayne on horseback in Rio Lobo

John Wayne on horseback in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY)

John Wayne starred in Rio Lobo
John Wayne was in agony in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY )

It was director Howard Hawks’ final film and the third film he made with John Wayne about a beleaguered sheriff standing against outlaws.
In a 1971 interview Hawks said of Rio Lobo: “The last picture we made, I called him up and said, ‘Duke, I’ve got a story.’ He said, ‘I can’t make it for a year, I’m all tied up.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all right, it’ll take me a year to get it finished.’
“He said, ‘Good, I’ll be all ready.’ And he came down on location and he said, ‘What’s this about?’ And I told him the story. He never even read it, he didn’t know anything about it.”

Famously, when Wayne realised it was a remake of Rio Bravo and El Dorado, he quipped: “Yes, he said, ‘Do I get to play the drunk this time?”

Hawks was less jocular after the film bombed and blamed it on 63-year-old Wayne being too old and out of shape for the role.
Critics and audiences agreed and the film took just over $4million against a production budget of $6million plus all the extra promotional costs which are often the same again.
Wayne’s physical difficulties were not due to his age, however. He had piled on weight for 1969’s True Grit and then while filming The Undefeated the same year, The Duke fell from his horse and fractured three ribs, leaving him unable to work for two weeks.
Later in the shoot, he tore a ligament in his shoulder. With no movement in one arm, he had to be filmed only from the other side.

John Wayne with a rifle in Rio Lobo
John Wayne with a rifle in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY)

Wayne came into Rio Lobo in considerable pain, out of shape from True Grit and still suffering from a torn shoulder.
Most of his fight scenes had to be filmed with stand-ins or carefully from restricted angles. Some fights even happened off-camera. And he struggled greatly getting on and off his horse.
He also suffered two devastatimg personal blow when his mother died during filming and then his younger brother Robert E. Morrison lost his battle with lung cancer the month after filming ended.
But there was one shining moment of happiness also.

John Wayne in True Grit
John Wayne in True Grit (Image: GETTY)

Always a dedicated workhorse on set, no matter the physical injuries or personal pains, Wayne took a rare break from filming.
He had a very good reason, since it was to attend the 1970 Academy Awards. After exactly 40 years on screen, The Duke finally won the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit.
Touchingly, when he returned to the Rio Lobo set, he was greeted by the cast and crew all wearing eye patches like True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn.

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John Wayne

Ann-Margret recalls ‘gentle’ and ‘welcoming’ John Wayne who did her a big favour

Legendary actress Ann-Margret turns 80-years-old today on April 28, 2021. The singer, dancer and performer made quite the name for herself in Hollywood in a number of films during the early 1960s, including Bye Bye Birdie and State Fair. She is perhaps best known for her epic performance in 1964 hit Viva Las Vegas alongside Elvis Presley, with whom she shared a passionate love affair. Shortly after working with the King, she joined wild west star John Wayne in his 1973 movie The Train Robbers.

Ann-Margret played the lead in the movie – one of her first lead roles – Mrs Lowe.

The story followed her character after her husband had been killed, leaving her half-million dollars.
Mr Lowe had acquired this money from robbing banks in the wild west, however, she was keen to return it to the government to clear her name. John’s character, Lane, had different ideas. He wanted her to help find the money and claim a reward for it.
Ann-Margret recently gave an interview about her time on the silver screen, where she touched upon working with the legendary John.

Ann-Margret continued: “He was so great with my parents. So absolutely welcoming and gentle with them. And anybody who was great to my parents was on a throne in my eyes.
“I was friends with him forever. He was never [pretentious]. He had so many friends and every single person loved him.”
Ann-Margret also previously praised John for doing her an enormous favour in her time of need.
During the filming of The Train Robbers, Ann-Margret was up for an Oscar alongside her co-star Ben Johnson.
However, considering Ann-Margret was filming in Mexico she was struggling to find a way to attend the ceremony.
Without a second thought, John gave her and Ben his own private plane to allow them both to attend the ceremony.
Ann-Margret said later: “The next day, we were back on the set, and Ben had won and I hadn’t.
“I don’t know what Mr Wayne said to Ben, but he got me in a corner, and he just said some wonderful things to me.”
Ann-Margret also spoke candidly about her relationship with Elvis.
The pair enjoyed a relationship together for just over a year while filming Viva Las Vegas.

Speaking in the same interview, Ann-Margret said: “Just thinking about Viva Las Vegas, or anytime someone mentions it, I smile.
“It was one of the happiest times of my life. George Sidney, who directed Bye Bye Birdie also directed Viva Las Vegas. And believe it or not, I had never seen [Elvis] perform.”

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