Did you know that Eddie Murphy wasn’t the original choice to play the character of Axel Foley in the movie Beverly Hills Cop? That role was actually given to Sylvester Stallone, but he couldn’t get some of the comedic elements right, so Eddie Murphy was brought in to replace him.
And did you know that Clint Eastwood wasn’t going to be the original Dirty Harry? Frank Sinatra was set to play that role. Unfortunately Sinatra broke his wrist and couldn’t lift the gun, so the role went to Eastwood instead. Why couldn’t Sinatra just shoot with his other hand?
Who could forget Marty McFly from Back to the Future? That role wasn’t played by Michael J. Fox initially. The movie actually started filming with Eric Stoltz in the lead role, but he was cut after a few weeks due to not being perceived as funny enough.
Changing actors during production is costly, but it isn’t uncommon. Sometimes this happens very late into a production. British actress Samantha Morton completed her role for the movie Her, where she played the voice of the AI. But she was replaced by Scarlett Johansson during post production, meaning that the entire role was re-recorded.
Given all the money being spent by the movie industry, you might expect that they’d get these decisions right the first time and lock everything down. But the reality is that creating a film can be an evolutionary process where decisions are made and then reconsidered along the way.
Sometimes you just have to make your best guess and go forward with action. Even when you do your best to make good advance decisions, you can’t always tell how things will work out. Sometimes you’ll make costly mistakes that will be problematic to fix or redo later.
From the actor’s perspective, it sucks when you get cut, especially after putting a lot of work into a role. Stuart Townsend trained and rehearsed for two months to play Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, only to be replaced by Viggo Mortensen four days into filming. Peter Jackson concluded that Townsend looked too young for the role. Couldn’t Jackson have figured that out sooner? Maybe he could have made that choice sooner, but sometimes you don’t really know how a piece will fit till you see it in context.
Sometimes you’ll also get blindsided by what life throws at you. In the movie Aliens, the actor James Remar was originally set to play the role of Corporal Hicks, but he was arrested for drug possession, so James Cameron replaced him with Michael Biehn.
When you tackle an interesting creative or business project, problems come up along the way. It’s rare for such projects to breeze through predictably from start to finish. Sometimes you have to make difficult choices as you go.
And sometimes you’ll be the one getting cut because someone else has made that decision, or they fell into circumstances where they had little choice.
In film production such cuts and changes are ideally made to create a better movie. Of course there can be politics involved, but sometimes it’s just the right choice. It’s hard to envision a better Beverly Hills Cop than Eddie Murphy, but would you want to be the one to tell Sylvester Stallone that he wasn’t funny enough after you’ve already cast him in the role?
When you face a difficult decision to make, ask yourself what’s best for the story of your life. What’s your big picture? When you put that picture first, what decision wants to emerge? What’s the right thing to do, regardless of the implementation difficulty?
Sometimes the right decision for your story is that it’s time to cut someone from your cast. Sometimes you need to replace the script for your life. Sometimes you need to pursue different roles. And sometimes you just need to step back and trust everyone to do their jobs.
It’s easy to look at a crappy film and wonder how the studio could have released it like that. Couldn’t they tell it was going to be bad in advance? Couldn’t they see all the mistakes they were making along the way? In many cases the answer is yes, but it’s still difficult for someone to step up and make those calls. How do you cut an actor who’s been training hard for months for a role? How do you let go of a long-term career that isn’t working for you? Sometimes it’s easier just to let it go badly and hope that the next project is better.
Imagine looking at your life through the lens of being the movie director in charge of it. Do you like how the picture is progressing? Do you have the right people in the right roles to make it work? Do you need to make any cuts or changes to ensure that the film turns out well? Are there any counterproductive forces at work that you need to address?
What keeps you going through all of these tough decisions? Ultimately it’s your vision for the film – or your vision for your life. You can let a variety of different forces push you one way and then another, or you can sit in the director’s chair and direct.