Many times, a movie or a show’s characters are written first, and then casting directors find the best actors for those roles. Makes sense, right?
Every now and again, though, actors have roles written specifically for them.
Sometimes, writers create characters with particular actors in mind. They just have to hope that the actor decides to sign on to the project!
But there are other times when casting changes what happens. On several occasions, actors have been turned down for the roles they auditioned for, only to have another role written specifically for them. Haven’t you ever wondered if it was a coincidence that Terry Crews plays a character named Terry on Brooklyn Nine-Nine? Spoiler alert: it’s not a coincidence.
So, without further ado, here are actors with movie and TV show roles written specifically for them!
Phyllis Smith as Phyllis Lapin-Vance on ‘The Office’
Phyllis Smith wasn’t vying for a role on The Office; she was simply doing her job during the pilot screen testing. She was actually working as a casting associate for Allison Jones Casting. Phyllis was there reading lines with potential actors for the series, something she had already been doing for years.
The show’s executive producers were so impressed with her line readings that they went ahead and created the role of Phyllis Lapin (later Vance) just for her. Clearly, Phyllis stuck around past the pilot and went on to become a series regular.
Bill Murray as Bob Harris in ‘Lost in Translation’
I can’t think of any other actor that could have played the role of Bob Harris as well as Bill Murray. This is probably because the role – and really, the entire screenplay – was written specifically for him.
Sofia Coppola wrote the whole thing with Murray in mind, and she said she wouldn’t make the movie if she couldn’t get him to fill the role. It took Coppola something like three years to even get Murray’s attention. And while he did say he would do the project, he never actually signed any contracts. Coppola began financing the movie before he was ever officially attached.
The movie had already started production in Japan, with Coppola saying, “ We went to Tokyo and were spending money in the hope that he would show up.”
Luckily, he did!
Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate on ‘Parks and Recreation’
The character of April didn’t originally exist in Parks and Recreation. During casting, comedian Aubrey Plaza was just so “weird” that they couldn’t ignore her.
One of the people casting for Parks and Rec called up showrunner Mike Schur and told him, “I just met the weirdest girl I’ve ever met in my life. You have to meet her and put her on your show.”
Schur brought her in and made him ”feel really uncomfortable for like an hour,” and that’s when he knew she needed to be on the series. He admitted that he “didn’t totally know” what they would do with her, but they ended up writing the entire character for Plaza.
Terry Crews as Terry Jeffords on ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’
Terry Jeffords is another example of a character who didn’t originally exist but ended up becoming one of the best characters on the show. And if you’re wondering, no, it’s not a coincidence that the actor and character share the same first name.
At the time, Terry Crews was looking at doing pilots, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine creators called him up to see if he’d consider their show. Crews himself wanted him to do the show so much that they even named the character Terry. They told him that if he didn’t take the part, his name would be on someone else. From there, they also added certain aspects from Crews’ real life to the character on the show, such as his minivan.
When Crews appeared on Ellen, he told her that Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been one of the best shows he’s ever been involved with.
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in ‘Rocky’
It’s impossible to think of anyone else playing the role of Rocky Balboa, and maybe it has something to do with the role being written specifically for Sylvester Stallone. Oh, and it was written by Stallone himself.
He had seen some success but was still a struggling actor in the early 1970s. After watching a boxing match, he was inspired to write the story of an underdog who fights hard and goes the distance. Stallone finished the script in three days and found producers interested in making the movie, but he sold it with one catch: he had to be the star.
Obviously, we know now that Rocky went on to become a massive hit and even won the Academy Award for Best picture. It’s also spawned more than a few sequels.
Robin Williams as the Genie in ‘Aladdin’
While Aladdin was still in development, the writers were already considering Robin Williams for the role of the Genie. There was only one catch, though: they hadn’t actually asked him if he wanted it. They did storyboard development, started writing the script, and everything with the specific idea that Williams would be the Genie, and hadn’t even approached him for the project.
They used a unique approach to convince Williams that he should sign on to the project. Aladdin’s animator, Eric Goldberg, animated the Genie by doing some of the comedian’s stand-up routines. Williams saw the potential and signed on to take the role.
He only had a couple of stipulations: They couldn’t market the film as a Robin Williams movie, and his Genie couldn’t be a dominant part of marketing. He didn’t want Disney to use him and his character to sell the movie or merchandise.
Liza Weil as Paris Geller on ‘Gilmore Girls’
Fans of Gilmore Girls know Paris Geller well. She starts out as the over-achiever we all love to hate, but eventually, Paris becomes a friend and roommate to Rory Gilmore. However, Paris didn’t actually exist at first and was written specifically for actress Liza Weil.
Weil was initially considered for the role of Rory by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, but she just wasn’t the right fit. We all know now that Alexis Bledel won the role. They kept Weil around, though, and created the role of Paris with her in mind.
Yunjin Kim as Sun-Hwa Kwon on ‘Lost’
After auditioning for the role of Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy, Yunjin Kim also auditioned for a role on Lost – but not the one we know her for. She actually auditioned for the role of Kate, which eventually went to Evangeline Lilly. It was only after her audition that the character Sun-Hwa Kwon was created.
“My character was written after my audition; Sun became Sun after my audition,” Kim said, according to Yahoo! News. “They were like, ‘You’re so good, but you’re not right for Kate.’”
Although she was satisfied that she had a great audition with showrunner J.J. Abrams and “kind of closed the chapter on that,” her agent called her up just a few hours later. That’s when she learned that they were going to write a role specifically for her.
Miley Cyrus as Ronnie Miller in ‘The Last Song’
Following the completion of The Lucky One, Nicolas Sparks went back to the drawing board and looking for inspiration for the next novel. After deciding to do another teen story like A Walk to Remember, an odd bit of timing helped push things along.
Coincidentally, a producer from Disney called up Sparks to say that Miley Cyrus loved A Walk to Remember and wanted to do something like that.
Sparks came up with the major elements of the story and presented the ideas to both Disney and the Cyruses. He wrote the screenplay before penning the novel in order to fit into the desired filming schedule. And of course, the entire thing was written with Miley Cyrus in mind for the main character of Ronnie Miller.
Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood in ‘Sense and Sensibility’
Not only was the role of Elinor Dashwood created for actress Emma Thompson, but it was also written by Emma Thompson. She was disappointed in the lack of good roles for her in Hollywood.
“There are a lot of highly intelligent women who can act,” Thompson once told Entertainment Weekly. “There are not too many roles to fill – that’s the problem.”
Instead of just dealing with it, she took it upon herself to make her own! She decided to adapt Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility and wrote the screenplay herself. The screenplay features several outstanding roles for women, and one of those Thompson gave to herself.
“I wrote [a role],” Thompson said, “and then I bloody well played it.”