Every young actor or actress dreams of stumbling into a role that not only provides them with steady work, but skyrockets their name to new levels of respect and fame.
For better or worse, many stars have turned roles that captivated pop culture for a time into lucrative careers. Others, meanwhile, were merely one-hit wonders but get to carry around the respect and admiration of fans who continue to love their timeless roles.
While reaching fame in a popular TV role isn’t exactly complicated or surprising, what can often confuse the public is when these stars close the door on ever returning to the character that made them who they are. In a world of reboots, revivals and sequel series, a handful of celebrities have puzzled the public by outright refusing to even entertain the idea of an encore.
Whether they’ve been successful enough to not need the money or they’re simply up on their high horse about the artistic value of leaving their character where they last did, stars always find a reason to give to the public.
Although some manage to get their most diehard fans to agree to let a character die, most end up disappointing their loyal TV base by playing gatekeeper to the character they’ve grown to love. To better understand the spectrum of TV stars who have refused to return to their most famous roles, it’s worth taking a look at why these stars turned their backs on them in the first place.
Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy
In many ways Sons of Anarchy perfectly encapsulated peak TV in the late 2000s. It offered a gritty portrait of the lifestyle of a criminal biker gang, warts and all.
Charlie Hunnam, who has enjoyed a lucrative career in TV and movies since the show ended in 2014, became a household name as the lead character, Jax Teller. He was mean, vile, principled and dramatic in a way that only Hunnam could pull off.
However, it wasn’t easy for him to get to that dark place and stay there for seven impeccable seasons. That’s why it came as no surprise when he told People magazine in November 2020 that he would never don Jax’s gear ever again, "not even for Halloween."
"It was a very deep experience," he said. "I lived with that character inside me for years, like, in a very real way. In a way that manifested in ways that I could never even [have] imagined."
Essentially, the actor is saying that he can’t bring himself to put in the work it requires to portray Jax the way fans are used to after almost seven years away from the role. Plus Hunnam has another very important reason to leave Jax in his rearview mirror — he’s dead.
Not only would the actor have to do a lot to get back into character, the writers would have to explain away his very definitive death in the show’s finale.
Brent Spiner as Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Perhaps the most easily recognizable member of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew is Spiner’s lovable and ageless android, Data.
Not only did he stick around for all seven seasons of the show, but he also appeared in all four TNG movies. Although the actor has had fun with a handful of other science fiction roles since, he is forever etched into fans’ minds as the android that endeavored to be human.
That’s why many were hyped to see him reprise the role for a brief cameo in Star Trek: Picard in 2019. Spiner returned knowing full well he’d aged in the 17 years since he last played the ageless character. Therefore, he always looked at his Picard role as a final goodbye.
"I mean, there was just a finite amount of time that I can actually play Data, no matter what anyone says. So many people were like, ‘Oh, you can do it. You’re not too old,’ and then I do it and they go, ‘You’re too old. Why’d you do it?’" he told TV Guide. "I think we did it in such brief sequences that it was fine to do it, and I felt good about it. But I wouldn’t really entertain the idea of doing it again because I just don’t think it would be realistic."
He knew he was pushing it in 2019 and respects Trek fans enough to know when even their suspension of disbelief might start to crack.
Wentworth Miller as Prison Break’s Michael Scofield
Sometimes actors have stronger reasons than others for not wanting to return to a role that made them famous. Such is the case with Wentworth Miller, who many know only as Michael Scofield, the enigmatic genius who spent four seasons as the main character of Prison Break before returning for a movie and then a subsequent revival in 2017. The show was a rare gem that had both a cult following as well as a cast and creative team that weren’t afraid of revivals here and there.
However, after coming out as a gay man in 2013, Miller took a hard stand in November 2020 against playing straight characters ever again. In a since-removed Instagram post, the star did his best to explain why he took his responsibility as a public member of the LGBTQ community seriously enough to make this decision, adding, "On a related note… I’m out. Of PB. Officially."
He continued, "Not bec of static on social media (although that has centered the issue). I just don’t want to play straight characters. Their stories have been told (and told). So. No more Michael. If you were a fan of the show, hoping for additional seasons… I understand this is disappointing. I’m sorry."
Unapologetic in his stance, Miller concluded his post by writing, "If you’re hot and bothered bec you fell in love with a fictional straight man played by a real gay one… That’s your work."
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the 1990s, it was impossible to talk about television without talking about Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Sunnydale, California’s premiere vampire slayer.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, based on a somewhat failed movie, took the drama of high school and gave it the literal evil spin that most of us just felt metaphorically. The only saving grace for puberty-stricken humanity was Buffy.
The show works masterfully as a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of growing up, falling in love, experiencing heartbreak, leaving home, and more. But today, Gellar is in her 40s, a grown woman whose demons of adolescence are behind her. She sees no real value in reprising the Buffy character just so fans can see if things really worked out for her in the years since the show ended.
"My story with Buffy about representing horrors of adolescence has been told," she explained to The Huffington Post in 2019.
She explained that she’s too old to return as Buffy in a 2015 interview with E! News, saying: "I joke at this point that I’d have to have a walker and my walker would be made of wood and that would be how I would stake people. I think at this point I’m a little old."
Fans know that there’s nothing Buffy can’t accomplish, but the reality is that there’s very little interest on the part of the cast to relive their youth for one of the most scrupulous fandoms in TV history.
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones
Sophie Turner introduced the world to Sansa Stark as a spoiled and at times downright stupid teenager who grew into one of the most powerful, strong and formidable characters on Game of Thrones.
She’s even one of the few characters who made it to the end of the series and was allowed to help shape the future of Westeros. Turner performed one of the most profound character arcs in modern TV history and even managed to escape the bad taste that the finale left in fans’ mouths. Therefore, she understands that returning to the role in any of the sequels or prequels that have been discussed would be a benefit to no one.
"I think it’s time to say goodbye to Sansa. I’m ready… ish, to say goodbye to her," The actress told Sky News in 2019.
"I think my watch has ended. It’s been 10 years of my life and the best 10 years of my life by far. I finished in a very happy place with Sansa and it’s time to let her go," she told the outlet. I feel like if I played her again it would be just be more trauma."
It’s unclear if the star was referring to the trauma of her character or her real life, but she did go on to note that the main reason she’s happy to see the show end is so that she no longer has to keep its secrets.
Zachary Quinto as Sylar on Heroes
Everyone knows that a superhero story is only as good as its supervillain, and relative newcomer Zachary Quinto provided one of the best in the game. Unfortunately, when the time came to revive the show in 2015, Quinto was a household name thanks to his performance as Spock in the rebooted Star Trek movies. As a result, he opted not to return to the role of Sylar.
"No, I’m not going to go back. I talked to them about it, and Tim reached out to me when they decided they were going to do it. We had a great conversation. It was such a meaningful experience for me — I loved that job, I loved those people," he told Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur in 2015. "I just felt like I didn’t want to go back to it… Tim was very, very understanding, Tim Kring. He was very understanding and supportive. I’m thrilled that they’re doing it, I’m thrilled that Jack Coleman is going back to it. And I know that they just cast Zach Levi, which is great. I mean, it’s a great thing to be a part of. I just felt like I need to cultivate other outlets for myself."
Quinto ended up making the right move as Heroes Reborn was not exactly a critical success. It seems unlikely that he’ll change his mind should a third revival pitch come across his desk.
Blake Lively as Serena in Gossip Girl
In the early 2000s, it was all about the half-drama-half-mystery series Gossip Girl. In addition to wondering who the identity of everyone’s favorite tabloid blogger was, fans were enamored with the party-hardy lifestyle of New York City’s upper elite.
At the head of this cabal of one-percenters was Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen. For six seasons people watched her character make every mistake a young woman can make, and it apparently took its toll on the actress.
She told Allure magazine (via Cosmopolitan) in 2015, "People loved it, but it always felt a little personally compromising — you want to be putting a better message out there."
"It’s a weird thing when people feel like they know you really well, and they don’t," she continued. "I would not be proud to be the person who gave someone the cocaine that made them overdose and then shot someone and slept with someone else’s boyfriend."
Now that Lively is older, it seems she’s taking her responsibility as a role model much more seriously. Therefore she would find it difficult to play Serena the same way she did, and is aware that fans don’t want to see her character be a completely different person if she were to ever fill the New York socialite’s high heels ever again.
That’s why she made sure to tell E! News in 2020 that she is "not involved" with the upcoming CW reboot.
David Boreanaz in Angel
While his Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar says she doesn’t feel there’s stories to tell about her character as an adult, Boreanaz has his own reasons for feeling too old to return to that world of demons and ghouls.
Angel burst onto the scene as Buffy’s first and (arguably) greatest love. The character was turned into a vampire in 1753 in his 20s. As a result, he stopped aging and went on to become one of the most important figures in the Sunnydale underworld. The character was so popular that many fans followed him to Los Angeles for his own spinoff series.
However, after the conclusion of Angel the actor knew that he simply couldn’t play a 20-something forever. Any revival of the character would immediately have to explain why he looked like he’d aged a few decades for the first time since the 1700s.
The star himself even made this point in a 2020 interview with Variety. "I’m all for people redoing it or whatever, but I’m too old," Boreanaz explained. "It’s not like we’re the cast of Friends reuniting. We’re not hanging out in the coffee shop on a couch. But, you know, with all that technology, they made Robert De Niro look really young. [Laughs]. I would encourage them to find somebody else to do it."
With Gellar not wanting to come back as Buffy, Boreanaz seems to know that there’s even less reason to reprise his supposedly ageless vampire character.