The road to movie stardom involves looks, talent, and a willingness to do things that will keep you awake at night and unable to look at yourself because of the shame. Movie auditions are where you start on this road to fame, and they can be more cutthroat than the bloodiest of gladiator battles. Sometimes, even the biggest stars can have difficulties auditioning because of the extreme pressure.
Eddie Redmayne’s ‘catastrophically bad’ Star Wars audition
Eddie Redmayne is the British actor you get for your Oscar-bait biographical film if Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t available, but back during the casting of A Force Awakens, he had the opportunity to audition for the role of villain Kylo Ren. Now, being in the new Star Wars film would be the Holy Grail of all acting jobs, but Redmayne wasn’t even given the script for the film he was trying out for because of the studio’s policy of secrecy: "With films that top secret, they don’t give you the actual lines. So they give you a scene from ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ but then they tell you you’re auditioning for the baddie. If you’re me, you then put some ridiculous voice on."
No script, combined with whatever awful voice he had in mind, already seems like a recipe for disaster. However, Eddie soldiered on into this incredibly awkward audition so let’s continue to bask in the embarrassment of someone more successful than we’ll ever be. "That was really a hilarious moment," he says. "Because it was Nina Gold — who I have to thank a lot because she’s cast me in several films—and she was just sitting there and I was trying again and again with different versions of my kind of ‘koohh paaaah’ [Darth Vader breathing sound] voice, and after like 10 shots, she’s like, ‘You got anything else?’ I was like, ‘No.’"
Don’t worry, Eddie, not everyone can play a villain, but anyone can have a laughably bad audition. Eddie didn’t get the part (Adam Driver ended up playing Kylo in the movie), but he probably now gets a thousand job offers every time he breathes.
George Clooney’s drunk "Dracula" audition
This might come off as a bit of a shock, but George Clooney, the most suave, charming man on earth, can make mistakes, just like us. Though he’s now one of the most successful actors on the planet, he’s had a few failures, such as the time he cried when he wrecked his first audition, which was for the 1985 film Private Resort.
Years later, Clooney had an even more disastrous audition when he had the opportunity to get a role in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula. Coppola, the legendary director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, would be an intimidating figure to any new actor, but Clooney decided he would raise the stakes even more in a peculiar way. You see, the character Clooney was going to portray was supposed to be drunk, and Clooney, ever dedicated to realism, decided to show up totally hammered, something you should probably never do if you want a good first impression. "Coppola called my agent," he recalls, "and said, ‘He was drunk!’ That didn’t work out."
Now, most of us know that we should never show up to a job interview drunk, so it should also stand to reason that you shouldn’t show up drunk to a major Hollywood audition even if you are George Clooney. He didn’t get the part, but just two years later, he became Dr. Ross on ER and entered the realm of superstardom.
January Jones’s Coyote Ugly table dance
January Jones is best known for her role as the icy housewife Betty Draper from Mad Men, but before she got that role, she did what every starlet does before getting their big break: humiliated herself for a shot at the big time.
Back in 2000, Jones was struggling to get noticed, but she managed to score an audition for 2000’s Coyote Ugly. This produced what Jones would later characterize as "one of the worst moments of my entire life." As she recalls, "I’d done the reading for the acting part, and then Jerry Bruckheimer [the movie’s producer] wanted me to come in and dance … on top of the table."
Now, for those who haven’t heard of the movie Coyote Ugly, it’s about drunks and strippers in a saloon, so auditioning meant doing things that a woman at your nearest Hooters probably does to get her job. "They said, ‘You’re going to dance to Prince’s ‘Kiss,’" says Jones. "You’re going to pole dance, but there is no pole. … And I just turned beet red. It was awful, and he said something like, ‘Honey, you did a great reading, but you’ve got no rhythm.’ I called my agent and said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’"
Don’t worry, January. Most people, if they had to do a terrible table dance, really would get out of the business and would never look back. She didn’t quit on Hollywood, and it would prove to be the right choice in her case.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s bombed Lord of the Rings audition
Lord of the Rings was huge when it was first being made, so naturally, any actor would dream to be a part of it. When Jake Gyllenhaal was called by his agent, he thought he had lucked out to get a chance to audition for the film, but the world being how it is, everything started going downhill from there. First of all, he wasn’t given any preparation. He was told to open a box, which was supposed to contain a ring, and to react to it. That was it. No lines or context were given to him, even though those really go a long way when you’re auditioning for a movie.
Oh, and did we mention that the movie’s director Peter Jackson was overseeing this audition in person? The perfectionist who literally spent years preparing for this movie (but apparently had no time to get a proper audition ready)?
The story gets even more rotten when Jackson flat-out told Gyllenhaal his opinion of his acting abilities. "I didn’t do an accent for it," says Jake. "[Peter Jackson] literally turned to me and said, ‘You are the worst actor I’ve ever seen. Did anyone tell you you’re supposed to have an accent?’ I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like, ‘Well, fire your agents.’"
Scarlett Johansson’s two unluckiest auditions
Scarlett Johansson is one of the most talented and beautiful actresses in Hollywood, but, yes, she too has had her share of failure. When she auditioned for the musical Les Miserables, a role which would require her to sing extensively, she had an unfortunate case of laryngitis, which makes it kind of hard to sing. Though she tried her best, willpower alone can’t overcome the scourge of bad laryngitis.
That’s pretty terrible to lose out on an audition through no fault of your own, but even more unfortunate was her audition for the role of Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She lost for a very different reason altogether: she was too sexy. Weird, huh? Apparently, Fincher had a specific view of the character that would require her to have very little sex appeal (something Johansson has in great amounts, if you haven’t already noticed). As Fincher bizarrely put it, "Scarlett Johansson was great. … but the thing with Scarlett is, you can’t wait for her to take her clothes off. … Salander should be like E.T. If you put E.T. dolls out before anyone had seen the movie, they’d say, ‘What is this little squishy thing?’ Well, you know what? When he hides under the table and he grabs the Reese’s Pieces, you love him! It has to be like that."
Although he used one of the most unusual analogies ever made, it somewhat explains his logic. Whatever, it’s his movie, and he can do what he wants with it.
The magic trick that ruined Aaron Paul’s audition
When Aaron Paul got the opportunity to audition for Cloverfield — produced by J.J. Abrams, who’d recently made Mission Impossible 3, which Paul had also appeared in — it seemed like a sure thing, but he ended up bombing for an incredibly stupid reason: a magic trick.
Abrams is a fan of magic, which got him close to the actor, since Paul is also a magic aficionado. After filming Mission Impossible, Abrams asked Paul to perform a magic trick for the cast, including Tom Cruise. Everything went over well, but this came back to bite him during the Cloverfield audition, for which Paul was told that Abrams wouldn’t be present.
Paul was in for a big surprise since not only was J.J. Abrams present — he insisted that Paul tell the magic trick story all over again, which caused Paul to completely forget everything he was supposed to be doing, including the monologue he was supposed to deliver. Paul would later recount this, in one of the saddest stories you’ll ever hear: "I walk in, and J.J.’s there. He brings up the magic trick story, and I lose my train of thought. I have three pages of a monologue that I memorized. … He has me tell the story about the card trick, and now I’m super awkward. He’s like, ‘Now let’s get started,’ and I start doing this monologue, and I completely lose my train of thought, and I stop and I apologize to J.J. He’s like, ‘That’s okay. Thanks for coming in.’ I’m like, ‘See ya,’ and I walked out. It was awful."
Shockingly, Paul didn’t get the part, but you can’t really blame him since he was tossed a curveball that would throw off anyone.
Robert Pattinson’s nearly career-ruining Transformers 2 audition
Robert Pattinson is probably most famous for the teenage schlock romance series Twilight, where he played a suspiciously shiny vampire, but before he got this role, he tried out for several films. Those included the equally terrible but high-grossing Transformers 2, where he was auditioning for the role of Shia Labeouf’s sidekick. Unfortunately, Pattinson tried to push his talents a little too far by putting on an American accent despite being an Englishman through and through. "I thought I was being so funny," he says. "I was saying I was from somewhere in America, because I always kept thinking that if you say you’re English then they judge your American accent."
The problem, they could see right through Pattinson’s little ruse since they already knew beforehand that Pattinson was English. "So they were listening to my backstory about being from Denver," he says, "and they’re like, ‘What is this guy on?’"
Apparently, the audition was so bad, Pattinson almost got dropped by his agent. To most of us, that would be a sign that you should quit what you’re doing and go home, but Pattinson persisted and somehow got to find stardom in the Twilight series, which allowed him to briefly become the patron saint of annoying preteens. According to Pattinson, he still has difficulties with auditions.
Ryan Reynolds’ terrible Coen Brothers audition
The Coen Brothers are highly acclaimed writer-directors who are mostly known for films that fly over too many people’s heads. So a few years ago, when Ryan Reynolds auditioned in front of the Coens, no amount of good looks could get him anywhere since, believe it or not, as he puts it, he wasn’t "high class."
The film he auditioned for was Inside Llewyn Davis, which would have required him to portray a folk singer in Greenwich (a "classy" role, apparently), but he just couldn’t do it. The audition flat-lined almost as soon as it started. According to Reynolds, he made a pretty poor impression on the directors. "In the room," he says, "they were just quietly shaking their heads. Like, ‘What are you doing here? Do you have a SAG card, or do you have the Canadian version?’"
The audition was no good, and everyone involved probably felt bad afterward, but Reynolds took the whole episode in stride, as his comments above show. We will never know what the film would have been like if Reynolds got the role (and even if he did get the role, most of us still wouldn’t know, since 99 percent of us probably never saw the movie anyway). But, he then got to be Deadpool, which makes up for whatever else he didn’t get to do.
The time Meryl Streep was called ugly during an audition
Meryl Streep is one of the most respected women in Hollywood. She’s been in the business for decades, has been widely acclaimed, and succeeded in becoming the ultimate way to get your movie nominated for an Oscar. Things weren’t always this way, though.
Let’s go back to 1976, when Streep was just a struggling actress appearing on Broadway. She was apparently good enough to grab the attention of the son of Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis Sr., who was preparing to make King Kong. However, she would be in for a rude awakening when De Laurentiis gave an extremely hurtful criticism for a very cruel reason.
"I walked in," she recalls, "and his son was in there, very excited that he’d brought in this new actress, and the father said to his son — in Italian, because I understand Italian — he said, ‘Brutta,’ you know, ‘why do you bring me this ugly thing?’ Very sobering as a young girl. So I said to him … ‘I understand what you’re saying, I’m sorry I’m not beautiful enough to be in King Kong."’
While the producer’s highly offensive comment was probably devastating in the moment, Streep didn’t let this hold her down, and she persisted until she became the acting powerhouse that she is now. Judy Lange got the role Streep was being considered for, but just two years later, Streep would triumphantly win an Emmy for the miniseries Holocaust and her first Oscar nomination for The Deer Hunter, cementing her legacy as one of the great matriarchs of Hollywood. If that’s not inspirational, what else could be?
Alan Cumming’s touchy tryout for Woody Allen
Despite his checkered past, Woody Allen has attracted big-time names like Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Colin Firth, and Scarlett Johansson. Alan Cumming — best known as Nightcrawler from X2 — also hoped to snag a role in one of Allen’s films, but as he explained in a video for The Tonight Show, his incredible audition ended on an awkward note.
According to Cumming, he was trying out for a film, and as he was reading lines with the casting director, Allen was standing behind a pillar across the room. But as the audition went further along, Cumming caught the director’s attention, and Allen began looking at the actor "like a startled deer." As he kept reading, Allen started "to come nearer and nearer like an animal coming to nibble at something you’ve left out for it." Cumming says Allen was fascinated by his performance, and everything was going perfectly. When it was all done, Allen asked if the actor was available for the part, and that’s when Cumming made his big mistake.
Ecstatic, Cumming decided to give the director a hug, something Woody Allen didn’t appreciate at all. Allen seemed confused and turned away. The two ended up just bumping elbows, but that fateful move cost Cumming his chance to star in the film. "I saw in his eyes that very second, it was over," Cumming explained. "I would never get the part. And I didn’t."
Anthony Mackie tries out and trades blows
As a member of the Avengers, Anthony Mackie has thrown down with some of the toughest supervillains (and superheroes) in the MCU. But even without his mechanical wings, Mackie isn’t afraid to go mano-y-mano, even if he’s auditioning for a part.
In a video for The Tonight Show, Mackie recounted a time where he auditioned for an unnamed movie that was being directed by "a very famous rapper." However, Mackie didn’t get very far before the hip-hop star interrupted his reading and, as Mackie explained, "proceeded to tell me that because I went to Julliard, I wasn’t a real actor, and I was an awful actor."
Mackie wasn’t going to take this lying down and fired back with his own insult, telling the rapper "that his parents should have given him a proper burial as opposed to giving birth to him." And that’s when things got wild. The rapper/director flipped a table and took Mackie to the ground. Evidently, the rapper’s friends got involved, and things got so violent that security guards had to rush over and pull the two apart. Naturally, Mackie missed out on the movie, but it’s cool to know that the man who plays Sam Wilson has combat experience in real life.
Ryan Gosling’s audition that helped inspire ‘La La Land’
After dancing its way into theaters, La La Land became one of 2016’s biggest hits, warming hearts, provoking tears, and winning best picture for about 30 seconds. And while La La Land charmed audiences with its charismatic stars and incredibly catchy tunes, the movie’s real staying power comes from that final "what could’ve been" musical sequence. But that wasn’t the film’s only melancholy moment. One of La La Land‘s saddest scenes comes early in the movie when Mia (Emma Stone) is acting her heart out, desperately trying to impress a casting director who interrupts the audition to take a phone call. It’s an emotional punch in the gut, and one that’s sadly based on a real-life incident.
According to Vanity Fair, writer-director Damien Chazelle borrowed this awful moment from the life of his leading man, Ryan Gosling. Long before La La Land, Gosling was in the middle of an audition and giving it his all. Gosling was so into the role that he was actually crying, but despite the tears streaming down his face, the casting director answered a phone call during Gosling’s performance. The whole thing was pretty humiliating, but in a weird way, the A-lister was glad to see that embarrassing story on the silver screen. As he told Vanity Fair, "It was wonderfully cathartic to see [that scene] up there," and it also serves a nice reminder for up-and-coming actors that even Hollywood’s elite struggled to reach the top.
Charlie Cox’s blind audition
Charlie Cox has a pretty sweet gig over at Netflix, playing Matt Murdock in the TV show Daredevil. Unfortunately for the actor without fear, his superhero job might’ve ruined his chance to visit a galaxy far, far away.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Cox explained how he’d gone to a top-secret audition, one so hush-hush that he had no idea what he was trying out for. However, Cox suspects he was actually auditioning for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Of course, Alden Ehrenreich ended up playing the scruffy nerd herder, so if Cox really did audition for the Star Wars film, why didn’t he get the part?
Well, according to Cox, it’s because he was so used to playing a blind guy. As the actor told THR, about halfway through his audition, "The casting director stopped me and said, ‘Why aren’t you looking at me?’ I realized I had gotten into a habit of not making eye contact because the only thing I had done for two years is play someone who is blind." Of all the reasons not to get cast in a film, Charlie Cox probably didn’t see that one coming.
Eddie Redmayne’s horrible ‘Hobbit’ audition
While it doesn’t live up to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit series does boast an impressive cast of British actors. We’ve got Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, and Stephen Fry. And then, of course, there’s Martin Freeman as the titular halfling. But while Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, and Sylvester McCoy all show up, there’s no Eddie Redmayne in sight, even though the Oscar-winner tried out for the lead role. So if he was good enough for Fantastic Beasts, why didn’t he land a part in Jackson’s prequel trilogy?
Well, according to Redmayne, it’s because he made a bold choice that didn’t pay off. On The Graham Norton Show, Redmayne said he’d been "really rigorous" about doing his research for the part of Bilbo Baggins. He didn’t want to do his "usual boring thing," so he went online and watched a lot of clips of Ian Holm, the actor who played Bilbo in Lord of the Rings. Inspired, Redmayne walked into the audition and did his own bizarre impression of Holm, complete with a super silly voice and over-the-top hand motions. But when the casting director insisted Redmayne use his "own voice," the actor realized maybe he’d miscalculated. But hey, you have to give the man points for trying something unique.
Bradley Cooper’s Batman audition for ‘Green Lantern’
The best thing about 2011’s Green Lantern is that it set up a pretty funny joke in Deadpool about animated green suits. The infamous superhero film bombed at the box office and fared even worse with critics, although you’ve got to wonder if the movie would’ve been better with Bradley Cooper wearing that shiny power ring. Cooper was actually director Martin Campbell’s first pick for the part of Hal Jordan, but unfortunately for Bradley, he never got his brightest day thanks to the darkest knight.
Speaking with Conan O’Brien on The Tonight Show, Cooper blamed his failed audition on Christian Bale. So how did the Caped Crusader ruin Cooper’s reading? Well, as the actor explained, "I couldn’t not do Christian Bale’s Batman when I was doing the audition." When he was handed a mask and told to "be regular and talk," he immediately went into Bruce Wayne mode, going all gruff and gravelly. Cooper realized he was in big trouble when he actually got to see a clip of his audition and realized it "looked like a Saturday Night Live sketch." So unfortunately for Cooper, the long shadow of Christian Bale prevented him from joining the Green Lantern Corps, but thankfully the man ditched the Batman voice when Guardians of the Galaxy came knocking.
Mads Mikkelsen’s not-so-fantastic ‘Fantastic Four’ incident
In 2016, Mads Mikkelsen portaled into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing the evil sorcerer Kaecilius in Doctor Strange. But before working his magic for Disney, Mikkelsen almost appeared in 20th Century Fox’s side of the Marvel world. According to the Danish actor, he auditioned for Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, although he didn’t mention what part he was trying out for. Of course, the role doesn’t really matter as Mikkelsen was so embarrassed by the incident that he actually left the audition.
Speaking with Xpose, Mikkelsen was asked "to pretend to extend his arms like a rubber man," indicating he might’ve been there to play Reed Richards. But instead of enjoying the experience, Mikkelsen found it so humiliating that he actually thought, "I can’t do this anymore" and decided to call it quits. Talking with Shortlist, Mikkelsen admitted to walking out of the audition and telling the casting director as he left, "I can’t do it. It’s not about you, I’m sorry, this is wrong." Of course, as Fantastic Four was a critical and box office disaster, Mikkelsen made the right move getting out of there as fast as possible.
Riz Ahmed’s ultra-aggressive ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ audition
Before achieving mainstream success with The Night Of and Rogue One, Riz Ahmed hoped to find fame and fortune with Slumdog Millionaire, the 2008 film that scored eight Academy Awards. Ahmed first auditioned for the lead role — a game show contestant with an incredible memory — but director Danny Boyle eventually gave the part to Dev Patel. But Boyle was still interested in casting Ahmed, so he asked him to try out for the part of Salim, a gun-toting gangster who often butts head with his heroic slumdog brother. Wanting to impress the filmmaker with his tough guy abilities, Ahmed decided to go big or go home, but unfortunately for the actor, his over-the-top plan didn’t pan out.
Speaking with Elisabeth Moss for Variety‘s "Actors on Actors," Ahmed described the incident as his "worst audition." But why did it go so wrong? Well, as Ahmed explained, "Danny says, ‘You know what Riz, you can do whatever you want, you can get up in my face.’" So Ahmed took advantage of the opportunity and went full-blown psycho. When Boyle said "go," Ahmed pushed the director against a wall, and things only got crazier from there. "I’m, like, screaming in his face," Ahmed said, "spitting in his face, and I’ve ripped his shirt — I’ve ripped the seams of his shirt open." Yeah, that’s pretty intense stuff, but Ahmed believed his madman methods had snagged him the role. Perhaps Boyle was especially fond of that particular shirt, though — he passed Ahmed over and gave the part to Madhur Mittal.
Casey Affleck’s deceitful ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ audition
Oscar Isaac was born to play the titular (and self-destructive) musician in Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the part, but in some alternate dimension, there’s a version starring Casey Affleck. Speaking with Marc Maron on the WTF podcast (via The Film Stage), the Oscar-winning actor admitted to trying out for a Coen brother movie, and while he didn’t mention the film by name, he described the lead character as someone who sings and plays guitar. So he probably wasn’t talking about No Country for Old Men.
Unfortunately for Affleck, he wasn’t what you’d call musically inclined, but he wanted the part so badly that he told the Coens, yeah, he could totally sing and play guitar. Even though he knew he was wrong for a movie about a 1960s folk singer, Affleck believed he could quickly teach himself how to sing and play. "I thought it can’t be hard," he told Maron. "I’m going to learn a couple of songs. So I went and spent a couple weeks killing myself to sing and play the guitar."
Affleck grew super confident in his strumming skills — he even considered getting into the music business — but when he actually auditioned, the feedback was less than inspiring. As Affleck put it, after sending in his tape, "It was like crickets. They didn’t even respond it was so bad." The audition was an absolute disaster, and according to Affleck, it was "probably the last time [he’d] ever talk to those two guys." And hey, with allegations of Affleck’s record of bad behavior toward his female co-stars, it’s probably just fine if he never auditions for a Coen movie again.
Melissa Gilbert’s humiliating ‘Doors’ audition
Between 1974 and 1983, Melissa Gilbert was known to audiences as Laura Ingalls, the adorable pioneer girl in NBC’s Little House on the Prairie. However, in the early ’90s, Gilbert tried to change her clean-cut image by trying out for The Doors, the Jim Morrison biopic starring Val Kilmer and directed by Oliver Stone. Unfortunately, according to Gilbert, the audition ended up being one of the most "humiliating and horrid" moments of her life.
Gilbert was supposed to read for the part of Morrison’s companion, Pamela Courson, a role that eventually went to Meg Ryan. Only when she showed up for the audition, Oliver Stone had a disgusting surprise in store. Speaking with the radio show Radio Andy, Gilbert claimed that Stone had written a scene specifically for her to act out, one that involved Gilbert getting on her hands and knees and saying sexually explicit lines. (According to Gilbert, Stone was trying to get revenge on her for a time where she’d "embarrassed him publicly.") As she explained on The Today Show, the casting director disappeared, leaving her alone with Stone and a male actor.
The incident left Gilbert in tears, and when Stone allegedly said, "Good, that will make it better," Gilbert left the audition. It’s a horror story similar to the ones told by actresses like Glenn Close and Ashley Judd, proving that just auditioning for a movie can be a dangerous and demeaning experience for a woman. As for Stone, he denies Gilbert’s claims, saying the female casting director was indeed in the room, and that every actress who tried out knew what they were getting into. Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has accused the director of inappropriate behavior, which doesn’t exactly bolster his case.