Janeane Garofalo has done it all. She’s an accomplished stand-up whose influence continues to resonate today. She was also a key player in The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show and Wet Hot American Summer, three major works in the comedy nerd canon, and she’s guest starred on Seinfeld, NewsRadio, Mr. Show, and Stella. Garofalo has balanced an eclectic array of positions in the entertainment industry, having worked as a radio host, an author, a movie star, and lately, a dramatic actress. Over the years, Garofalo has drawn admiration for her work in cult comedies and ire from conservatives who disagree with her political views. Along the way, she’s had more than a few brushes with superstardom, but has largely avoided many of the big roles that came her way. Read on to learn which one of the Friends she almost played, why she turned down a role in David Fincher’s Fight Club, and about the project that would have seen her co-starring with a big green ogre.
1.Friends (TV series, 1994-2004)
Who got it: Lisa Kudrow
There is some truth to it, but not exactly that. Long ago before Friends was Friends, when it was in its infancy, it was a show called Friends Like Us, and I was being considered for a role, like a goth girl, which I think morphed into Phoebe.
Garofalo playing a gothic version of Phoebe would have changed Friends completely, but if the show had still been a hit with her present, it would have made her one of the highest paid and busiest actresses at the time. Instead, Garofalo spent Friends’ inaugural season as a castmember on Saturday Night Live, in what was — through no fault of her own — one of the show’s most critically lambasted seasons ever. Garofalo referred to her stint on SNL as “the most miserable experience of [her] life.” Although a three camera sitcom as cheery as Friends doesn’t exactly gel with her sensibilities, Janeane Garofalo would have probably been happier on Friends.
2. Scream (1996)
Who got it: Courteney Cox
Garofalo missed out on another role that ended up being played by a Friends actress: reporter Gale Weathers in the first installment of the Scream franchise. Scream became a massive hit and the franchise is still running today. Taking the part would have provided Garofalo with work for years to come, but she passed it up to star in the movie Sweethearts, which ended up being released straight to video.
3. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Who got it: Renée Zellweger
One of the producers wanted me to do it, with the caveat that I lose weight. Then I lost a bunch of weight and it turned out that the consensus was that I was too old. But also, Renée Zellweger was, and is, a better actor. It’s hard to deny that she was perfect in that role.
At one point, Janeane Garofalo was up for the part of the female lead opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Garofalo explains:
Although she didn’t seem to have stood much of a chance at beating out Renée Zellweger for the part, winning this role would have made a major difference in Janeane Garofalo’s career. This was Zellweger’s breakthrough role, and, like Garofalo said, she was perfect for the part.
4. Flirting with Disaster (1996)
Who got it: Téa Leoni
Director David O. Russell wanted Janeane Garofalo to star opposite her friend Ben Stiller in this comedy, but studio exec Harvey Weinstein shot the idea down. Garofalo and Stiller have always created quality work together and it would have been interesting to see them play husband and wife in this dark comedy.
Who got it: Laura San Giacomo
Steven Levitan, Just Shoot Me!’s creator, was on staff at Larry Sanders, where Janeane Garofalo was a castmember, when he came up with the idea for this NBC show, which sprang from the plotline of an unproduced Sanders episode that involved Garofalo’s character Paula stuck in a waiting room with a fashion model Larry was dating. Garofalo was used as the basis for Maya Gallo, but it’s not clear if the part was ever offered to the actress, who’s movie career was peaking at this point. Another lead character on a ‘90s TV series who was loosely based on Garofalo’s persona is Daria Morgenstern, the title character on MTV’s animated show Daria.
6. Fight Club (1999)
Who got it: Helena Bonham Carter
Janeane Garofalo was David Fincher’s first choice for the female lead in Fight Club, but she turned the part down because she was “uncomfortable with the idea of all this sex”. Such a major part in this beloved film would have been a boon to Garofalo’s career and an atypical role for her at the time, but it’s not like she passed up her only chance to take on a role in a drama. A decade later, Garofalo has proven she’s a capable dramatic actress, having appeared as a castmember on 24 and the short-lived Criminal Minds spin-off, Suspect Behavior.
7. Dogma (1999)
Who got it: Linda Fiorentino
After filming Dogma, director Kevin Smith said he wished he had given the part of Bethany to Janeane Garofalo. That’s because Linda Fiorentino was difficult on set and would often refuse to speak to Smith. Apparently, Kevin Smith prefers to be the silent one. Smith did give Garofalo a part in the film, albeit a much smaller one, as Bethany’s co-worker at the abortion clinic.
8. Ed (TV series, 2000-2004)
Who got it: Marianne Hagan
Janeane Garofalo played the title character Ed’s ex-wife Liz in the original pilot, which was rejected by CBS before landing on NBC. The CBS pilot was called Stuckeyville and Garofalo’s wasn’t the only role to be recast: Donal Logue originally played the part of Phil, which went to Michael Ian Black in the NBC version. Liz was a minor character on Ed, only appearing in four episodes overall, so holding onto this role wouldn’t have drastically affected Garofalo’s career.
9. Shrek (2001)
Who got it: Cameron Diaz
Before its release in 2001, Shrek had been in development for over a decade, with names like Steven Spielberg, Robin Williams, and Steve Martin at various points involved in what was to be a traditionally animated film. Chris Farley was originally cast in the title role before his passing and had even recorded a majority of his dialogue prior to his tragic demise. Janeane Garofalo was set to star alongside him as Princess Fiona, but the actress says she was fired from the project with little explanation. When asked about her involvement in Shrek years later, Garofalo gave this statement:
I was never told why [I was fired]. I assume because I sound like a man sometimes? I don’t know why. Nobody told me… But, you know, the movie didn’t do anything, so who cares?
The Shrek films ended up becoming a worldwide phenomenon and spawned a series of sequels, a stage musical, and enough merchandise to fill several landfills. This would have been a lucrative gig for Garofalo, if she had held onto it, but not one that would have been very creatively fulfilling.
TV pilots that weren’t picked up:
Like most actors and actresses in Hollywood, Janeane Garofalo has starred in a number of TV pilots that never made it to series. Here’s a look at some of them now:
Life on Mars (1994) — Created by Bob Odenkirk, Life on Mars (not to be confused with the later series of the same name) was a pilot passed over by HBO that starred Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, and Jack Plotnick. It was directed by Michael Lehmann, who made Heathers. Here’s how the LA Times describes it:
“a surreal, meandering drama-comedy starring Janeane Garofalo and Odenkirk as Hollywood writers who hang out at a cafe and organize a poetry reading for their idol, Warholian protege Lou Cage. There is no speedier way to describe Life on Mars than as the anti-Friends. It would have premiered in the same year as that show, which would have only added to its thwarted evil-twin potential.”
It sounds promising, but if it had gone to series, Life on Mars would have likely prevented Odenkirk from creating Mr. Show with David Cross in what would be a nightmarish parallel universe for us comedy nerds.
Slice o’ Life (2003) — An ABC pilot that starred Janeane Garofalo, alongside Michael Blieden and Rainn Wilson, as a producer on a prestigious 60 Minutes-style TV series.
Deal (2005) — Created by 30 Rock writer Jack Burditt, Deal was an NBC comedy pilot in which Garofalo played real-life professional gambler Annie Duke, a single mother and world poker champion.
Law Dogs (2007) and Gimme Shelter (2010) — Two drama pilots for CBS. The former starred Janeane Garofalo as a public defender, while the latter followed a roving medical team.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.