The Lost Roles of ‘Freaks and Geeks’

There’s been a lot of hubbub over Judd Apatow’s latest series Girls, which just became the first ever TV show released through Apatow’s production company to last beyond its first season, but let’s look back to a time when the reigning King of Hollywood Comedy didn’t have such an easy time earning second season renewals.

Freaks and Geeks is the poster child for the critically-acclaimed show that was mistreated by its network and ignored by audiences during its initial run, only to become wildly popular with fans in the years that followed its tragic, too-soon cancellation. The show accomplished this years before the likes of Arrested Development and Party Down suffered a similar fate. Despite the American public’s aversion to Freaks and Geeks during its initial run, the show was really firing on all cylinders, boasting an impressive cast (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel) and creative team (Apatow, Paul Feig, Jake Kasdan) made up of people who would come to dominate Hollywood in the following decade.

When assembling the well-balanced group of youngsters who made up the core cast, creator Paul Feig and writer/producer Judd Apatow searched far and wide, even venturing out to the Great White North, where they found a 17 year old Canadian stand-up named Seth Rogen. While Feig, Apatow, and casting director Allison Jones made some pretty impeccable casting selections, they also considered some now-notable young actors for the central roles, some of whom they were able to work into the show in smallers parts and others who weren’t. Let’s take a look at the various actresses and actors who tried out for big parts on Freaks and Geeks but didn’t make the cut.

Lizzy Caplan

The roles: Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly

Who got them: Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips

A decade before landing a part on another critically-acclaimed series with a criminally-short run, Party Down, Lizzy Caplan tried out for both main female roles in Freaks and Geeks. Creator Paul Feig said in an interview last year that Caplan wasn’t tough enough to play Kim and wasn’t right for the part of Lindsay, but he kept her around and gave her a smaller, recurring role on the show as disco-loving teen Sara, who ends up romantically involved with Jason Segel’s Nick by the end of the series’ run.

Kaley Cuoco

The role: Unknown

Kaley Cuoco, star of sitcoms like 8 Simple Rules and currently, The Big Bang Theory, also tried out for Freaks and Geeks at age 12. It’s not known what part she auditioned for (I’m guessing Cindy Sanders?), but Cuoco told the press that after she was passed over for the role, Judd Apatow called her agent and said, “She’s going to work in this business.” Turns out Apatow was right because Cuoco went on to score the role of “the hot chick” on “that show with the nerds and the hot chick.”

Jesse Eisenberg

The role: Sam Weir

Who got it: John Francis Daley

Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg read for the part of lead geek Sam Weir four times before being passed over for John Francis Daley. Daley did fine in the role and was probably better-suited for it than a young Jesse Eisenberg. Although Eisenberg is adept at playing geeks, he tends to play guys who are a little more neurotic and intense than Sam Weir. After missing out on the Freaks part, Jesse Eisenberg landed a role on another short-lived show that season (albeit one that didn’t score the same kinds of rave reviews Freaks did), Fox’s Get Real, in which he played siblings with Anne Hathaway and Eric Christian Olsen. Where’s the cult hit love for that show, which I totally didn’t know existed until researching this piece?

Lauren Ambrose

The role: Lindsay Weir

Who got it: Linda Cardellini

According to Paul Feig, Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose tried out for the part of Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks. Feig was impressed with Ambrose’s audition but was set on Linda Cardellini playing the role. A few years later, Amborse would join the ensemble of HBO’s Six Feet Under, which lasted way longer than Freaks and Geeks and featured way fewer dead bodies.

Busy Philipps

The role: Lindsay Weir

Who got it: Linda Cardellini

Before being cast as tough teen Kim Kelly, Busy Philipps auditioned for the lead role of Lindsay Weir. The producers felt (rightfully so) that she wasn’t a fit for the part, but they asked her to try out for the other role instead, which she nailed. It’s a safe bet that Philipps wouldn’t have been left out of the opening credits if she’d been playing the show’s main character.

Shia LaBeouf

The role: Neil Schweiber

Who got it: Samm Levine

In his amazing AVClub walkthrough of Freaks and Geeks’s entire run, creator Paul Feig revealed that Shia LaBeouf read for the role of Neil Schweiber. At this point in his career, LaBeouf was a working teen actor who hadn’t yet found his breakout role on the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Samm Levine won the Freaks and Geeks part, sealing the deal with a geeky impression of Captain Kirk from Star Trek and freeing LaBeouf up to take the Disney job, which he used as a springboard to a wildly-successful career being constantly out-acted by robots.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

The Lost Roles of ‘Freaks and Geeks’