The Lost Roles of Steve Martin

One of the most revered comedians of his generation, both as an actor and writer, Steve Martin is 45 years deep into an eclectic career that’s seen him starring in goofy big-budget comedies, critically-acclaimed dramas, and everything in between. Not to mention his work as an author, musician, stand-up, playwright, and Twitterer. Every actor has their fair share of parts they were almost cast in and movies that were never made, given how hard it is to get a project past Hollywood’s development gauntlet and into production. Here’s a collection of movie roles Steve Martin almost played but didn’t. It’s a wide range of movies that would have seen him collaborating with Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, Mike Nichols, Stanley Kubrick, John Cleese, Ben Stiller, and more.

Foul Play (1978)

The role: Tony Carlson

Who got it: Chevy Chase

Steve Martin tried out for the part that ended up being Chevy Chase’s first movie role, in writer/director Colin Higgins’s Hitchcock-esque comedy-thriller, Foul Play, according to IMDb. If he’d been cast, Foul Play would have been Martin’s first movie too, with him being known mainly for TV and stand-up at the time. It was all for the best, though, because the following year, The Jerk, which he co-wrote, became Steve Martin’s first leading role, and it captured his comic voice much better than Foul Play would have.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The role: Indiana Jones

Who got it: Harrison Ford

Sounds crazy, but, according to Moviefone, Steve Martin was amongst the actors almost cast as intrepid adventurer Indiana Jones in the first part of Steven Spielberg’s iconic series. Along with guys who make sense for the part, like Tom Selleck, Nick Nolte, and Jeff Bridges, and other guys who don’t, like Martin’s SNL cohorts Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, Martin was apparently up for the role. Clearly, a long list of actors was considered for the part, and Steve Martin probably wasn’t too close to nabbing it.

Ghost Dad (1990)

The role: Elliot Hopper

Who got it: Bill Cosby

Steve Martin was the original choice for the goofy paranormal family comedy Ghost Dad in the 80s, before Bill Cosby came onboard. In 1988, The L.A. Times reported that director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit) was preparing to shoot the movie with Steve Martin in the lead role. It’s not clear what happened, but both Martin and Badham left the project, to be replaced by Bill Cosby and director Sidney Poitier. Ghost Dad ended up being a huge bomb and stunted Cosby’s already-rocky film career, so it’s for the best that Steve Martin steered clear of this one.

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

The role: Sherman McCoy

Who got it: Tom Hanks

Directors Mike Nichols and Brian DePalma each wanted to cast Steve Martin in the leading role in each of their big-screen adaptations of the Tom Wolfe novel Bonfire of the Vanities, but the movie’s producer nixed the idea, opting for nice guy Tom Hanks instead. Nichols’s version of the movie didn’t pan out and DePalma replaced him in the director’s chair, but he wasn’t able to convince the producer to hire Martin either. The result was just another box office bomb that Steve Martin luckily missed.

John Hughes’s The Bee (unfilmed, 1994)

The Bee was a Disney movie that John Hughes had written about “a man and his daylong battle with a bee.” Patrick Read Johnson, who directed Hughes’s script for Baby’s Day Out around the time The Bee was in development in 1994, recently posted online about the movie, explaining:

“Steve Martin was to star as an architect who buys a foreclosed farm, and in the process of developing the house as his residence, wipes out all but ONE of the bees in the farm’s hive.  The bee, of course, is not pleased, and you can imagine what happens next…  I remember seeing some amazing test-footage of the bee’s flying P.O.V. that John and some of the Baby’s Day Out camera crew went out and shot on weekends.”

After Steve Martin dropped out, Jackie Chan was circling the lead role but the Chan version never got made either.

Roman Polanski’s The Double (unfilmed, 1996)

John Travolta was originally supposed to star in director Roman Polanski’s movie The Double, about “a meek American accountant who falls under the sway of his own, more raffish doppelganger,” but he dropped out after problems with the director and the production company. Steve Martin replaced him in the accountant role, leading a cast that also included Isabelle Adjani and John Goodman. Travolta became involved with a legal battle with the production company, which ended up cancelling The Double before filming began.

The Birdcage (1996)

The role: Armand Goldman

Who got it: Robin Williams

Steve Martin and Robin Williams were originally supposed to star together as a couple in Mike Nichols’s adaptation of Francis Veber’s French comedy, La Cage aux Folles. Martin was to play the masculine gay guy, whereas Williams was going to be his flamboyant drag queen love interest. When Steve Martin had a scheduling conflict, Robin Williams took his part and Nathan Lane filled the role Williams had just vacated.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

The role: Dr. William Harford

Who got it: Tom Cruise

Director Stanley Kubrick had originally tried to make Eyes Wide Shut as a comedy in the late 70s. He was in talks with Terry Southern to write the script, and Steve Martin was his first choice for the lead role. Kubrick was planning the project, which began as an adaptation of the Arthur Schnitzler novel, Traumnovelle, in 1979, and here’s Martin recalling his trip to Kubrick’s house in England to discuss the project:

“I went to his house. We had lunch and played chess. He was an eccentric guy, a nice guy. He took me into the rooms of his house. He was still screening prints of 2001 [A Space Odyssey] to make sure they were right. In fact he said, `I just screened a print of 2001,’ which means he had sat and watched the entire movie to see if the color was right. And it’s 1979 and that film was made in what, 1966 or something. Truly amazing guy.”

Ben Stiller’s The Making of the President, 1789 (unfilmed, 1999)

Ben Stiller began planning The Making of the President, 1789 as his directorial follow-up to The Cable Guy in 1999. A comedy about George Washington becoming the US’s first president, the movie was set to star John Cleese as the commander-in-chief, with Steve Martin in an unspecified supporting role. Making of the President was to be based on a book by Marvin Kitman that was an unauthorized biography of Washington and portrayed him as a debaucherous party animal who fell backwards into becoming president. Stiller, Cleese, and Martin teaming up sounds very promising, but the movie never made it into production and all three moved on.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile (unfilmed, 2000)

Writer only

Steve Martin started working on plans to turn his acclaimed 1993 play Picasso at the Lapin Agile into a movie in 2000. Fred Schepisi, who directed Martin in Roxanne, was hired on to helm the project, a comedy about a fictional meeting between Picasso and Einstein in a bar. Steve Martin was not expected to star (he didn’t star in the play), but he would have likely been involved as a writer/producer. The movie never made it past the development phase.

Up in the Air (2009)

The role: Ryan Bingham

Who got it: George Clooney

Writer/director Jason Reitman has said that if George Clooney had been unable to star in his Oscar-nominated movie Up in the Air, he would have tweaked the part and cast Steve Martin, telling the press, “[If it wasn’t] George, I would have completely rewritten the role and made it much more like Lost in Translation was for Bill Murray. That was my back-up plan.” Hopefully, Steve Martin will get his Lost in Translation someday.

Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

The role: Tim

Who got it: Paul Rudd

Steve Martin and Robin William were originally the top choices for this movie, another Francis Veber adaptation, when it was in development way back in 1999. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creator Andy Borowitz was working on a script, called The Dinner Game, at the time, but things never came together, and a decade later, two different actors were cast in a movie based off a completely different script.

The Lost Roles of Steve Martin