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Our favorite TV shows and movies and the iconic characters who populate them effectively carry us away on captivating adventures. We connect to them as an audience on many emotional levels. Often, they’re more than mere entertainment or a simple distraction. We grow up watching them as wide eyed kids, discover them in high school or maybe while living off at college. Show casts can feel as if they’re part of our own family. Soon we find that those casts of actors and actresses become a part of our collective pop culture experience, one we share with family and friends. With a TV show and movie franchise as established and beloved as Star Trek, the casting becomes all the more essential and memorable.
But what of those performers who almost make the character cut, but don't get the role?
Can’t imagine anyone else playing the ever fascinating and emotionally controlled Mister Spock but actor Leonard Nimoy? How about another actor presiding over starship Enterprise’s medical unit and sickbay? Would a Dr. Boyce be a preferable physician choice caring for Starfleet’s sick and wounded over a Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy? The simple fact is that our favorite TV shows and movies may have turned out quite differently in the casting area - if only another performer had accepted a role first or been available to pursue it, freed from other prior commitments or professional obligations.
These are the many casting voyages of Star Trek.
Martin Landau - Declined The Role Of Spock
How could it ever be logical to turn down the role of the legendary Vulcan Starfleet scientist? Logic may have little to do with the reason.
Here’s how actor Martin Landau sees his decision.
"I turned down Star Trek. It would've been torturous. I would've probably died playing that role. I mean, even the thought of it now upsets me. It was the antithesis of why I became an actor. I mean, to play a character that Lenny (Nimoy) was better suited for, frankly, a guy who speaks in a monotone who never gets excited, never has any guilt, never has any fear, or was affected on a visceral level. Who wants to do that?"
So, was it the right thing to do? Landau’s wide ranging roles and long running career were definitely not hurt by his decision. He even snagged the lead role in a Star Trek like show - Space: 1999. As the human Commander John Koenig, Landau wasn't an alien hybrid like the Vulcan and human Spock, but he came across more than a few in the British series 2 season run show.
Martin Landau As Commander Koenig of Moonbase Alpha
James Coburn - A Finalist For Captain Pike
The 1960’s saw many a tough, action star excel in Hollywood. You had the likes of Sean Connery as super spy James Bond, James Garner playing gumshoe detectives and slick cowboys and the ever charismatic Steve McQueen, who could and did play pretty much everything under the sun. Another dependable actor who could do action with the best of them was the lanky and dynamic James Coburn.
Among other things, Coburn trained with and became good friends with legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. Indeed, there’s film footage of Coburn sparring with Lee. It’s not only fun for fans of both men to watch, but a real historic document of just how well and seriously the actor trained with one of the greatest fighters and athletes the world has ever known.
Coburn was in the running to play Captain Christopher Pike in the pilot, The Cage. The part ultimately went to actor Jeffrey Hunter.
Yvonne Craig - Finalist For Vina in 'The Cage'
BatGirl or Green Girl? Could a crime fighter become a sexy alien? If Yvonne Craig had gotten the role of sexy Vina, the green skinned Orion girl, she’d have danced her way into sci-fi history.
The 1960’s TV version of Batman may be campy or just silly - depending on your point of view - but one thing is clear: Actress Yvonne Craig impressed all who saw her as Barbara Gordon - with her secret identity of Batgirl. Like the athleticism required to play a superhero, Trek considered her to play the sexy dancing Vina because of Craig’s professional dancing background.
Roddy McDowall - Almost Played Trelane of Gothos
Roddy McDowall played a boy loving dog alongside the fabled Lassie and an intellectual and talking chimpanzee scientist - alongside Kim Hunter and Charlton Heston - in Planet Of The Apes, and he almost portrayed one of the more colorful TOS villains of them all.
In the episode, Squire of Gothos, the alien is called Trelane - a sort of whining, comedic man child, who tangles with Captain Kirk's Enterprise. Trek’s casting director had a conflict with its producer, Gene Coon. The men disagreed on McDowall taking on the role, so it was given to actor William Campbell instead.
Jon Voight - Almost Played Apollo
Best known as the Academy Award nominee for his incredible performance in Midnight Cowboy, and his Oscar win in Coming Home, and these days as Dad to superstar actress Angelina Jolie, Voight nearly become a Greek god on Gene Roddenberry's original series. Voight got work on another project, and so couldn’t flesh out the mythical sun god Apollo in, Who Mourns For Adonais?
Dawn Wells - Finalist For Roberta Lincoln in Assignment: Earth
She was the perky castaway on that show we all loved to make fun of, but still somehow enjoyed. Dawn Wells will forever be known as one of the castaways from the S.S. Minnow, but she almost become part of Gene Roddenberry’s Trek cast. Roddenberry felt Teri Garr more ‘weird’, so she got to be Roberta Lincoln in the episode projected to be a backdoor pilot for a new TV show which never got off the ground.
Sean Connery - Almost Played Sybock
James Bond as a laughing Vulcan half brother to the ever serious Spock? Yep, it almost happened.
William Shatner directed his first Trek feature with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The man who had played Captain Kirk for many years wanted a big, marquee name - and one who would ensure pulling in an international audience from across the globe. Connery was forced to turn down the role, after accepting a deal to play the Dad of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), since the filming would conflict with production of the Trek feature film.
Bond, James Bond - Not Sybock
Edward James Olmos - Almost Played Captain Picard
Fans of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica know Edward James Olmos well, but he almost took the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on TOS spin-off series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Because of his involvement with other projects, Olmos had to turn down the Picard role. Before that offer, he nearly was cast as the Klingon Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, but lost out to Christopher Lloyd of Back To The Future fame.
Toshiro Mifune - Almost Played A Klingon
Japan holds the concept of honor in high regard, so it’s no wonder a highly regarded Japanese actor almost played a Klingon warrior in a feature film. The movie, Planet of The Titans, never materialized.
From the book, The Star Trek Compendium, here’s how director Philip Kaufman summed up his vision for the aborted film.
"My version was really built around Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Toshiro Mifune as his Klingon nemesis... My idea was to make it less "cult-ish", and more of an adult movie, dealing with sexuality and wonders rather than oddness; a big science fiction movie, filled with all kinds of questions, particularly about the nature of Spock's [duality]-exploring his humanity and what humanness was. To have Spock and Mifune's character tripping out in outer space. I'm sure the fans would have been upset, but I felt it could really open up a new type of science fiction."
Adama Not Picard
Eddie Murphy - Almost Starred in 'ST: IV - The Voyage Home'
“Captain, there be whales here!” Scotty in ST IV: The Voyage Home.
Who wouldn’t want to be in a movie with those adorable, multi ton weighing whales? Comedian Eddie Murphy, that’s who. Here’s what he says about his near Star Trek movie appearance.
"I'm a Trekkie. I've always loved Star Trek and have wanted to do one of the films," says Murphy. "The script was developed, but we eventually dropped the idea. [The] Golden Child came along and I decided to do that film instead ... In retrospect, I might have been better off doing Star Trek IV."
James Marsters - Auditioned For Shinzon in 'Nemesis'
Going from an undead vampire lacking a proper, human soul to playing a clone of Captain Jean-Luc Picard? All in a day’s work - or audition - for actor James Marsters.
Marsters will probably forever be known to Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fans as William The Bloody - aka the incorrigible Spike - the ever vengeful, yet cool as a cold breeze British vampire created by Joss Whedon. Tom Hardy would ultimately snag the cinematic role - that of the evil, scheming clone of Picard.
Tom Hanks - Almost Played Zephram Cochrane in 'ST: First Contact'
Some may still fondly remember Tom Hanks as the cross dressing half of the 80’s sitcom Bosom Buddies, (with co-star Peter Scolari) but he went on to do much more. Superstar Tom Hanks - a two time Oscar winner - is an admitted Trek fan. However, that fan vibe couldn’t help when it came time to take on a plum role in Star Trek: First Contact.
Hanks was too busy directing his first feature film, That Thing You Do! - so it was a no go for the actor Trekkie. Instead, Oscar nominee for the beloved family romp, Babe - James Cromwell - slipped into the brilliant, though wacky shoes of the inventor of warp drive - the very intergalactic propulsion system drive which allows Star Trek to actually be Star Trek.