Casting is one of the most important processes in movie making. Placing the right actors in the right roles can determine whether or not an entire film rings true. Thus, casting directors and filmmakers consider a variety of possibilities before going into production. Lost Roles is a weekly series that examines the missed opportunities — the roles that could have been — and explores how some casting choices that almost happened could have changed the film industry and the comedy world, at large.
After spending the ‘80s as a standup comedian struggling to make a name for himself as an actor, Jim Carrey finally got his big break starring in the popular Fox sketch show In Living Color in 1990. He became the show’s most popular cast member and used his newfound fame to make the leap to movies. Carrey has sustained a career as a leading man for nearly two decades now, and he’s even managed to make the difficult transition to dramatic acting that’s eluded many a comic performer.
Along the way, Jim Carrey has racked up on impressive list of parts he was either turned down or was considered for, including Ferris Bueller, Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow and Dr. Evil.
Saturday Night Live (multiple auditions in the ‘80s)
Jim Carrey auditioned to be part of the cast ofSNL multiple times in the 1980s. One of Carrey’s unsuccessful bids was in 1986, the year that Lorne Michaels was assembling a new cast after the disappointing 1985-86 season. The producers added Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and Jan Hooks to the cast, but passed up Jim Carrey. This is one of the strongest casts in the show’s history, but it’s questionable how Carrey would have fit in. His brand of over-the-top physical comedy would have been at odds with the more-nuanced comic stylings of some of these other performers. On the other hand, Carrey has since given impressive sketch performances on In Living Color and with his guest-hosting gigs on SNL. His placement in the Saturday Night Live cast in the ‘80s could have been even more successful than his run on In Living Color, due to the show’s larger viewership and solid track record of churning out stars. If he were successful on SNL, Carrey would have been able to start his career as a lead actor much earlier.
In the book, Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels tried to downplay his involvement in the decision not to hire Carrey:
“Jim Carrey never auditioned for me personally. There is an audition tape which we almost played on the twenty-fifth anniversary show — if he had come that night, we would have.” (p. 300)
I’d really love to see that audition footage, and I hope we don’t have to wait until the show’s 50th anniversary for it to surface.