5 Strange Ways Actors Landed Iconic Roles

Hollywood's ways are strange and byzantine, especially when it comes to how people land gigs. You might think that casting an actor is a long process involving auditions and meetings, but that's not always the case.

Sometimes the characters you know and (probably) love were cast thanks to a weird and unexpected combination of events. For example ...

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Drea De Matteo Got The Role Of Adriana In The Sopranos Because She Auditioned With A Ridiculously Fake Accent

Drea De Matteo's audition for Adriana in The Sopranos pilot didn't turn out the way she expected at all. Series creator David Chase thought she just didn't look Italian enough -- which, of course, disqualified her. He told her, "You look like the hostess of a restaurant," then asked her to read for the part of one in the pilot. De Matteo did and got the role, but there's a reason you don't see her as a hostess throughout the rest of the series. After the pilot, they changed their mind and called her to audition for Christopher's girlfriend again. This time she knew exactly what she needed to do.

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De Matteo decided to look and sound comically, ridiculously Italian. Basically, she'd go in like the late '90s equivalent of a Jersey Shore housemate. To get the right look, she teased her hair, wore a ridiculously gaudy nameplate necklace, and stopped just short of rubbing gabagool on her neck as perfume. When the script called for her to say "Ow," she groaned, "Owwuhwhwwwuhwwwuh!" That ridiculously drawn-out five-syllable cry of pain sealed the deal and got her the part.

5 Strange Ways Actors Landed Iconic Roles | Drea De Matteo as Adriana in The Sopranos
HBO Entertainment
Introducing herself as, "It's a me, Matteo!" also helped.
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The accent became iconic and beloved ... by everyone but Drea De Matteo. She hated the way it made "Christopher" come out as "Chris-ta-fuh," leading to her begging Chase to let her say "Chrissy" to retain a shred of dignity. It didn't help, as people on the street would keep asking her to say "Chris-ta-fuh" for them.

Despite the requests and her dislike of the accent, she made public appearances for the show in character. When she was doing press for The Sopranos, she'd basically be Adriana La Cerva, with the accent and all. She was so committed to the role that she forced herself to speak for hours in a voice that made her want to destroy the concept of spoken words.

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4
Nick Offerman Became Ron Swanson Because Michael Schur Had Kept His Name On A Post-It For Three Years

When Nick Offerman tried out for a small guest role on The Office, producer/writer Michael Schur immediately dug him and offered up the part. However, Offerman ended up turning it down because he wanted to work on Will & Grace with his wife, Megan Mullally (Karen), which left Schur bummed out. Schur wrote Offerman's name on a Post-It, stuck it on his computer, and told himself, "Someday, I'm going to figure out what to do with that guy."

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Three years later, when creating Parks and Recreation, Offerman got called in to audition for ... Josh, a "devilishly handsome and charming and funny," love interest for Ann. Which outside of some very bizarre fan-fic sounds nothing like Ron Swanson. Offerman was totally into the role -- he and Mullally read the script in their kitchen for hours, and she told him, "This is it. This writing. Oh my god, this is it. Don't fuck this up, fat boy." He may or may not have fucked it up, as he didn't get cast, and Josh was written out entirely. But, Schur really, really wanted Offerman in the show.

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So they went to the studio and told them that, yes, he may not be the best choice a sexy ladies' man, but he'd be great as Leslie Knope's boss. The studio then had Offerman do another four months of auditions before they finally gave him the part. When he got the news, he, "Cried like a little baby boy who has just dropped his bacon slice in a pile of cow shit."

5 Strange Ways Actors Landed Iconic Roles | Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation
NBCUniversal Television
Which we're struggling to visualize.
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3
Daniel Radcliffe Was Cast As Harry Potter Because He Ran Into The Producer Of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone

When the casting process for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone began, director Chris Columbus already had a good idea who should play Harry: Daniel Radcliffe. He even showed casting director Janet Hirshenson footage of Radcliffe in David Copperfield, hoping to persuade her. Basically, Columbus was dead set on Radcliffe, but there was a minor obstacle: Radcliffe never wanted to act again.

5 Strange Ways Actors Landed Iconic Roles | Daniel Radcliffe in David Copperfield
BBC
Considering he had to go through filming this scene for David Copperfield, that may not be surprising.
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Since he was unavailable, they started auditioning lots of other kids. The criteria were pretty strict -- to begin with, the actor couldn't be over 13, and he'd have to have blue or green eyes. (Columbus refused to work with color contacts after a pair shot and killed his grandfather in 1967.) That meant they filtered out many boys who would be terrific as Harry but had brown eyes or were too old. After all that, they still couldn't agree on an actor.

One night, producer David Heyman, who knew Daniel Radcliffe's dad, bumped into both of them at the theater and asked Daniel, "Why don't you come in and audition? Think about it." Radcliffe agreed, and, as expected, nailed his audition and screen tests. He wasn't a lock yet, as some people liked another actor quite a bit.

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They ended up selecting Radcliffe because, in Hirshenson's words, he had balls. The other actor had the looks and could pull off the right kind of vulnerability, but they didn't think he'd have the guts Radcliffe would as he got older. The series would fall apart if the viewer didn't buy that Harry, in his late teens, was a mighty wizard with massive testicles. They felt sure that Radcliffe would, and even though hundreds of actors auditioned, a random encounter let the studio find the person with the golden snitches they needed.

2
Sigourney Weaver Became Ripley Thanks To A Studio President's Random Idea

Alien's Ripley was initially supposed to be played by a guy. You might expect, given this was the late '70, changing that would involve many drawn-out discussions with stubborn studio execs. But what happened, as Ridley Scott remembers, was that it was actually 20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr. who at one point just asked, "Why can't Ripley be a woman?" No, really. That was that. Scott says there was a long pause -- he'd never even considered the idea before, so he thought, "Why not, it's a fresh direction."

5 Strange Ways Actors Landed Iconic Roles | Chestburster scene from Alien
20th Century Fox
Maybe they came up with the chestburster the same way.
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But how did Sigourney Weaver become Ripley? Somebody mentioned to Scott that she was acting in an off-Broadway production and should meet her. He did, and, as he says, Weaver was smart, tall, and a great actress; it seemed the part was made for her. To recap, in other words, she got her breakout role because a random person (Scott didn't say who, or couldn't remember) recommended her right after the studio president had a sudden idea that'd let her play the part.

And it's kind of amazing to think about how different the franchise would be Ripley was a man. For one, without Newt and Ripley's mother-daughter-like relationship, Aliens would basically just be a run-of-the-mill action movie in which lots of space bugs get blasted. Not to mention, Ripley is now a classic feminist icon -- who's been the subject of a good deal of serious academic work -- in a genre that isn't exactly richly populated with them. And that happened thanks to a studio president's asking a question that studio presidents seldom ask.

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1
Vin Diesel Was Offered Groot Because He Accidentally Promised Fans Big News

In 2013, when the MCU was just getting into full swing, Vin Diesel met Marvel about being in a 2016 Phase Three MCU film. They weren't planning anything soon at all -- it was just laying the groundwork for a possible big role way down the line. A week later, while promoting Riddick at Comic-Con, he got an unexpected question about his involvement with Marvel. Diesel was totally caught off guard and, since he didn't want to disappoint people and say he's working on something they'll see in a couple of years, he just said he'd have some big news soon. Which basically stirred a raging volcano of fan demand that Marvel saw an opportunity in.

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The Monday after Comic-Con, they told him they'd send him an offer for a near-future project in two weeks. The 2016 thing was still on the table, but since they saw how much fans wanted him in the MCU, Marvel wanted to put him in something now. He thought there was absolutely no chance of that -- he was booked solid for the next six months. But, as he said later, Marvel is "so shrewd." They sent him concept art for Guardians of the Galaxy, and he loved it so much, they got his attention. The only problem, to him, was that they wanted him to play a tree.

5 Strange Ways Actors Landed Iconic Roles | Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy
Walt Disney Studios
He may not have recognized that it's more emotionally expressive than many of his other characters.
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Still, despite the inherent dramatic limitations of a tree, he saw some opportunities. For one, Groot was kind of like the Iron Giant, a role he found delightful to play. Plus, he liked the idea of being a CGI character with just one line. He also loved Andy Serkis as Gollum, and he would have jumped at the chance to play a dragon in one of the Tolkien movies -- he saw it as a fun challenge, and this would be similar.

Then he took the concept art book to his kids, opened it to the page with all five main characters, and asked, "Who do you think they want daddy to play?" His daughter pointed to Groot right away. That sealed the deal for him, and he took the role. Between that fact, his charming Street Sharks obsession, and his lifelong love of D&D, Vin Diesel is starting to seem like an inexhaustible source of heartwarming, wholesome stories.

Top image: NBCUniversal Television, Warner Bros.

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