5 Iconic Characters (Who Were First Played By Someone Else Entirely)

5 Iconic Characters (Who Were First Played By Someone Else Entirely)

It’s not easy to get something right the first time. This principle applies for everything from pancakes to romantic partners. There’s one job, though, where they have to get things right the first time: casting directors. If you find the wrong actor for the role, you don’t usually get a second shot at it. But sometimes, you do, like these five cases where a legendary performance wasn’t the first person to play the part.

When Wolverine Was Australian, But Not In The Way You’re Thinking

The One You Know:

Wolverine was the single most popular character in the X-Men comics for years in the '80s and '90s, but comics were seriously niche. Being the most popular comic character is like being the sexiest person in your tiny town in the middle of nowhere -- once you go to any other medium, the big fish in a small pond has to make it in the ocean.

Wolverine managed to make the transition, thanks to Hugh Jackman and his very convincing accent. You’d never guess that the hard-livin’, claw-sportin’ bad boy of Xavier Mansion was played by an Aussie song-and-dance man this whole time. The theater kid vibes turned out to be perfect for Wolverine -- who, after all, is a bunch of comic book nerds’ idea of a cool badass.

Days of Future Past image


Half the promo shots don't even show the whole claws, they just show us JACKMAN, cause that's what we want. 

The One You Don’t:

The X-Men had a stepping stone to the big screen: The '90s Saturday morning cartoon. You know, the one with the theme tune you recognize, even if you’re sure you don’t.

But even that had a halfway point between drawing and animation. Pryde of the X-Men was Marvel’s first stab at an X-Men cartoon, which never got further than a single pilot episode that got aired plenty of times after it was made in 1989, even when the way more popular and enduring show began. Those were the days when the slavering digestive tract of TV had multiple stomachs, like a cow, recirculating the feed over and over until every drop was extracted and processed.

Where were we? Oh yeah, mutant biology. Something weird happened in the genes of these first X-Men, and Wolverine wound up with an Australian accent:

In truth, Wolverine's Australian accent goes back even further. See: a 1982 episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, in which the notoriously gritty X-Man debuts his timeless catchphrase, “Want a piece of fruit?”

We didn’t say he was Australian, we said he had an Australian accent. There’s probably some strange mutant gene responsible, since Wolverine is basically always Canadian—maybe it was a Crocodile Dundee thing, since Wolverine’s claws are arguably both a knife and not a knife.

The guy who voiced Wolverine in Pryde of the X-Men, Patrick Pinney, is definitely not an Australian, but he’s done his fair share of accent work -- he’s the guy who asks “Are ya ready, kids?” at the beginning of every Spongebob episode. 

That show hasn’t stopped going for two decades, and it really gives some perspective to this single failed attempt at starting a huge franchise. There’s an alternate world where this was so huge that Wolverine with an Australian accent just became the standard version of the character, and in that world, Hugh Jackman probably ends up playing the character anyway.

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A Man, A Woman And A Chimp: It’s Not A Sitcom, It’s Emperor Palpatine

The One You Know:

Emperor Palpatine has had a resurgence lately. Not from being the villain of the last big franchise movie before COVID, but thanks to all those memes from late millennials who saw the Star Wars prequels too young to remember the bad parts. 

Revenge of the Sith


Anakin has never seen a bubble opera before Palpatine takes him, how would he know if this one is good or bad?

No matter what silly line of his will be turned into a meme this month, award-winning stage actor Ian McDiarmid deserves a lot of credit for getting the character to stick. It’s harder than you might think to play every single kind of powerful, scheming villain rolled into one melted candle man.

The Emperor is part evil wizard, part hungry vampire, part manipulative politician, and The Rise of Skywalker even turned him into a robot zombie ghost, just to fill up the plate with a little bit of everything at the villain buffet. McDiarmid makes it work, and to keep up the food metaphor, he does it by slathering everything with ham.

The One You Don’t:

McDiarmid was actually a pretty late addition to the Star Wars cast, and got hired for Return of the Jedi. If you’re a Star Wars nerd, that might not add up, since Palpatine first shows up in The Empire Strikes Back, and if you call up Disney Plus and watch the movie, you’ll see McDiarmid right there, plain as day .. .or at least as a 144p video, since this is a Star Wars hologram Zoom call we’re talking about.

But this is another George Lucas special. The original theatrical version of Empire features an obviously different version of the Sith Lord, who was played by a combination of people, just like his apprentice Darth Vader.

Proto-Palpatine’s voice was supplied by Clive Revill, another award-winning thespian, since they pretty much grow on trees over in the UK. The face was a combination of a woman named Marjorie Eaton in heavy makeup and the eyes of a chimpanzee, which would have been really hard to try to keep up for the later movies when the guy had to actually move around.

Mr. Freeze Wasn’t His Married Name

The One You Know:

Mr. Freeze doesn’t have quite the same fame as other Batman villains like the Joker or Catwoman, but he’s been a fan favorite for over thirty years. Like most great Batman villains, his story combines the tragic (he’s a scientist who cryogenically froze his wife to save her from a terminal disease) and the very very silly (due to your standard lab accident during this freezing process, he has to wear cold-themed power armor and use ice weapons).

The tragic backstory was created relatively recently for Batman: The Animated Series, where the tragedy of Michael Ansara’s performance helped dig the character into the permanent landscape of Gotham City. Since then, ol’ Freezerino had star turns in comics, games, cartoons and more, though he needed some time off after being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and a string of blue Christmas lights in George Clooney’s Batman and Robin.

Mr Freeze Batman and Robin

Warner Bros Pictures

The performance wasn’t so hot.

The One You Don’t:

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we only said Mr. Freeze’s backstory was created for the cartoon. The actual character has been around in the Batman comics pretty regularly since the 1950s. For three whole decades before the more serious and sad parts were written, he was just the guy with an ice suit and ice gun who committed ice crimes.

It was a drawback for getting him noticed among the seething mass of Batman’s villains, (seriously, just how many henchmen can there be in Gotham City’s population?) but it had a benefit too: It meant the campy ‘60s Batman TV show could do whatever they wanted with him.

Mr Freeze Batman TV

20th Century Television

Including suddenly giving him hair.

They ended up kind of using him as a grab bag, where any actor willing to wear a robot suit and blue makeup would end up playing Freeze when there weren’t any more interesting parts available. Three actors ended up playing him, and all three were really slumming it: Oscar-winning British actor George Sanders, Hollywood legend Eli Wallach, and director Otto Preminger, known for serious movies about sex and murder. Not a single one of them had the tragic wife thing going on, and not a single one of them cared.

There Was Just One More Thing Before Columbo

The One You Know:

Lt. Columbo was the detective on a mystery show in the ‘70s that still has fans today. What’s kept it going that long? One thing that helps is the show’s weird mystery setup, where the audience sees how the murder happened before Columbo figures it out, so you don’t even have to pay attention to the whole episode to know who did it.



"I’ll take it from here, folks, go back to your laundry or your exercise bike.”

Columbo’s just a nice guy like that. A lot of that comes from Peter Falk, who every Gen-Xer is legally required to recognize as the grandpa from The Princess Bride. Falk played the character for nearly 40 years, and took the concept of a detective who had to be dumber than the audience and ran with it. Columbo was shabby, nervous, absent-minded and hard to talk to—his catchphrase is “just one more thing," which is usually annoying to hear when it’s not the vital clue to solving a murder. Columbo always caught the killer in the end, and it’s a lot more satisfying than it is with a normal detective.

The One You Don’t:

For a perfect example of that, just look at Columbo’s first appearance on TV, where he was pretty much a normal detective. He showed up on a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show, a series where every episode was a completely separate whodunit, because this was early enough in the history of TV they weren’t sure about ideas like “following the same character every week so we’d get attached.”

The Chevy Mystery Show Bert Freed


Any given viewer may not even have owned a TV last week.

But even if he stuck around, it wouldn’t have been easy to get attached to this early, boring version of Columbo. Bert Freed, an actor who was on too many old TV shows to count, doesn’t add any of the spice or weirdly cute shabbiness, so the “start with the solution” gimmick is all they had, and if you want a good show you need ... just one more thing.

The “Who’s That Guy?” That Played You-Know-Who

The One You Know:

For everyone born in the Clinton administration or later, it can be weird to think about the idea that Harry Potter existed without being at the center of culture. Nothing is an instant, overnight success, and there were a solid few years there between the first book in the series coming out, and that period in the early 2000s when we all got suffocated under a mountain of Hogwarts House scarves.

Harry Potter scarves

Warner Bros

A quieter way of killing someone than having to say “Avada Kedavra."

A huge part of the cultural domination was the movies, and how enormous the cast was. It’s a risky proposition to make huge expensive fantasy blockbusters starring three 10-year-old kids, so they packed the movie to the gills with fancy British actors so there could be some guaranteed star power. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine it any other way. Voldemort looks like an emoji plastered onto a human body, but the effect wouldn’t be the same without Ralph Fiennes being that body, bringing all the stage training and serious acting he can to all of Voldy’s evil laughs and creepy caresses.

The One You Don’t:

The Harry Potter books were already pretty popular when they started making the movies, but they still had a ways to go, and it’s easy to tell if you actually go and watch the early ones. You get the usual stuff like cheap special effects and continuity issues, but you might notice that Voldemort starts out looking pretty different for his big introduction.

Warner Bros

Much more “Frisky Dingo” than “human emoji."

That isn’t Ralph, that’s Richard Bremmer, another fancy English actor, just not one who had already gotten Oscars and BAFTAs all the rest. Since the movies were being made before the books had finished, no one was sure what was in store for Big V—note how much of a nose he had!—and so they weren’t too bothered about snagging a big name for him.

When they got Fiennes for the part, Bremmer was a pretty good sport about being replaced as the main bad guy of the biggest franchise on the planet. Considering he was the top choice for the part of “child-murdering ghost," you gotta hand it to him.

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