Gemma Chan Originated A Key Role In Mr. Malcolm’s List, But Here’s The Big Reason Why She Was Replaced

Mr. Malcolm’s List is the latest regency romance to dazzle fans of the genre. But there is a major actor who got away from wearing a corset and being part of some social season debauchery: Gemma Chan. The British actress has been really making a name for herself in recent years with roles in movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, and while she originated a role, we finally know why she didn’t star in Mr. Malcolm’s List

When Deadline announced Mr. Malcolm’s List casting back in 2019, Gemma Chan was named as the lead of the movie alongside Freida Pinto, the latter who did end up starring in the romance as Selena Dalton. However, Zawe Ashton ended up replacing Chan. When CinemaBlend spoke to the film’s director Emma Holly Jones, she said this:

She is a dear, dear friend of mine, and she was never actually gonna be involved in the feature. She was a little busy making a rather large movie called the Eternals. And she is a dear friend of Sope and a dear friend Zawe. She was doing the short and that was it. There was actually another actress cast before Zawe came in and we lost that actress two weeks before we started shooting. So Zawe Ashton is literally the savior of our film and I think my God, did we get the perfect Julia in the end.

Gemma Chan actually got to play the role of Julia Thistlewaite in a 10-minute short for Mr. Malcolm’s List, which much of the cast of the film shot first before the movie was greenlit to viral success. The viral short movie, which came out in 2019, starred Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and other actors, who all came back for the feature. However, Gemma Chan ended up filming Eternals around the same time and the role was reportedly given to Chan’s Crazy Rich Asians co-star Constance Wu before she dropped out as well and Zawe Ashton came in. Jones also said this: 

So the short film was obviously an amazing opportunity as a filmmaker to obviously build one's confidence, visual palette for a film and test things out. It was like this wonderful test run. And it was obviously designed as a proof of concept to try and as a tool to get the feature film made. Gemma Chan is extraordinary in the short.

Once viewing 2022 movie release, Mr. Malcolm’s List the movie and short certainly show that the movie had been sharply planned for sometime. And it’s interesting to see Gemma Chan in the role of Julia, bringing something different to the role than Zawe Ashton did. Check it out: 

The movie features the rare, but ever growing inclusion in the regency genre, which actors Sope Dirisu and Freida Pinto particularly embraced with their characters. The release of the book-to-movie adaptation may come after the success of Bridgerton, but the short came out nearly two years before the first season.  

Mr. Malcolm’s List has been praised by both critics and audiences alike. The movie is currently playing exclusively in theaters. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.