Hollywood’s streets are littered with the scraps of "What if?" stories that have tumbled off faulty casting couches. What if Tom Selleck had starred in Raiders of the Lost Ark instead of Harrison Ford? What if Eric Stoltz had stayed in Back to the Future instead of Michael J. Fox? And a new, horror-centric one just crossed our desk that we’re eager to share.
In an interview with the Toronto-based In Magazine (via The Playlist), the great John Lithgow admits that he was offered the part of Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s 1986 version of The Fly, but passed on the role because it was "icky." Said Lithgow:
I just finished another project and I was exhausted, and I found it such an icky story. I told my agent I just didn’t want to play something so grotesque."
At the time, John Lithgow was either coming off of either Peter Hyams’ 2010, or possibly The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, which could have been a labor-intensive shoot. It’s likely Lithgow read the screenplay for The Fly, or even spoke with David Cronenberg about the heavy make-up process that woud be involved with telling author George Langelaan’s story, and didn’t want to endure the lengthy pre-visualization process that would be necessary to create this:
Jeff Goldblum, on the flipside, was coming off of 1983’s The Big Chill, and had 1985’s Transylvania 6-5000 in the can before he took on The Fly. And while David Cronenberg’s movie has been one of the movies that turned him into a viable leading man, it probably still ranks right behind Jurassic Park on a list of "definitive" roles for Jeff Goldblum. I mean, how does Brundle Fly possibly hope to contend against the ridiculously confident Dr. Ian Malcolm?
John Lithgow, meanwhile, didn’t suffer by passing on The Fly. He had a hit on his hands a few years after with Harry and the Hendersons, and has stayed consistently busy in movies and on television. He might have made for an excellent Brundle, but his performance remains on the heap of "Could Have Been" opportunities that fans cling to, in dreams.