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Movie casting is much more art than science. Hollywood is full of stories about actors who very nearly took on iconic roles. This one, however, could have changed much more than one movie. When director Brian De Palma was casting 1987s The Untouchables, he originally wasn't looking at relative newcomer Kevin Costner to play Eliot Ness, but instead, TV sensation Don Johnson.
A new documentary film about the legendary filmmaker, De Palma, includes interviews with the man himself talking about the casting process of The Untouchables. Brian De Palma says that he was friends with Don Johnson, as Entertainment Weekly points out, De Palma had recently finished directing Johnson's then wife, Melanie Griffith in Body Double, and was looking at him to play the film's lead role of Eliot Ness. However, one of the Untouchables producers, Art Linson, was interested in an up and coming actor named Kevin Costner. De Palma says he was skeptical of Costner because the actor had yet to play a major lead role before. Since Costner had been in Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories anthology series on TV, and been part of Lawrence Kasdan's ensemble cast in Silverado, De Palma called the two directors to get their opinions on Costner. Apparently, both gave De Palma glowing recommendations, and the decision was made.
Whenever stories like this come along it's nearly impossible to not wonder, what if? The Untouchables was the first film lead for Kevin Costner and from that point on he was rarely in movies where he wasn't the star. Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and Dances With Wolves all followed his turn as Eliot Ness. It's impossible to know if all those roles would have happened as they did had he not been cast in the movie about the man who took down Al Capone. Take a look at some of Costner's work below.
By the same token, how would The Untouchables have changed the career trajectory of Don Johnson? While the Miami Vice star has never been out of work, he's found nearly all his success on television, and though he's gone looking for the big film roles, he's never really received them. A movie opposite the likes of Sean Connery and Robert De Niro could have gone a long way to making casting directors take more notice of him.
Did Brian De Palma make the right choice, or is The Untouchables starring Don Johnson the movie we didn't know we needed? Let us know what you think in the comments.