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Casting: it's a job so stressful, it’s probably a topic any Hollywood psychiatrist could tell you about in depth. It’s amazing how some people who become forever linked to certain roles almost lost out on playing those characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger is someone who knows that rather well, as he’s further demonstrated that by telling the story of how Total Recall’s original producer, Dino De Laurentiis, didn’t want him to play the film’s lead.
Arnold Schwarzenegger clued the world into that fact in an interview with The Ringer through the following tidbit:
I’ve been chasing for years, years, years. Because Dino De Laurentiis had it. And he always felt, ‘Schwarzenegger, I’d like you to be Conan. I don’t like you to be in Total Recall. I have Jeff Bridges.
While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dino De Laurentiis were working together on their smash hit adaptation of Conan The Barbarian, the long and winding road that saw the Phillip K. Dick-inspired blockbuster make its way to the big screen saw a lot of different folks suggested for the somewhat mild mannered character of Douglas Quaid.
Named “Douglas Quail” in Dick’s original short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” the character was an office worker who was eventually oped into paranoid intrigue, thinking he was a secret agent with a connection to Mars. It’s the basic boiler plate for what Total Recall would eventually become, and as it turns out, Jeff Bridges wasn’t even his first choice for the job. Richard Dreyfuss, Patrick Swayze and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s General Ross himself, William Hurt, were all considered by De Laurentiis to play the lead.
What's even crazier than the fact that Total Recall spent almost a whole decade in the powerful producer’s hands, and never got made, was the fact that legendary horror director David Cronenberg couldn’t crack revising the original script, written by Alien masterminds Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. In the end, this caused the project to languish, and eventually Dino De Laurentiis’ production company went bankrupt in the process.
With Total Recall’s option up for grabs, and Arnold Schwarzenegger making friends with upstart producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vanja, Carolco Pictures would now have the first of two back-to-back Schwarzenegger led hits. All it took from that point was a chance encounter between Schwarzenegger and director/former student of anatomy Paul Verhoeven, which ended with the two wanting to work together on a project. Douglas Quaid was about to become a construction worker, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was about to gain a title for his eventual memoirs, as well as one hell of an injury.
As far as the story of Total Recall goes, from that point the finished product not only became a sci-fi classic, but it was the fifth highest grossing film of 1990, and the first of two of the highest grossing movies Schwarzenegger would land that year. Though in one last twist of fate, the film that topped the international grosses of 1990 saw Patrick Swayze bouncing back from losing out on Douglas Quaid, as Ghost was the movie to beat that year.
But hey, Arnie would get ‘em next year, with a little independent picture called Terminator 2: Judgement Day. So history somewhat wound up playing out rather nicely in the end. Though it does remind us of the time that the T-1000 was almost played by Billy Idol; and that’s an even crazier story when you think about it. Casting… it’s a tough job, but some very skilled individuals have to do it.