For a movie as weird as writer/director Richard Kelly’s infamous Southland Tales, this follow-up to his critically acclaimed hit Donnie Darko has always felt like a movie that was primed to attract one hell of an all-star cast. Eventually, the final lineup of talent that jumped into a supposedly world-ending event in an alternate 2008 was as impressive as one would have expected, with Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott and Sarah Michelle Gellar all playing the three leads that move along the bulk of the plot. But in the even more impressive gallery of supporting roles, we almost saw beloved Canadian comedy actor Rick Moranis playing the role of political animal Vaughn Smallhouse.
The subject of alternate casting came up during my conversation with Richard Kelly, as CinemaBlend was invited to promote the Arrow Video release of both the Theatrical and Cannes cuts of Southland Tales in a brand new Blu-ray. Infamous for being a trippy satire of American life in the 2000s, it’s a story that was bound to cause some to shy away from its contents, but that’s not the reason that Rick Moranis turned down his potential role in the final film. As Kelly revealed to me, Mr. Moranis’s rejection was rooted in the following:
I’m so happy with our cast and everyone that we got, but there are always ideas that you explore before you get to the existing cast. It’s just always a process. I think some of the earlier ideas we explored, again I love all these actors … I had a conversation with Rick Moranis about playing Vaughn Smallhouse, the role eventually went to John Laroquette. I love Rick Moranis, and I’m so excited that he’s kind of returning to acting in a bigger way now. But I think he was sort of, at the moment, kind of retired and not really interested in acting.
As fans of Rick Moranis already know, the actor famous for such films as Ghostbusters and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids went on an extended hiatus to become a stay-at-home dad. So it wasn’t really the weirdness of Southland Tales that put Moranis off of accepting the offer, but rather that he didn’t miss acting at that moment in time. By the time the film had finalized its cast, TV legend John Laroquette would land the role of Vaughn Smallhouse, with history doing all the rest.
Though that’s not to say that there wasn’t some weirding out to be had in the process of selling Southland Tales to prospective cast members. At least, that’s what our next story from Richard Kelly seems to suggest, as when it came time to cast eccentric arms dealer Walter Mung, Kelly looked to use a past professional connection to get the job done. And it’s a tale that involves another director who’s also known for some rather far out cinematic ventures:
We originally approached Oliver Stone about playing Walter Mung [who was] played by Christopher Lambert [in] the ice cream truck, the arms dealer. I used to intern for Oliver when I was 21 years old, at his offices in Santa Monica. So I’ve known Oliver for years, and I think he was very flattered, he thought it was very amusing, and I think he kind of thought about it a little bit. But I think he didn’t quite feel comfortable diving in.
Known for some of the most socially and politically incendiary films of our time, such as Wall Street, JFK and Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone is no stranger to satirizing some of the same subject matter that Southland Tales approached. Keeping that in mind, the remaining hypothesis is that Richard Kelly’s whacked-out metaphysical conspiracy might have been something that Stone found amusing, but he might not have totally been aligned with. Even the man who made Savages has his limits, and clearly this was a moment to stick to them.
Here’s one last crazy bit of casting that almost happened on the road to Southland Tales. As Richard Kelly went out of his way to cast actors against their usual type casting archetypes, a lot of comedic actors were drafted to make up this film’s ensemble. A good number of these folks, like Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri and Jon Lovitz, had previously been a part of/would go onto become part of the SNL family. However, it’s a pair of MadTV graduates that make up this last switcharoo, and you can thank Howard Stern for the end result:
We actually had a meeting with Artie Lange about playing Fortunio Balducci, who was eventually played by Will Sasso. But I think Artie had a conflict with being able to step away from The Howard Stern Show at the time to act in the film. Those are three that are of the top of my head that I can remember.
If it was only Rick Moranis that had passed on Southland Tales, this story would have been an amusing curiosity. Adding Oliver Stone and Artie Lange to that very same discussion ups the stakes, and twists the tale into something that could have only happened on a movie as weird as a Richard Kelly picture. Though, as the creator himself had said, the casting that wound up in the final film worked like a charm; no matter how intriguing these alternate pursuits may have been. It always seems to boil down to two roads diverging with this movie, doesn’t it?