The Actors Who Turned Down Controversial Movie Roles

Earlier this week, Saturday Night Live vet Norm Macdonald took to Twitter to pen an account of the events leading up to SNL‘s recently aired 40th Anniversary Special. The comedian and writer hoped to get Eddie Murphy to star in a “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch as fallen comedian and accused serial rapist Bill Cosby (a role left to Kenan Thompson), but Murphy refused. Macdonald applauded Murphy’s decision, and the Internet was ablaze with opinions on the matter — especially after learning that Cosby was “very appreciative” of Murphy’s decision. Of course, Murphy is hardly the only actor in pop culture to turn down a controversial part in a project. Cinema is filled with them. The recent events inspired us to revisit a few controversial films and the roles that saw Hollywood talent turning away from them.

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The Exorcist

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than apple-cheeked Linda Blair in the part of Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. The child actress was unknown at the time. Her agency promoted 30 other clients before suggesting Blair for the role of the possessed 12-year-old who accidentally summons a demon with a Ouija board (director William Friedkin also considered casting Regan with an adult little person). Several of the young girls vying for the role in Friedkin’s film were bigger names — including sci-fi actress Pamelyn Ferdin (Star Trek, Space Academy) and Diff’rent Strokes star Dana Plato. There was one actress up for the role of Regan whose parents got spooked by the material and pulled her out of the running. Denise Nickerson, best known for playing the spoiled and bratty Violet Beauregarde in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was almost cast. From blowing up into a giant blueberry to spewing green pea soup, Nickerson would have nailed it — but it was not meant to be.