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Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire

Hollywood’s streets are lined with casting stories of movies that might have gone in different directions if certain actors said yes to specific roles. Will Smith reportedly turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix. Eric Stoltz originally started filming Back to the Future before he was replaced by Michael J. Fox. The list of potential castings stretches on forever… and it just added one more fascinating possibility to the roster.

Jerry Maguire might be Cameron Crowe’s best film. It’s arguably one of Tom Cruise’s greatest roles (he got a Best Actor nomination for the part) and it’s DEFINITELY Cuba Gooding Jr.’s best performance (he won the Oscar that year for playing egotistical NFL wide receiver Rod Tidwell). But what if, instead of Cruise, it was Woody Harrelson screaming “Show me the money!” into a telephone? Would that have worked?

Woody Harrelson was walking down memory lane with Esquire, and recalled being offered the role of the wayward sports agent Jerry Maguire in Cameron Crowe’s winning comedy. He said:

I was offered—what’s the ‘Show me the money’ movie? Jerry Maguire? I was offered Jerry Maguire, and I said to Jim [James L. Brooks, one of the film’s producers], ‘Nobody is going to give a shit about an agent.’

And initially, he’s right. You are not supposed to care for Jerry Maguire at the onset of Cameron Crowe’s movie. In fact, as he alienates himself from his firm after writing a strongly worded missions statement, you almost are meant to question his motives – and that of the loyal lady, Dorothy (Renee Zellweger), who drops everything to follow him.

But it’s the way that Crowe writes Jerry, as well as the way that Tom Cruise chooses to play him, that softens the audience to the sports agent over time.

Woody Harrelson wasn’t the only A-lister in the circle of Jerry Maguire. Reports suggest that Cameron Crowe originally wrote the script with Tom Hanks in mind, with the director later explaining to Deadline:

The idea was, let’s not be slaves to writing this as a Tom Hanks in capital letters movie, but let’s have Tom Hanks on our minds as a guy who would play Jerry Maguire. So we were kind of developing it for him, based on us knowing he really wanted to do something with us. But as Hanks got more and more into that white hot heat of super stardom, I always did think, well, if Tom Hanks doesn’t do this, who would be the dream Jerry Maguire? More and more over time, that was Tom Cruise.

And yet, I can’t see anyone else by Tom Cruise in this role. Can you? He completes the movie. Pun intended:

At the time of Jerry Maguire, Woody Harrelson was coming off of Natural Born Killers and Money Train, but shooting Maguire with Cameron Crowe might have prevented the True Detective star from appearing in Kingpin or The People vs. Larry Flynt, both of which came out in 1996. That’s pretty incredible, that Harrelson had both of those movies in the same year.

God, he’s a versatile and gifted actor.

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