Paul Walker may be gone but his influence on the franchise that made him famous, the Fast and Furious series, can still be felt, even years later. Walker will forever be associate with the role of Brian O'Conner, which he played in six different films. One cannot think of the franchise without thinking about the actor, which makes it that much more unbelievable that if things had shaken out a little differently 20 years ago, it's possible Walker might have never been in The Fast and the Furious. He almost had the lead in A Knight's Tale.
20 years ago we saw both the first Fast and Furious movie and a small movie starring a largely unknown actor, Heath Ledger, in a movie that mashed up modern elements with a period knights in armor romance. Ledger would go on to become a star and A Knight's Tale would become something of a cult hit. However, writer/director Brian Helgeland tells Variety that there was one other actor who was in serious contention for the role of William Thatcher, Paul Walker. In the end, Walker's nationality was the main reason he didn't get the gig. Helgeland explains...
I really liked him a lot. Of his age group, he was the star. But he was so American, I wasn’t sure he’d get the Englishness of it.
Since both the first Fast and Furious and A Knight's Tale would be released the same year, Walker getting the role in A Knight's Tale would have certainly kept him from appearing opposite Vin Diesel, which means he not only doesn't make that first movie but Walker would have missed out on the entire franchise.
It certainly makes one wonder how things could have progressed if Paul Walker had played the lead in A Knight's Tale. Somebody else gets to play Brian O'Conner and become a major part of the Fast & Furious franchise. Assuming of course that person wanted to come back and make sequels. The entire franchise could have progressed quite differently with somebody else in that role.
And Brian Helgeland is almost certainly correct that Paul Walker would have still been a star, so in this parallel universe he goes on to make other movies instead of Fast and Furious sequels and his career goes off in an entirely different direction as well. Who knows what movies he would have made?
Of course, it can't be overlooked that we lost both these actors far too young. Heath Ledger died in 2008 and Paul Walker died in 2013. We're all missing out on some great performances we'll never get to see because they're gone. In the end, we can be glad we got to see both great talents at all, and probably in the right movies.