Actors Who Turned Down Roles On Game Of Thrones

It’s hard to imagine any actor having the guts to turn down a role on a show like Game of Thrones. HBO’s international smash hit first aired in 2011 and quickly became one of the most popular fantasy series of all time. By 2014, the show had beaten out The Sopranos as the most popular HBO series ever, as Entertainment Weekly reported. The series finale in 2017 attracted 13.6 million viewers on the day, with an additional 5.7 million people watching later on (via The Hollywood Reporter). For many of the actors on the show, Game of Thrones proved to be a career-defining project that catapulted them to fame, as stars Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, and many other members of the cast were previously practically unknown.

While it’s hard to imagine the show without those actors at the helm, it turns out, things could have been very different. In fact, there are quite a few actors who were actually offered roles on the show but decided to turn them down. Here are some of the actors who decided not to appear on Game of Thrones and who they would have played.

Brian Cox turned down an unknown role in Game of Thrones

Brian Cox is one of the best known actors of his generation. Cox is known for roles in projects such as Succession, Troy, X2: X-Men United, The Bourne Identity, and Braveheart, as seen on his IMDb page. It’s easy to see why the producers of Game of Thrones would have welcomed the acting icon to the team.

In an interview with Vodzilla, Cox revealed that he was offered a role in the show at the very beginning. “Stupidly, I turned it down in the early days because they didn’t pay enough money,” he said. “Now they have more money. And I was silly.” He went on to explain that he’d become a huge fan of the show. Plus, as he explained, plenty of his friends were in the show, including Ian McShane, Max von Sydow, Clive Russel, Liam Cunningham, and Charles Dance. “They had a great time in it,” he said. He went on to gush about the visual effects of the show, summing up with, “For television, it is truly astonishing.”

While Cox didn’t share which role he had been offered, it’s a real shame he missed his chance to be part of the iconic series.

Charlie Hunnam said no to a Game of Thrones cameo

Charlie Hunnam is best-known for starring in Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim, and Children of Men – and, it turns out, the actor could have added Game of Thrones to his impressive CV. In 2017, Hunnam spoke to The Sun about how he almost took on a small cameo role. “I would love to do a Game of Thrones cameo,” he explained. “They offered me a cameo on that show a little while ago but I was shooting something else so I wasn’t able to do it but maybe in the future, who knows.” Unfortunately for Hunnam, he never got a chance to appear on the show before it ended.

While Hunnam didn’t reveal which role he was offered, fans had their theories. As the fan website Watchers on the Wall noted, “Many fans have wondered if Rhaegar Targaryen would make an appearance in one of Bran’s visions, and Hunnam’s name has been circulated among the fandom as a potential choice.” In the end, Rhaegar was played by Wilf Scolding, who has appeared in projects like The One and Martin’s Close.

Game of Thrones could have been different if Gillian Anderson accepted a role

Gillian Anderson is definitely a queen of British and American TV, having starred in gigantic shows like The X-Files, The Crown, Sex Education, The Fall, and Bleak House (via IMDb). Just imagine how amazing she would have been in a show like Game of Thrones. As the star revealed to the Daily Mail, it almost happened.

“My 18-year-old cannot believe that I would turn down Game of Thrones or Downton — things she loves to watch,” Anderson explained. Nevertheless, when she was offered a coveted role on the show, she decided to turn it down for the sake of her family. “But if I am going to be spending that amount of time working on something I would rather be working with a director like Martin Scorsese,” she went on.

While Anderson didn’t specify which role she turned down on Game of Thrones, it’d appear it was a big one. And fans naturally had some ideas. As Harper’s Bazaar noted, Anderson could have played a mean Cersei Lannister. We have to admit — seeing Anderson take on this legendary villain would have been pretty amazing.

Dominic West felt bad about rejecting this GOT role

Dominic West is perhaps best known for portraying the troubled McNulty on The Wire. For some fans, it may be hard to imagine him trading in his Baltimore accent and cop badge to play a Northern Wildling on Game of Thrones. However, as the actor explained to HuffPost while promoting his show The Hour, he was offered “a lovely part” on the show. The part would have meant filming “in Reykjavik for six months,” as West explained. HuffPost speculated that he may have been offered the role of Mance Rayder, the “King Beyond the Wall.”

As the star later explained on Good Morning Britain, he regretted not taking the part. “I certainly wouldn’t have turned it down. Definitely not,” he clarified (via Digital Spy). “I’d love them [to renew the offer actually]. I couldn’t before because I was otherwise engaged — that was the only problem.” Sadly, West never got another offer to appear on the show, and Ciarán Hinds took on the role of Mance Rayder.

Lily Allen claimed she was offered this Game of Thrones part

Most of us know Lily Allen from her pop music days. What you may not have realized is that she is the real-life sister of Alfie Allen, the actor who played Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones. As the singer said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything chat, she turned down the role of Theon’s sister, Yara Greyjoy. “I felt uncomfortable because I would have had to go on a horse and he would have touched me up and s***,” she confessed. “Once they told me what was entailed, I said, ‘No thanks.'” Yikes, fair enough! Allen went on to say that she would have loved to have taken on another role in the show instead.

Later, however, Alfie Allen revealed that his sister may have gotten her facts wrong. As he told Vulture, “I heard about [the cameo offer], yeah. The only thing I’m going to say on that is that it’s not true.” He then added, “And also that Gemma Whalen was always their first choice for the part. And she’s fantastic.”

Mark Strong may have turned down portraying a major player from the north

Mark Strong is known for his roles in 1917, Kingsman, and Zero Dark Thirty (via IMDb), though it’s not too hard to imagine him slotting into the world of Game of Thrones. Strong was rumored to have been offered the role of Stannis Baratheon, a contender for the Iron Throne on the show. You may remember Stannis as the man who fell for the Red Woman’s advice and sacrificed his daughter in an attempt to take the throne (via IndieWire).

Eventually, Strong responded to the rumors in an interview with Metro. “I was offered a role in it,” he said, “but I can’t ever say who it was because I don’t want to belittle the person who eventually did it because they may have no idea they weren’t first choice.” Strong went on to cryptically explain, “It came my way and we were flirting a while with it, but I didn’t have to turn it down.” It sounds like the producers may have changed their minds at the last minute. Eventually, Stannis was played by Stephen Dillane.

Jennifer Ehle played a Stark in the pilot but decided to leave the show

Before Game of Thrones was filmed, an ill-fated pilot was made. The pilot was reshot and restructured after apparently being entirely nonsensical, according to Entertainment Weekly. Along with a new script, there were also some new actors cast. One new actor was Michelle Fairley in the role of Catelyn Stark. But in the original pilot, the role was played by Jennifer Ehle.

As Ehle explained to the Daily Beast, she decided to give up the role after filming the pilot for personal reasons. “My daughter was seven months old when we did the pilot,” she said. “It was too soon for me to be working, emotionally and bonding-wise, but I needed to do it and I was also passionate about the books.” When the series was picked up, she had been working non-stop for six months and was anxious to bond with her daughter. 

“I think everything worked out beautifully, because clearly the show is what it was meant to be,” she said graciously.

Jamie Campbell Bower had to give up his Game of Thrones role for another project

The infamous Game of Thrones pilot featured some other actors who never made it to the final cast. The author of the original book series, George R. R. Martin explained on his blog at the time, “There’s been another recasting.” As Martin said, the team had decided to reshoot “a prologue sequence” of the show. “The only problem with that being, life moves on and so do actors,” Martin wrote.

Apparently, Jamie Campbell Bower, who had played Ser Waymar Royce in the prologue, was no longer available for the pilot reshoot as he had taken on a role in Camelot. As Martin announced, Ser Waymar Royce was ultimately played by Rob Ostlere in the series. In the end, Waymar Royce only appeared in the very first scene. In fact, the character is killed before the opening credits. We have to say — it would have been pretty strange to see Bower take on this small role.

Jonathan Pryce turned down a role early in the show but eventually joined the cast

As Game of Thrones fans probably already know, Jonathan Pryce did appear in the series as the creepy cult leader, the High Sparrow. Even though Pryce did eventually star in the show, it turns out he rejected an earlier role.

As he explained in an interview for the BBC, he was never a fan of sci-fi or fantasy. “I had never seen Game of Thrones,” he confessed. “In fact, I said, ‘No,’ to the very original series of Game of Thrones.” As Pryce went on to explain, he didn’t even read the full script before turning the show down. “All I did was flick though, look at the names, look at all these strange names and strange dialogue, and I thought, ‘No, that’s not for me,'” he recalled.

Even though Pryce wasn’t initially tempted by the show, he found that he couldn’t turn down the role of the High Sparrow. “This script came and High Sparrow is — he’s a great character,” he said. As anyone who’s seen the show will know, Pryce does a fantastic job of freaking everyone out as the deceptively pious priest — thank goodness he changed his mind about the show.

Perdita Weeks gave up her role on the show for another series

You may know Perdita Weeks as the actress from The Tudors and Lost in Austen. It turns out, the star was almost part of the Game of Thrones family, but she had to turn down her role due to a scheduling issue. As Weeks said at the Virgin Media Louder Lounge, she was cast in The Heretics and had planned on spending six months shooting in Romania, but the show was postponed. “I gave up a role on Game of Thrones to take the part and even rang the producers to beg for it back once I’d heard the news about Romania, but it was too late,” she explained, as reported by the Daily Mail.

According to Elle, the role in question was that of Roslin Tully, the daughter of Walter Frey who marries Edmure Tully in the infamous Red Wedding scene. In the series, the role went to Alexandra Dowling.

Ray Stevenson turned down Game of Thrones as he thought it was too late to join the cast

You may remember Ray Stevenson as the actor who played Volstagg in Thor and Titus Pullo in Rome (via IMDb), so you may think the medieval world of Game of Thrones would be definitely right up his alley. In fact, as the actor revealed in an interview with Movies.com, he was actually offered a role. “I also saw them before they even started, very early on,” he recalled.

However, since he wasn’t offered a role at the beginning, he decided to turn down the job offer. “It’s just that coming into a show now… I think it’s wonderful, but it’s not something I would come into at this point.” He went on to explain that while it was a fairly meaty role that would have lasted for four to six months, he thought it was too late. “I would rather have been involved in the growth of a show, even though everyone gets bumped off left, right and center,” he said. Plus, as Stevenson added, he was already busy with Black Sails.

Tamzin Merchant was originally cast as Daenerys Targaryen

It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone but Emilia Clarke taking on the iconic role Daenerys Targaryen, but, it turns out, she wasn’t actually the Game of Thrones producers’ first choice. Tamzin Merchant was initially cast in the role and appeared in the original, unaired pilot episode.

Even though Merchant was asked to come back for the full series, she decided to turn it down. As the actress explained to Entertainment Weekly, she found it all a little overwhelming. “Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson,” she said. “It was an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them.” She went on to explain that she had tried to “back out” while settling her contract. “Then,” she recalled, “I found myself naked and afraid in Morocco and riding a horse that was clearly much more excited to be there than I was.”

While Merchant accepted that the role wasn’t for her, she admitted that it was perfect for Clarke. “I think it’s a testament to Emilia Clarke for making that role iconic — she was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent,” she gushed. “But for me, it wasn’t in my heart to tell it.”

For Ian McNeice, the timing just wasn't right

A lot of the original Game of Thrones pilot was reshot. For instance, when Tamzin Merchant dropped out and Emilia Clarke was cast as Daenerys Targaryen, they had to reshoot all of her scenes. One of these scenes was the wedding between Dany and Khal Drogo. As George R. R. Martin wrote on his blog, this meant another actor had to be cast, too.

It turns out, Ian McNeice had originally been cast as Illyrio Mopatis, “a magister of Pentos,” as Martin put it. McNeice is a well-known actor, famous for appearing in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Doctor Who, Dune, Rome, and much more. Apparently, Martin had also made a cameo in the scene! Unfortunately, it was all redone. “Ian McNeice was terrific as Illyrio, by the way, but a scheduling conflict made him unavailable for the reshoot,” Martin clarified.

In the end, the well-known Roger Allam was given the role and appeared in two episodes of the show.

Sam Claflin had to drop out of the Game of Thrones audition process for a movie role

As fans of the Hunger Games franchise will remember, Sam Claflin found fame as the dreamy Finnick Odair. He went on to star in Me Before You, My Cousin Rachel, Peaky Blinders, and Enola Holmes (via IMDb). But before all of this success, the actor almost made a star turn in Game of Thrones. As he explained to CinemaBlend, “I think I speak on behalf of every British actor when I say, we all auditioned for [Game of Thrones].” But he didn’t just audition for any role — he actually auditioned for two huge roles on the show: Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen, Daenerys’ brother.

However, after his first audition, Claflin had to back out as he was busy with another project. “I sort of did my first auditions and I sort of went quiet basically, but I’m kind of glad,” he explained. “I like getting into things like that (as a viewer) and not being a part, because I always find it’s very jarring if I was part of it.” It sounds like Claflin was able to enjoy being a fan of the show since he wasn’t actually on it!

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