Game of Thrones has become an enormous hit since debuting on HBO in 2011, but the epic fantasy drama was almost a very different show. After the original pilot failed to impress, the series underwent major cast changes. There were also some instances in which the network wasn’t able to nab its top choice for certain roles. That’s right — believe it or not, several high-profile actors have admitted to declining an offer to star on the show in its early years, only to kick themselves for the decision later on.
Below, check out seven stars who have turned down roles on Game of Thrones.
1. Brian Cox
The actor admitted to turning down a Game of Thrones role early on in the series, reportedly because he wasn’t offered a high enough salary. Though Brian Cox didn’t reveal which role he’d been approached for, he confesses that he now regrets the decision, having become a fan of the series.
“Well, stupidly, I turned it down in the early days because they didn’t pay enough money [laughs]. Now they have more money. And I was silly. I was silly, it was silly, because I’m a complete addict now,” he told Vodzilla, also adding, “I don’t know what I could play. Maybe I could do – I mean, I just watched my friend Ian McShane, and I thought, ‘Ooh, Ian’s in it’, so I settled down to watch him. And I thought, ‘Ian did that?’ and immediately I thought, ‘God, they must have paid him well’, because I know Ian! [laughs]”
He went on to praise an episode of the HBO drama and also made sure to add that he’d be up for joining the series if the network is still interested. “I’m still waiting for the call for Game of Thrones and if they’ve got more decent money, I’ll be there!” he said.
2. Dominic West
Back in 2012, Dominic West admitted to The Huffington Post that he had once been offered a role on Game of Thrones, but turned it down to avoid being away from his family for too long. “I was offered something on Game of Thrones and unfortunately, I hadn’t seen it, but my nephew and his father said, ‘Gosh, Game of Thrones is the only great show on!’ And I felt terrible, because I’d just turned them down,” he said.
Though the former The Wire actor couldn’t remember the name of the character he had been in line to play, he said that the role was a substantial one and would have required being in Reykjavik, Iceland for six months.
“It was a lovely part, a good part. I’m going to regret it,” he said, per The Huffington Post, which speculates that the role may have been that of wildling chief Mance Rayder. “My problem is, I’ve got four kids, and at the moment, I’m reluctant to be away from home for a long time. I can get a lot of work in London and still be at home.”
3. Gillian Anderson
In 2013, Gillian Anderson revealed that her decision to turn down roles in both Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey left her teen daughter dumbfounded. “Whether it’s Game Of Thrones or Downton Abbey, my 18-year-old cannot believe I’ve turned down things she loves,” the actress told Stylist magazine. “But with a four and six-year-old, I can’t justify spending that kind of time away from home – unless I’m working with Martin Scorsese.”
Anderson never confirmed which role she was in line for, but it’s been widely speculated that she may have been up for the part of the ruthless Cersei Lannister.
4. Jonathan Pryce
Jonathan Pryce was cast as the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones Season 5, but it actually wasn’t the first time he was offered a role on the show. The actor was initially up for a part in the freshman season of the series, but turned it down because he wasn’t a fan of the genre.
“I don’t like swords and fantasy things. I am that person who has never seen Star Wars, I’ve never seen any of the Lord of the Rings things and I’d never seen Game of Thrones,” Pryce told BBC Radio 4.”In fact I’d said no to the very original series of Game of Thrones and all I did was flip through and look at the names, these strange names, strange dialogue and I thought ‘oh, it’s not for me.'”
Thankfully, Pryce got a second chance — and had a change of heart — several years later when he was offered the role of the High Sparrow on the show, which he described as a “great character.”
5. Mark Strong
Strong has never commented on his almost-role in Game of Thrones, but speculation is that the actor was a top contender to play the character of Stannis Baratheon, who made his debut in Season 2. Strong reportedly backed out of the role to star in AMC’s 2013 remake, Low Winter Sun.
Unfortunately for Strong, that show was canceled after only one season. Meanwhile, Stephen Dillane was eventually cast to portray Stannis on Game of Thrones.
6. Perdita Weeks
Perdita Weeks previously played Mary Boleyn on Showtime’s The Tudors, and her experience with period dramas reportedly helped her land the part of Edmure Tully’s bride, Roslin Frey, in Game of Thrones. But the actress was forced to turn down the role after a scheduling conflict with another project. When that other project fell through, Weeks reportedly called the show’s producers to ask for the part back, but she had already been replaced by Alexandra Dowling.
7. Ray Stevenson
In 2015, Stevenson confirmed that he had previously been offered a role on the HBO show, but turned it down because he felt it was too late in the series to make much of an impact. “I was offered [a role]. I also saw them before they even started, very early on,” he told Movies.com. “I would rather have been [cast] at the beginning. 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. I don’t know if I would add anything to it at this stage. And I’m off doing Blackbeard [on Black Sails], so there you go. ”
He didn’t reveal the exact role he was offered, but explained, “I was offered a 4-6 month stint. [The show] was just too far down the line for me. Having already been seen at the beginning, I would rather have been involved in the growth of a show, even though everyone gets bumped off left, right and center. I kept seeing all the people I knew from Rome in it! But I can’t, man! I can’t! But good on them.”
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