10 rock stars who missed out on their dream movie roles

David Bowie, Ian McKellern as Gandalf, WASP’s Blackie Lawless and The Terminator
David Bowie, Ian McKellern as Gandalf, WASP’s Blackie Lawless and The Terminator (Image credit: Larry Busacca/WireImage/Entertainment Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo/Paul Natkin/Getty Images/YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the years there has been no shortage of rock stars trying their hands at acting. John Lennon, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Courtney Love, Cannibal Corpse… the list of musicians who have made the transition to the big screen with varying degrees of success is almost as long as the credits of your average Marvel movie. Then there are roles that never were. John Lennon looked all set to appear in 80s techno-thriller WarGames before his untimely death, while The Cult’s Ian Astbury reportedly turned down the chance to play Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s biopic The Doors. These, though, are the roles that rock stars really wanted but never got. Don’t call us, we’ll call you…

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David Bowie – Elrond or Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings

David Bowie had a number of memorable roles in films such as The Man Who Fell To Earth, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and arthouse vampire flick The Hunger. He also played Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth but failed to land the part of a half-elven Lord in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy.

It was long-rumoured that Bowie had auditioned for the role of Elrond. Jackson himself hinted at this being the case but added: “These are famous, famous characters, loved for nearly 50 years. To have a famous, beloved character and a famous star colliding is slightly uncomfortable.”

Dominic Monaghan, who played hobbit Merry in the films, later confirmed that Bowie had turned up to audition at the same time, although he believed it was for a different role. He told the Huffington Post: “As I was reading a magazine waiting, David Bowie came in and signed his little list and went in. I’m assuming he read for Gandalf. I can’t think of anything else he would’ve read for.”

Watchmen author Alan Moore has also revealed that Bowie was in the running to play morally ambiguous anti-hero Rorschach in a planned Terry Gilliam version of graphic novel years before Zach Snyder made his movie.

Lou Reed – Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ

Another big role that Bowie did get was that of Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1988 religious epic The Last Temptation of Christ. Bowie and Lou Reed had been long-time friends and frequent artistic rivals and the director revealed after Reed’s death that the two had also been head to head for the role of Pilate.

Scorsese had gotten to know his fellow New Yorker over the years, so it wasn’t completely unexpected that Reed would audition for the role of the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. “In 1987, he auditioned for the role of Pontius Pilate in my film The Last Temptation of Christ, but his old friend David Bowie ended up playing the part,” Scorsese told The Guardian, adding that there was later an unsuccessful attempt to turn Reed’s 1989 song Dirty Boulevard into a movie. “We were never able to get the picture into production,” said Scorsese.

Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) – T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless revealed that he was in line for the part of time-travelling, shape-shifting killer robot the T-1000 in Terminator sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day – until concerns about the height difference between him and star Arnold Schwarzenegger led to this mouth watering prospect be canned.

Speaking to Classic Rock, he revealed that he was called by his agent, who told him that Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron  wanted to talk to him.

“We think Arnold had seen [WASP’s] Scream Until You Like It video, and I’m doing a little bit of acting in that. Apparently, they thought I would be right for the part of the T-1000 Terminator,” said Lawless. 

Lawless continued that he was dubious about the offer as he “didn’t really care for the original Terminator movie. “I said: ‘Let me think about it. I’ll get back to you.’ I thought about it for about 30 minutes and decided: ‘Hey, dummy. What are you doing? That movie was huge whether you liked it or not. Maybe this is something I should think about doing.’

He continued: “I had been around Arnold a couple of times before, at parties, and knew he was kind of sensitive about his height. I’m about four or five inches taller than he is. So I said to his casting director: “Do you know how tall I am?” I told them I was six-four. The casting director said: ‘There’s no need for you to come down for the reading.’”

John Lydon – Jimmy in Quadrophenia

Former Sex Pistols singer John Lydon was apparently Pete Townsend’s first choice to play Jimmy, the lead character in Quadrophenia – the 1979 film based on the band’s rock opera of the same name. The role eventually fell to Phil Daniels however, which led to an altercation in the street when the pair ran subsequently ran into each other.

In an interview with the PA news agency, actor Trevor Laird – who played mod Ferdy in the film – told Daniels: “I remember, which you might not remember, that after the film came out, us meeting Johnny Rotten somewhere, do you know what I mean? And he being a little bit squiffy about the film and everything and I think he threw an insult at Phil and Phil threw an insult at him and of course they backed down…”

Daniels added: “I can’t remember a lot about Quadrophenia to be honest. Whether I knew about Johnny… I can’t really remember but all I know is that they made the right choice in the end.”

Billy Idol – Tom Baker in The Doors

Billy Idol did appear in Oliver Stone’s Jim Morrison biopic The Doors, albeit with a much smaller role than he was originally slated for. The former Generation X singer was in line to play the actor Tom Baker (no, not the Doctor Who one) and friend of Morrison. Unfortunately, a serious drug habit and even more serious motorcycle crash cost him the part and almost lost his leg.

“I originally had a good part, Michael Madsen’s part [as Tom Baker], but I had that motorcycle accident,” Idol told Classic Rock in 2022. “I probably should have got into acting a lot more, but it took me a long time to get control of myself in terms of drug addiction.”

Courtney Love – Nancy Spungen in Sid and Nancy

Before she formed Hole and met Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love got into movie extra work through her friend, future L7 bassist Jennifer Finch. One of the people she met through that was Alex Cox, who would direct Sid and Nancy, the 1986 biopic about Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his mutually destructive relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

“All the punk-rock extras went up for parts in Sid and Nancy,” Love told Vanity Fair. “He met me and he put his arm around me and said the most subversive thing he could think of was foisting me on the world.”

Love actually auditioned for the role of Nancy – the audition tape can be found online – but the studio reportedly wanted a more established actress. Cox was impressed though and wrote the part of Spungen’s friend Gretchen especially for Love to play. He also cast her in his next film, 1987’s Straight To Hell.

Anthony Kiedis – unspecified role in My Own Private Idaho

Starring a young Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix, 1991’s My Own Private Idaho was an independent hit and has since garnered a cult following. Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis had a chance to be a part of it but was dealing with addiction and mental health issues at the time.

Asked what he remembered of turning up high to audition for the movie, Kiedis told Movieline: “Oh, I was in terrible shape that day. I later realized I should have gone up to Gus [Van Sant] and said, ‘I’ve been up for two days, I’m high out of my mind, psychologically shattered, I have no business trying to read a single word.’”

Chilis bassist Flea did appear in My Own Private Idaho, albeit in a bit-part role as a street hustler named Budd.

Tom Waits – Reservoir Dogs

Tom Waits has a long line of bit-part movie credits but could the gravel-voiced singer have been Mr Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s smash hit neo-noir crime thriller Reservoir Dogs? Appearing on a panel to mark the film’s 25th anniversary, Tarantino revealed that Waits had read the opening dialogue that describes Madonna’s Like A Virgin as a metaphor for big dicks.

He revealed: “A lot of really wild people came in and read the parts. Tom Waits came in and read. I had Tom Waits read the Madonna speech, just so I could hear Tom Waits say those lines. And actually, other than Harvey, he gave me one of the first profound compliments on the script. No one had ever told me my work was poetic before.”

Tarantino ended up delivering the lines himself after casting himself as Mr Pink.

Gwen Stefani – Jane Smith in Mr and Mrs Smith

Appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani was asked what movie role she’d auditioned for that people would be surprised to know. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” she said, referring to the lon-forgotten mid-2000s comedy thriller featuring a soon-to-hook-up Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. “Angelina beat me,” she replied, before adding: “It could have been a different story.”

Stefani was also in the running for the part of Kay Lake in 2006 murder mystery The Black Dahlia – a part which ultimately went to Scarlet Johansson. “I don’t know whether I would ever even do it if they offered it to me because it’s kind of a racy part. I know I’m not going to get it, because I think the character is so the opposite of me. She’s really dark and naughty and slutty. And she has black hair.”

Henry Rollins – Negan in The Walking Dead

Okay, this one’s a TV show but The Walking Dead was absolutely huge and Henry Rollins has got to get extra marks for trying and failing to land a role playing himself. Well, sort of.

"I was up for the role of Negan because [artist and illustrator] Charlie Adlard, who worked on the comic book, based that guy on me and so I was a shoo-in for an audition," the former Black Flag frontman told Forbes. "The internet was wild with speculation because in the upcoming season they were going to introduce the character. A woman that works in my office put my name and the character's name into an internet search and all this speculation came up."

He continued: "I went for the audition and there were five pages of really cool dialogue with all these curses and it was beautiful, but I didn't get it. I later saw a photograph of the guy who did get it (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and he looks almost exactly like the comic book rendering.”

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer