What do Tobey Maguire, Tom Hiddleston, and Heath Ledger have in common? A lost shot at playing Will Turner, ostensible Pirates of the Caribbean hero
The hero of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy Will Turner may be one of Orlando Bloom’s most iconic roles, but who were the other actors considered for the role before Bloom secured the part? Released in the summer of 2003, The Ring helmer Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl soon became a huge hit with critics and audiences alike, spawning a quartet of sequels over the next decade and a half.
Despite a stellar cast including screen veteran Geoffrey Rush, promising newcomer Kiera Knightley, and scene-stealer Johnny Depp as the breakout character Jack Sparrow, the success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl was far from a sure thing when the movie was released. Only eight years earlier, The Long Kiss Goodnight director Renny Harlin had sunk the swashbuckling sub-genre’s financial prospects with his legendarily expensive flop Cutthroat Island, and investing in a pirate-centric period piece was a risky proposition as a result.
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However, the makers of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise had at least one proven box office draw who they could rely on. Interestingly, this surefire draw was not Depp, despite the actor soon becoming the most popular thing about the franchise. Before The Curse of The Black Pearl arrived in cinemas and the lovable antihero Jack Sparrow won the hearts of legions of fans, Depp’s status as the biggest star of the series was contested by the young heartthrob Orlando Bloom, who had proven his box office appeal via playing none other than Legolas in the critically-acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, the Carnival Row actor was not always going to be the actor who took on the role of Will Turner, the well-meaning straight man to Depp’s reckless libertine. So, who else was in the running for the movie’s technical male lead?
Jude Law was one of the bigger names considered for the part of Will Turner, and despite having not yet reached the peak of his eventual fame, the actor had some impressive screen pedigree at the time. Law’s screen CV boasted a starring role in the critically acclaimed drama The Talented Mr. Ripley, but that said, his most recent blockbuster role at the time was the Spielberg/Kubrick misfire A. I Artificial Intelligence. Although the film performed admirably at the box office it was critically slated, meaning Law’s appeal as a leading man could not quite match Bloom’s time playing Legolas. Losing out on the heroic role may have been a blessing in disguise, though, as the following few years saw Law transition out of playing well-meaning heroes like Will and into more morally ambiguous characters. His roles in Alfie, Closer, and Repo Men meant that Law ended up playing more Jack Sparrows than Will Turners in the years since he lost out on the part, and earned solid reviews for doing so.
Already a star by the time Pirates of the Caribbean went into production thanks to his role as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi movie adaptations of the iconic Marvel comics, Tobey Maguire was one of the more unlikely names considered for the part of Will Turner. Although he has done period dramas before and since in the form of The Cider House Rules and The Great Gatsby, Maguire was mostly known as an all-American suburban superhero at the time. As such, it came as little surprise that the role went to his English competitor instead. Maguire did star in a successful period piece the same year, with Seabiscuit faring well at the box office and with critics.
Before Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain proved his potential as a dramatic actor, the late great Heath Ledger was best known for starring in more lighthearted fare like the contemporary Taming of the Shrew teen movie adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You. However, as hard as it may be to believe given their subsequent career trajectories, Ledger was considered less of a box office draw than Bloom at the time of Pirates of the Caribbean’s production. Without a Lord of the Rings-sized hit to his name, Ledger thus lost the role of Will Turner to Bloom. The casting directors may have also wanted someone with less roguish charm than Ledger, though, as his A Knight’s Tale antihero skews a bit too close to Jack Sparrow for the pair to have an effective contrast. Bloom’s guileless portrayal of Will as a naive and well-meaning protagonist allows Jack’s duplicitous double-dealing to shine (something sorely lacking in later, lesser sequels like On Stranger Tides where Jack is the sole focus). In comparison, the more street-smart incarnation of Turner that Ledger would likely have offered could have been too similar to Depp’s morally ambiguous antihero, thus lessening the contrast, and as a result conflict, between the duo.
Every franchise considered casting young Obi-Wan in the early ‘00s, but it is easy to see why McGregor missed out on the part of Will Turner. The actor was a busy man, shooting Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith at the time that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies went into production. He also, like Ledger and Law, arguably had too much cheeky charm to play the guileless Will. However, it would have been interesting to see the Dr. Sleep star spar with Depp onscreen, and the potential interplay between the two 90s icons makes it something of a shame that McGregor’s slate was so full in the early ‘00s.
According to Loki’s actor, he was considered for the part of Will Turner years before he would come to be known as Thor’s trickier brother. The MCU staple was nowhere near as high-profile as the rest of this list at the time the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise began production, and it is tough to imagine a world wherein Hiddleston became famous for playing the innocent Will Turner rather than the antihero Loki. However, this was not meant to be, and ironically Hiddleston is now best-known for a role whose moral ambiguity and constant allegiance shifting owed a debt of inspiration to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, rather than the Pirates of the Caribbean hero that the actor auditioned to play.
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