What if David Bowie had played a classic Disney villain? He was considered to voice Hades in the animated Hercules, but lost out on the role.
One of the best Disney villains of all time is Hades from Hercules (1997), but what if David Bowie had played him? Bowie was originally considered to voice the master of the underworld in the Disney animated classic, but the production team behind the film decided to go in a different direction. If they had cast Bowie in the role, Hades would have been a much more dramatic and eclectic evil antagonist than he ended up being. Now that a Hercules live-action film is in development, the question of how to cast Hades is back up in the air.
Hercules is the Walt Disney Pictures’ version of the Greek myth of Heracles, the demi-god gifted with unparalleled strength. In the animated children’s film, a young Hercules teams up with his mentor Phil the satyr (voiced by Danny DeVito) and winged steed Pegasus to become immortal and join his father Zeus. On the way, he conquers all sorts of beasts and becomes famous, but it is ultimately his willingness to sacrifice his own life for Meg’s that proves he is truly a hero. Hercules is one of those classic Disney films that has endured after all these years and its unparalleled soundtrack, composed by Alan Menken, is still to this day one of Disney’s best.
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The rumors around casting for Hades have swirled for decades, and the list of actors who were considered is incredibly long. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker had a notoriously difficult time finding the perfectly villainous voice for the role. Among those said to have been considered are Jim Carrey, Christopher Walken, John Travolta, Kevin Spacey, James Coburn, Phil Hartman, and Rod Steiger. Those who were more seriously considered, however, were Jack Nicholson, Willem Dafoe, John Lithgow, and Bowie, before the role ultimately went to James Woods.
When Clements and Musker first auditioned actors to play Hades, they had them deliver their lines in a straight and serious tone. Nicholson was the first actor approached for the role, but negotiations fell through. Then Lithgow was given the part, and even recorded many of his lines, but the film’s creative team didn’t think he was the right fit and ended up recasting the role with Woods. Woods surprised the directors when he performed Hades as a fast-talking salesman and ad-libbed many of his lines, taking him in a more dry comedic direction. The Hercules that ended up being released featured an entirely different Hades than was originally intended, and a version with Bowie in the role would have certainly been unforgettable as well.
At the time Bowie was considered for the part of Hades, he was well into his career as an artist and celebrity. Around the time the film was developing, Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was in his so-called “electronic period,” while preparing the release of 1997’s Earthling album. Bowie’s film career had already led him to numerous movie and stage roles, from Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to the darkly fantastical Labyrinth (1986). The unique artistry and presence that made him the singular star he was were well-known, and the directors of Hercules likely saw in him a mix of eclectic humor and surreal darkness that would have brought some color to the dark world of Hades. Though it’s a shame audiences will never see Bowie’s portrayal of Hades, Woods’ talent in the role can’t be denied.
Next: The James Bond Villain David Bowie Almost Played (And Why He Wasn’t Cast)
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