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Stunt Casting

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"Oh, Dom De Luise was there, too. He threw paper at the crowd for five seconds before disappearing completely. I've heard that this is exactly how he wanted his involvement in the parade worded in NBC's contract. Dom's a fucker."

Hiring of a big-name actor to play a supporting role (or even a leading role, but usually the former). The idea is usually that the actor's fame will draw in viewers, as it normally would if you put them prominently on the advertising; but you don't have to pay them as much if they only have to do a few days' work.


Sometimes it's a compromise, for when the studio heads wanted big stars playing the main characters. This can also work for documentaries with the casting of the narrator. Compare Non-Actor Vehicle, One-Scene Wonder. If not done carefully, then may result in viewers crying WTH, Casting Agency?. See also Billing Displacement. If the stunt-casting is done in service of a film or other one-off project, expect the big-name actor in question to be Billed Above the Title. This happens so often in animation that it has its own trope: Celebrity Voice Actor.

In theatre productions that are especially Long-Runners, stunt casting is one way of keeping things fresh and interesting for potential audiences. The Broadway revival of Chicago has been especially egregious with this, cycling hundreds of celebrities of varying degrees of talent through the lead roles since it began its run in 1996.


It's also standard operating procedure in the U.K.-specific style of broad comic theatre known as Pantomime.note 


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The various Star Wars movies have played with stunt casting:
  • Fantasy Mission Force was advertised as "Starring Jacky Chan" despite the fact that Jackie Chan played a minor role. Jackie reportedly appeared in it only because he owed a favor to the lead actor, Jimmy Wang Chu (who was rumored to have ties to organized crime syndicates).
    • Jackie's done it more than once; he appeared in Stephen Chow's King of Comedy as a nameless stuntman, and in Sammo Hung's Martial Law as a perp, the latter done to return the favor for Hung playing the put-upon biker in Mr Nice Guy.
  • Marlon Brando as Jor-El in the first Superman film. He actually got top billing (and a star's wages) on that movie for several scenes that barely totaled thirty minutes in an almost two-and-a-half hour movie. He was cast in the role specifically so they could have a big name actor headlining in order to draw the audience.
    • Indeed, the term "Brando Acceptibilty Yardstick" was coined by a reader as an entry in Roger Ebert's Little Movie Glossary in reference to this. Brando essentially made it okay for mega-stars to do comic book films - and like him, be paid extraordinarily well for it. Like him, they often don't play the lead roles (which are often given to up-and-comers); they usually play mentors (like Brando) or villains. The best known example of the latter might be Jack Nicholson being hired to play the Joker in 1989's Batman; he got top billing and a giant cut of the film's profits and merchandising revenue. The three sequels basically stunt cast all the major villains as a response to how well this worked, culminating in the disaster of Batman & Robin (Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy), while Batman himself was given The Other Darrin treatment.
  • Geoffrey Rush gets third billing in Intolerable Cruelty for a character seen a grand total of three times, for maybe two minutes of screen time, whom an audience member might easily mistake for three separate characters on the first viewing.
  • When it comes to Scream (1996) Drew Barrymore was initially signed on as the lead but was unable to commit. Still really keen on the project, she took the smaller role of Casey - who gets killed off in the first ten minutes. It ended up making Dead Star Walking a staple of the franchise.
  • The Crow: City of Angels features Iggy Pop as one of the thugs. He was originally asked to play Funboy in the first film, but had to decline due to scheduling issues.
  • Dead Man features a variety of celebrities in bit parts, including Robert Mitchum, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop and Alfred Molina.
  • In one very disturbing example, Pink Floyd - The Wall uses actual Neo-Nazi Skinheads during the "Run Like Hell" scene, where Pink's Neo-Nazi followers destroy an Indian-owned cafe and assault an interracial couple.
  • Steven Seagal barely has two minutes of screen time in Executive Decision before dying with a heroic one liner.
  • Time Bandits: The Greek warrior fighting the Minotaur turns out to be... Sean Connery! As King Agamemnon, he has only a few minutes of screentime. Amusingly, the script describes the character as someone who looks like Sean Connery, but to everyone's surprise the man himself accepted the small role.
  • Eric Roberts in the final film of The Human Centipede series. The film itself even treats him like a celebrity by playing a fancy cue when he's introduced.
  • The Meteor Man figures James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby (who has no lines), Marla Gibbs and Sinbad. Gibbs has the biggest role, as she plays the protagonist's mother. Also from the music industry, there's Luther Vandross (also no lines), Big Daddy Kane, Another Bad Creation, Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature and jazz singer Nancy Wilson.
  • Fan Bingbing in Iron Man 3. Not only does she only appear in the Chinese cut of the movie, but she doesn't even get a name despite being featured in the Chinese trailers!
  • Similar to Fan Bingbing, Zhang Jingchu was given prominent billing in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation despite only appearing in the background in one scene and having a few lines in another. Her role, in fact, is so superfluous it could have been played by just about anyone.
  • Bryan Cranston is heavily featured in the trailer for 2014's Godzilla despite the fact that his character is killed off about twenty minutes into the film. Gareth Edwards claims that Cranston was hired because of his ability to perform as a father, but the advertising seems to be heavily influenced by the popularity of his Emmy-winning performance in Breaking Bad.
  • Scream Park features Doug Bradley of Hellraiser and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy.
  • The presidents in The Butler; each one gets a cameo and all of them are played by fairly recognized actors. In general, the one who most agreed fit best was James Marsden as Kennedy.
  • When doing the film adaptation of Educating Rita, producers were really keen on getting Julie Walters to reprise her role from the stage version. But they risked the story being relocated to America with Paul Newman and Dolly Parton in the leads. Julie recalls being called up and told that Michael Caine had been cast as Frank.
    "We've got a star, so we can have you."
  • The Secret Garden (1993) had three unknown child actors in the parts of Mary, Dickon and Colin. Word of God is Maggie Smith - who was enjoying a particularly high profile in America thanks to Hook and Sister Act - was cast as Medlock for this reason.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis was cast in Halloween (1978) precisely because she was the daughter of Janet Leigh - who had starred in Psycho (which Halloween has a few nods to).
  • Marie Antoinette casts lots of people who are children of Hollywood stars - the most notable being Asia Argento (daughter of director Dario Argento) as Madame du Barry.

    Live-Action TV 


  • Leonard Nimoy narrating on the History Channel.
  • The documentary series, Through the Wormhole: With Morgan Freeman.
  • Interesting point about Sir David Attenborough's documentaries. In the UK he is nearly synonymous with good quality and he has been producing, commissioning and writing for natural history documentaries for decades and is widely knowledgable about his subject and a driving force on all his projects (and was knighted for it). Outside the UK, maybe Canada, not so much thus his replacement narrators in other territories tend to be big entertainment names.
    • Life got narration by Oprah Winfrey in the US.
    • Sigourney Weaver, as a more familiar face of conservation work, was brought in on Planet Earth
  • The BBC documentary Frozen Earth got John Hurt.

     Music Videos 
  • Subverted in the casting of Pamela Anderson as the giantess in the Miserable music video. One would think casting the biggest sex symbol of the time in a roll like that would be because the producers wanted to drum up interest in the video. But it was actually the band's idea. Lit actually requested that she be in the video because they were guest starring on an episode of V.I.P. and enjoyed working with her. Her lending the video a little extra clout was just a bonus.

  • When a Broadway show becomes a Long Runner, it's likely to fall victim to a revolving door of stunt casting.
    • Hello, Dolly! went through a rotating series of stars, including Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman. For two years, the entire cast was Race Lifted so that Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway could star as Dolly and Horace.
    • The 1996 revival of Chicago is a notorious example — still running in The New '10s, its longevity is partially due to casting numerous well-known actors and actresses (and, occasionally, rock/pop/country singers) in all three of its principal roles.
  • The '90s revival of Grease was also notorious for this. (Seriously, Rosie O'Donnell as Rizzo?) And it's rare to see a professional production of the show that doesn't stunt cast the One-Scene Wonder Teen Angel, who sings "Beauty School Dropout" (for which the movie got Frankie Avalon and the 2016 FOX production got Boyz II Men).
  • The 2007 Las Vegas staging of The Producers cast David Hasselhoff as Roger De Bris, the Flamboyant Gay director, and gave him top billing. At the same time, this particular production was Recut to only 90 minutes, so to maximize Hasselhoff's stage time, most of the romantic subplot involving Leo and Ulla was cut...which made his betrayal of Max harder to swallow. Later in the run, Tony Danza came in to play Max (he was previously one of Nathan Lane's replacements in the Broadway production).
    • Hasselhoff had previously become a bit infamous for playing the title roles in the musical Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway, and one performance was filmed and released on video and DVD. That production frequently stunt cast the lead role; Sebastian Bach played him for a while as well.
  • Toward the end of its run, the Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera cast Paul Stanley as the Phantom. He was generally well-received and even got some KISS fans interested in musical theatre. While Phantom has generally avoided this, it did bring back Michael Crawford to the role for a brief time on Broadway, Robert Guillame was the first-ever black Phantom in the national touring company, and equally well-known Norm Lewis became the first black actor to play the title role in the Broadway production in 2014.
  • As it's Broadway run wound down, Miss Saigon brought back Lea Salonga, the first actress to play Kim.
  • During its final year on Broadway, Aida cast well known R&B stars in the title role, such as Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox and Michelle Williams. While this usually paid off in singing ability, the acting sometimes left a lot to be desired.
  • Groucho Marx, Eric Idle, and Dudley Moore have all played the role of Ko-Ko in The Mikado, and handled it quite well. It certainly helped that they accomplished Deadpan Snarkers.
  • An English-language recording of the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne on Naxos features Stephen Fry in the speaking part of the Major-Domo.
  • The Broadway adaptation of Disney's Beauty and the Beast initially featured Tom Bosley as Maurice. (While best known for Happy Days and, late in life, infomercials, Bosley previously won a Tony for Fiorello!.) Later in the run, replacement Belles included Debbie Gibson, Toni Braxton, Andrea McArdle (the original Broadway Annie), Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and Christy Carlson Romano. And Donny Osmond did some Playing Against Type as Gaston for a while.
  • Seussical was a Troubled Production and over its brief 198-performance run on Broadway did this several times in a desperate attempt to drum up business — both Rosie O'Donnell and Cathy Rigby (a former Olympian and highly-regarded stage Peter Pan) played The Cat in the Hat even though that's a male character, and country music child star Billy Gillman played Jojo for a time.
  • A 1997 Madison Square Garden production of The Wizard of Oz featured Roseanne Barr as the Wicked Witch of the West! A restaging and subsequent tour the following year featured Eartha Kitt, and later Jo Anne Worley, as the Wicked Witch and Mickey Rooney as the Wizard. When Andrew Lloyd Webber mounted a new stage adaptation of the film in 2011, Michael Crawford played the Professor Marvel/Wizard dual role.
  • Theatre critic Mark Shenton praised the 2013 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in the West End for avoiding this trope with regards to the showy role of Willy Wonka. Instead, the role was originated by Douglas Hodge and after a year, handed off to Alex Jennings — both are highly-regarded English stage actors, but subject to Pop-Culture Isolation by the world at large. The following year, Jennings was succeeded by Jonathan Slinger, who also fits the "high-quality resume/not a big name" pattern.
  • The 2013 Broadway adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella did this in 2014 when it brought in pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen to play the title character and Fran Drescher to play the evil stepmother. Jepsen's successor to the role was Keke Palmer, who also fits this trope for what it's worth.
  • Forbidden Broadway loves to mock this concept, most recently in its 2014 edition by bringing up the aforementioned Cinderella recasting.
  • Sometimes happens with La Cage aux folles with regard to the role of Albin/Zaza — talk show host Graham Norton was a replacement in the 2008 West End revival. After it transferred to Broadway the show's book writer, Harvey Fierstein, played the role for a time (both actors took over from Douglas Hodge). For the follow-up U.S. tour, Fierstein was approached to play Georges, which would have made him the rare actor to have played both lead roles, but he was too busy with other projects.
  • Show Boat:
    • The 1930 St. Louis Municipal Opera production somehow was able to cast W.C. Fields as Captain Andy.
    • The 1994 Broadway revival inflated the role of Parthy and gave it to Elaine Stritch.
  • The 1981 regional production of Pippin that was filmed for television included Chita Rivera as Fastrada and Martha Raye as Berthe.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats has always gone for big names when casting Grizabella, the female lead and star of the show, most recently casting Delta Goodrem, Nicole Scherzinger and Leona Lewis in the role.
  • Sara Bareilles, who wrote the songs for the musical version of Waitress and was nominated for a Tony for her score, spent six weeks starring in the show.
  • Broadway industry gossip in spring 2017 was that Kinky Boots was on its last legs financially with a closing announcement imminent. To tide audiences over until its original stars returned to close the show, Brendon Urie (of Panic! at the Disco, hot off of their biggest album in a decade) was announced to be playing Charlie Price for a limited run that summer. He was sensational, but more importantly, his presence did gangbusters for the show's grosses. The role of Charlie has since been stunt-cast a few more times, with the likes of David Cook from American Idol and Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees. When the show closes in April 2019, it will have run almost a full two years longer than industry gossip theorized.
  • This trope’s backfire led directly to the Broadway closure of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. When Josh Groban left the role of Pierre in July 2017, he was succeeded by Okiriete “Oak” Onaodowan, who was well-regarded coming off his turn in Hamilton but lacked the star power to draw in casual fans. After only six weeks of Onaodowan’s run, the producers announced that he would be replaced by Mandy Patinkin. The Internet Backdraft over the casting shakeup (and the Unfortunate Implications of a black actor in an ostensibly “race-blind” role being abruptly recast with a white one) caused Patinkin to withdraw out of respect for Onaodowan, leaving the show without a long-term plan for Pierre and no ready solution to its poor box office; it ended up folding at the end of the summer.

    Video Games 
  • Exaggerated with the PlayStation game Apocalypse by Activision. The original concept was that Bruce Willis would've voiced an A.I.-controlled partner who assists the player throughout the game. The developers decided to ditch the original protagonist and simply turned Willis' character into the player character with the rationale "why would anyone want to be Bruce Willis' sidekick when they can be the man himself."
  • Kingdom Hearts has its main character voiced by Haley Joel Osment in the English version, with other supporting characters and villains played by people like Billy Zane, Christopher Lee, and Leonard Nimoy.
    • The Final Fantasy cast in the first game, the first time the characters got voiced, has recognisable TV actors and popstars playing them all. The performances range all the way from WTH, Casting Agency? nonsense (Lance Bass is horribly miscast as Sephiroth, but does the best job he can under the circumstances) all the way up to establishing the definitive voice actor for the character (Steve Burton stayed with Cloud even after II recast most of the characters, and plays him in all of his appearances).
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: in addition to its All-Star Cast, preview material hyped Gina Carano as Natasha, Tanya's Soviet counterpart. Carano's appearance amounts to a non-speaking cameo in the Allied campaign and the Natasha unit in the actual gameplay portions is not voiced by her. (Reportedly, this was because she couldn't do a believable enough Russian accent, even by the game's standard.)
  • In a cross between this and What Could Have Been, the game Malice earned considerable attention in the early 2000s because the lead character was going to be voiced by Gwen Stefani, with other members of No Doubt appearing as characters and the band was signed up to provide the soundtrack. The game was planned for a high profile release as an Xbox launch game, but slid further and further into Development Hell. By the time the game was released nearly four years after it was supposed to, Stefani and the band's contributions were scrubbed from the final product, and it was a commercial and critical disappointment. If the game is remembered now, if at all, it's for Stefani's involvement rather than its actual gameplay.
  • In Metal Gear Solid V, Snake is recast with Kiefer Sutherland. Snake barely speaks throughout the game.
  • Death Stranding has the bafflingly gimmicky lead actor pair of Norman Reedus and Lindsay Wagner, whose Serkis Folk recreation allows her to appear as the age she was in The Bionic Woman despite her being in her late 60s. This is because Hideo Kojima is a huge fan of The Bionic Woman and thought that, since he was making his dream project, he might as well just go for broke.