Hollywood is rife with tales of “what might have been.” Tom Selleck originally landed the role of Indiana Jones but had to bow out due to Magnum P.I. Sean Connery passed on the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson‘s LORD OF THE RINGS. Will Smith and Sandra Bullock almost played Neo in The Matrix while Val Kilmer once circled the role of Morpheus. Hell, Tom Cruise almost got the part of Tony Stark that eventually went to Robert Downey Jr. There’s even an alternative universe where John Travolta played Forrest Gump.
When it comes to major tentpole films the process can be arduous, grueling, and prolonged. Just look at how long it took for Matt Reeves to cast Robert Pattinson as Batman. A film that’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make just can’t afford to get it wrong. If the audiences don’t buy a certain actor or actress in a vital role, the decision can cost a studio millions at the box office. When it comes to storied franchises like STAR WARS, that fact gets turned up to eleven.
UNDERWATER and Iron Fist star Jessica Henwick knows this first hand. Although the part of Rey in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS eventually went to Daisy Ridley, Henwick came within a lightsaber stroke of winning the role. And this was no mere read-for-the-part-and-get-a-thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down situation either. Henwick’s audition went on for an anxiety inducing six month span. While Henwick lost out on Rey, director J.J. Abrams loved the actress so much he wrote the small part of Jess Pava specifically for her. Nevertheless, Henwick said losing out on Rey took an emotional toll:
“Oh my God, dude. That was f*&king six months. That was a long one. I was auditioning for a different character, actually, so I spent six months auditioning for that character. And then, at the end, J.J. said, ‘I want you to be in the film, but I want to write a character for you.’ That’s how Jess Pava was created. So, it was a very, very long experience. It’s hard because I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you go in, audition, put it to the back of your mind, don’t think about it and don’t get emotionally invested. But, after six months, you can’t help but just desperately want it. I’m also such a big J.J. fan. So, I was a mess at the end of those six months.”
Man I can’t even imagine getting so close to the role and just missing out. It makes me think of Burt Lancaster as “Moonlight” Graham in FIELD OF DREAMS saying, “It was like getting this close to your dreams and having them brush right past your face.” Regardless, it seems as though Henwick understands that this is the nature of the business and like the Ironborn in Game of Thrones, when you go through the crucible of failure you rise again harder and stronger.
Henwick certainly didn’t cry in her blue milk after losing the part. The actress went on to play Colleen Wing in Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and The Defenders. In addition, she’s got a whopping four films coming out this year including MONSTER PROBLEMS, ON THE ROCKS, and GODZILLA VS. KONG. Oh and she just got cast in a little indie film – THE MATRIX 4. I’d say things are working out just fine for the Surrey, England native.