Both Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal turned down the lead in Avatar

Matt Damon attends Invictus premiere

James Cameron helped make big stars out of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and he’s doing the same for Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. Things might have turned out much differently for the two relatively unknown stars of Avatar if a big name had signed on. The LA Times reports that both Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal were originally offered the role of Jake Sully in the highest grossing movie of all time, Avatar. Cameron confirmed that both actors turned down he part, but said that he “had my heart set on Sam [Worthington].” Worthington was living in his car before he landed the role in Avatar, and now his prospects are definitely looking up.

“Avatar” director James Cameron spoke to both Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal about playing the role of Jake Sully in the sci-fi epic that now stands as the biggest moneymaker in the history of Hollywood with $2.5 billion in worldwide box office.

Both stars, perhaps leery of a blue-in-the-face gig, declined, and the filmmaker instead went with his first choice — unknown Aussie actor Sam Worthington, who was living in his car before he got the job. Cameron said he offered the role to the big-name stars only to placate the studio chiefs at Fox, who wanted a bankable star to offset some of the risks of the expensive project.

“I don’t think they ever had a problem with the CG, “ Cameron said. “Honestly, did I go out and try to woo them? No. I had my heart set on Sam. Maybe they sensed my lack of 100% commitment from me. Maybe it was the subject matter. This was a big ‘Star Wars’-type movie. They’re both serious actors.”

[From LA Times, via Cinematical, Fark]

I don’t think Avatar would have been the same without Worthington, although either Damon or Gyllenhaal would have played the hell out of that role. They’re both extraordinary actors who could have easily conveyed the nuance and depth necessary for the character. Avatar isn’t a film that required a big name to carry it, although Sigourney Weaver was incredible. (Apart from the smoking, but that wasn’t her fault!)

I’m in the states now and my local Walmart is playing a really fascinating “making of” segment with footage of Avatar being filmed. Whenever I’m in the store and it’s playing in the TV section I stop and watch it. The actors have on dark costumes and little blue dots on their face to capture the facial expressions for the CGI work. When they’re hanging out of airplanes they’re on minimal metal frames with fans blowing on them. Otherwise they’re working in a nearly empty set, which makes the resulting world, and all the very real emotions of the Navii, all the more impressive.

In other news about my imaginary husband, Matt Damon has been attached to play the late great Robert F. Kennedy in a biopic. It will be some time before it starts filming, as the script is being penned now and Damon has to read it before he signs on. In terms of his other projects, I know Damon isn’t about to do Bourne again given all the complications and his comments on the matter. The next film is likely to be a prequel played by someone else. I’m still disappointed, though, and hope that the fourth movie gets made with Damon. Bourne is the best action hero by far and no one can play him but Damon.

Thanks to Cinematical for the image below!


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27 Responses to “Both Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal turned down the lead in Avatar”

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  1. bite me says:

    excuse me but Zoe was no relatively unknown

  2. Kelly-Michelle says:

    I hated Avatar! Very disney. The savior/scammer knew what he was doing all along. Innocent people were killed, oh well. At least Jake fell in love and got a new body.

  3. Ursula says:

    I don’t see the leads in those in those roles would have pulled it off if their acting chops were half way decent. That movie was about the visuals. Funny but I didn’t like it. I may be the only one who failed to see the hype.

  4. PJ says:

    CB, I have never been in a Wal-Mart and never will be. Are you aware of how badly they treat their employees, and how they have basically destroyed small “Main Street” types of businesses wherever they go? The owners of Wal-Mart are the richest family in America, if not the entire world, and they treat their employees like 18th century masters treated their slaves. It’s unconscionable.

  5. Maleficent says:

    Gee Kelly, it was a movie. Innocent people are killed daily IRL. Are you angry about that?

  6. Toe says:

    The role of Jake Sully is not much to brag about. No wonder they both turned down the role. The movie wasn’t about acting, it was about special effects. Avatar was ok, but not how people put it on a pedestal.

  7. Jazz says:

    Avatar is one of those movies where it makes no difference who is in it. People aren’t exactly going to see it for the acting skills.

  8. Maleficent says:

    I dare say Prince of Persia will be replete with special effects, and not so much about acting.

  9. danielle says:

    Yeah, I’m not surprised they turned it down either. They don’t need a blockbuster like that to up their profile, and that movie wasn’t really about the acting. It was ok, but I wouldn’t see it twice. I found the plot to be thin.

  10. Celebitchy says:

    @PJ I hear you and I don’t like Walmart either, but there is almost nowhere else to shop where I am. It’s also cheaper than the local grocery store. (For the reasons you cited basically.) You have given me food for thought though and I will try not to shop there.

  11. grace says:

    I have heard the same from people who worked there. I am also really into avoiding people/places that disrespect others, therefore, I don’t shop at Wallmart, I don’t go to circus with animals, I am not watching the winter Olympiads (because of the seals slaughter competition), I don’t eat MCdonalds, and I wouldn’t watch a movie or buy a song from someone who reported disrespect others. I cannot change the world, but I can refuse to support the things I don’t like.

  12. Alarmjaguar says:

    Thanks PJ, I’m with you on Walmart and thanks Celebitchy for being thoughtful (esp because as you point out, these days there aren’t many options in a lot of places and people are stretching their money as far as they can, but it is a vicious cycle.)!

  13. ButterQueen says:

    I am glad Matt Damon turned it down. The movie would have ended after 15 minutes after his character meets an average looking Avatar bartender w/ one kid and then settling down. EVEN MORE BORING! 😀

  14. Erin says:

    Ursula, I thought it was terrible too. The story was awful, plot ridiculously drawn out, and Wall-E already did the same story, but way better and less trite. DUH humans have already destroyed the planet and DUH we shouldn’t impose our rule on other cultures. This movie was a joke and I’m glad both these esteemed actors had nothing to do with it!

  15. SammyHammy says:

    Avatar was an EXCELLENT movie and I’m glad that neither of them took the lead role-I just don’t think it would have been as good with either of them. especially Gyllenhall. Ugh. Now, Damon as RFK? I think that is great casting.

  16. Essie says:

    I enjoyed “Avatar” but my sister fell asleep!! I understand what Cameron means when he said he only approached two big name stars for the lead because the studio was antsy. Cameron never hires big stars for his movies because he likes to “make” stars. It’s an ego thing with him. At any rate, “Avatar” did not need a big star because it was all about the special effects.

    Does anybody remember that Sam Worthington was dumped as the lead in “The Tourist”? He and Charlize Theron were cast for the leads a couple of years ago but the producers couldn’t get backing with them. It sat in limbo until, first Charlize was dumped and Angelina signed on; then Johnny Depp was shown the script and Worthington was dumped and Depp was signed. I guess if “Avatar” had been released a few months before it was, Worthington would have kept the part . . . or not!! He’s still not Johnny Depp hot!!

  17. Katyusha says:

    @ Grace

    Are you serious about seal slaughter being an olympic sport?
    I’m going to assume you were being sarcastic.

  18. gem says:

    you have a problem with smoking, but not with walmart. um. ok.

  19. Scarlet Vixen says:


    Um…what are you talking about?? Seal slaughter in the Olympics? Haven’t seen that event yet…

    I understand your point, but do you live under a rock? If you don’t do all those things-plus I’m assuming about a million more-what do you do/buy/eat/etc?

  20. Jules says:

    Smart move, that film was CRAP.

  21. Obvious says:

    @GRace, seal slaughter at the olympics? i’ve never heard that. not once. many of the countries competing are against things like that anyway, there is no way it is a n olympic event, at least no in this day and age.

    and my friend works at walmart and loves it. she says if you want a play who treats their employees like crap try cvs.

  22. Gymo says:

    I think Avatar was far more than you give it credit for.
    1. it was a story of conservation.
    2. It was a love story.
    3. It was a story of tolerance
    4. It was a story of technology.
    5. It was a story about the potential wonders of the Universe.
    Plus, How cool was it that they developed a language for the movie?
    All in all it was a smart movie, and I’d see it again, plan to buy the DVD.

  23. Codzilla says:

    Grace, the much-maligned (and rightfully so) Canadian seal hunt is totally separate from the Olympics. What, did you think they fit the seal slaughter event in between the speed skating and the Super G? 🙄

  24. Dorothy says:

    I am not a fan of Wal-mart (i much prefer Target) but my sister-in-law lives in a small crap ass town in central NY and she works there and is lucky to have a job earning a decent salary. She likes her job and has been promoted often.

  25. Emily says:

    I haven’t seen Avatar, unlike approximately 5,999, 990 other people. I have however seen it compared to Pocahontas… Avatar might have the pretty CG, but Pocahontas has the better music.

  26. yae says:

    I loved Avatar.

    My son is a deep, gifted child who has warm feelings about the planet as a living biosphere.

    He wept while watching the movie. It was wonderful to see him so moved and touched by it.

  27. Gemma says:

    Money would be good, but Avatar is about 3D, silly blue people and lame story so Matt and Jake should not be sorry.