Most actors struggle for years, pounding the pavement, going on audition after audition hoping to get their big break. These actors, however, were offered more than
one part at the same time…and had to choose.
In the 1992-93 TV season, Aniston starred on a short-lived sketch comedy show on Fox called The Edge. Not very many people watched the show (it was cancelled after 18 episodes), but producers at Saturday Night Live must have. Aniston was asked to audition for that show, and she was asked to join the cast for the 1994-95 season. Aniston turned them down, feeling that the pilot she’d just shot for an NBC sitcom called Friends had some promise.
When the networks were casting shows for the 1978 TV season, former I Dream of Jeannie Star Larry Hagman was offered roles in two very different shows. The first part: Joe Casey, a former basketball star who takes a job teaching high school history on the sitcom The Waverly Wonders. The other part: J.R. Ewing, the evil head of a powerful oil business family in Dallas. Hagman couldn’t decide—but his wife thought Dallas sounded better, so he took that one. Good move. Dallas ran for 14 seasons (three of those it was the #1 show on TV), became a pop culture phenomenon with the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger, and earned Hagman two Emmy nominations. The Waverly Wonders went on to star Joe Namath…and was cancelled after just five episodes.
Mullally was a little-known character actress in 1998, racking up one-time guest appearances on dozens of TV sitcoms and dramas. Then her luck changed. She auditioned for two new comedies: as the boozy Karen Walker on Will and Grace, and as the tough Carrie Heffernan on The King of Queens. And then she won both roles. Mullally went with The King of Queens, but then changed her mind at the last minute and went with Will and Grace. Mullally won two Emmys co-starring on that show, which ran until 2006. The King of Queens did just fine with Leah Remini starring instead, as it also wrapped up an eight-year run in 2006.
This one comes from the world of theater, but it involves a big TV star. Before Orbach starred as Harry McGraw on Murder, She Wrote, or as Det. Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, he was a Broadway actor. As an up-and-coming actor in 1960, 25-year-old Orbach was simultaneously offered two roles in two different stage productions. The first was in a big-budget Broadway play called Lock Up Your Daughters, an adaptation of an 18th century Henry Fielding novel that had been a hit on the London stage. The other was The Fantasticks, a small, six-character, romantic musical being staged in a tiny, off-Broadway theater. Orbach was offered the part of “El Gallo,” the narrator, at a rate of $45 a week (about $350 in today’s money). Lock Up Your Daughters, on the other hand, paid $250 a week (the equivalent of $1915). Orbach chose The Fantastics. He later told a reporter he just “liked it,” although he “thought it would close in a week.” He was very wrong about that—The Fantasticks ran until 2002. That’s 42 years, or 17,162 performances, making it the longest-running musical in world history. As for Orbach, The Fantasticks made him a Broadway star, leading to starring roles in hits like Chicago, 42nd Street, and Promises, Promises.