These days, films get made because actors like Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Nicole Kidman sign on to star in them, but just a few short decades ago those same Hollywood A-listers were auditioning (sometimes brilliantly, other times painfully and awkwardly) for parts in films that might mean a big break in their careers (or at least a moderately-sized paycheque in their bank accounts). Now, a trio of anonymous casting directors have handed over a collection of early audition tapes to auctioneers Julien and Martin Nolan of Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills. The tapes feature auditioning actors like the aforementioned four along with Robert Downey Jr., Helen Hunt, and Keanu Reeves.
Today show host Matt Lauer had the Nolans as guests late last week and previewed some of the 54 soon-to-be-auctioned tapes for his audience. The clip revealed a super young Leonardo DiCaprio reading for the part of Ponyboy Curtis in Francis Ford Coppola’s early ’90s TV adaptation of The Outsiders. The part eventually went to Jay R. Ferguson (he’s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s art director, Stan Rizzo on Mad Men these days) but DiCaprio snagged a small role in the series. There’s also a clip of Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Hunt auditioning for the part that eventually went to Laura Dern in Jurassic Park. Hunt is good, but Paltrow acts like she’s trying out for a role in Reality Bites or Singles (or was there a scene cut from JP where Dr. Ellie Sattler is tasked with hunting down the elusive Slackersaurus?).
Paltrow’s bad, but her ex-boyfriend Brad Pitt is even worse in his audition tape for Ron Howard’s Backdraft. Robert Downey Jr. and Keanu Reeves also competed for William Baldwin’s part in the 1991 film—RDJ got three callbacks and read with Howard twice before losing out to Baldwin. Then there’s Nicole Kidman crying on command during her audition for Wolfgang Peterson’s Shattered—she actually got the part (despite struggling to cover up her accent), but ultimately turned it down.
The tapes go on the auction block later this week and are estimated to sell for anywhere between $2000 and $10,000 (plus the cost of a VCR).