In 1989, a then-15-year-old aspiring actor named Leonardo DiCaprio walked into an audition for a new TV show. He nailed it, obviously, but was eventually turned down because the star of the series thought Leo was too old for the role. The series? Baywatch. The star? David Hasselhoff. And the role? The Hoff’s son, Hobie Buchannon, which eventually went to then-nine-year-old Jeremy Jackson.
“We actually had DiCaprio ready to be cast,” producer Michael Berk told The Hollywood Reporter. “But David thought he was too old to play his son.”
Producer Douglas Schwartz added, “David thought it would make him look older. He had a lot of concerns of that type.”
Leo didn’t let that get him down, obviously. He went on to do a few TV roles (Growing Pains, the first attempt of Parenthood) before being cast opposite Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life. Not too shabby, right? But he followed that up with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which earned DiCaprio his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Come to think of it, it’s a little surprising that Leo didn’t thank Hoff in his Oscar speech this year, because who knows what would’ve happened had he been cast as Hobie.
Would he still be the same Leo we know now? Probably not. International fame of that level — a very different level than the ac-TOR level Leo knows — might’ve jaded him from the business entirely. Had he gotten the Baywatch gig, he might not have had the same opportunities to shine. Jeremy Jackson stayed on Baywatch for nearly a decade. Had Leo been cast, we would’ve missed out on The Basketball Diaries, Romeo + Juliet and a little movie called Titanic.
Hobie Buchannon isn’t the first role for which DiCaprio auditioned without success. Others include Robin in Batman Forever (which went to Chris O’Donnell and led to the much-maligned sequel Batman and Robin), the title role in Spider-Man (the 2002 film that his pal Tobey Maguire got instead) and Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (a role that went to Hayden Christensen).
Yeah, we think Leo turned out all right.