The casting process for “Jurassic Park” was a meticulous endeavor that spanned approximately twelve weeks, according to Janet Hirshenson, the film’s casting director. Without a finalized script at hand, Hirshenson drew from the source material—the novel by Michael Crichton—to conceptualize the characters and assemble a list of prospective actors for each of the major roles.
The Jurassic Park we know and love might have looked quite different with these actors at the helm. As we celebrate its 30th anniversary, we can’t help but marvel at these unearthed casting ‘what-ifs’ that would have taken us on a whole different prehistoric adventure!
For the character of Alan Grant, the child-averse paleontologist who becomes a reluctant parental figure amidst the chaos, Sam Neill was ultimately chosen for his ability to perfectly encapsulate the role. However, the path to his casting was not straightforward. Spielberg initially wanted Harrison Ford for the role of Alan Grant.
This surprising revelation was shared by Spielberg himself during a Q&A session following the 30th Anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Responding to Ford’s playful jab that he was only ever hired to play Indiana Jones, Spielberg retorted, “Do you know who I offered Jurassic Park to? This guy. Alan Grant, I first offered to this guy.” The reasons behind Ford’s decision to turn down the role remain undisclosed.
Laura Dern was picked for the role of Ellie Sattler, the heart and skeptic of the group, thanks to her willingness to embrace the character’s active, grounded nature.
Dern, who had previously auditioned for Ferris Bueller, was a familiar face to Hirshenson and enjoyed the support of producer Kathleen Kennedy. Given the significant budget allocation for the creation of the dinosaurs, Dern accepted the role despite the comparatively lower remuneration.
For the role of the eccentric Ian Malcolm, Hirshenson’s first choice was Jeff Goldblum, who brought a unique brand of quirk to the character. Interestingly, comedic actor Jim Carrey also auditioned for the role.
While Carrey’s audition was long and enthusiastic, his approach was more comedic, in line with his characteristic style. Despite Carrey’s impressive audition, Goldblum’s dry, peculiar charm made him the ultimate choice.
The casting of the children, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello), was based on specific traits, such as Lex’s scream and Joey’s prior experience in films.
The supporting characters were a blend of talented actors who each brought their unique flair to the project. Wayne Knight’s addition was a quick decision given his humorous role in Seinfeld, while Samuel Jackson, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, and BD Wong were all chosen for their distinctive appeal.
Casting what ifs
Janet Hirshenson, the film’s casting director, reveals some dino-sized secrets about the actors who were almost part of this blockbuster movie.
Harrison Ford as Dr. Alan Grant
Spielberg originally offered the role of Alan Grant to the Indiana Jones star. Harrison Ford, however, turned down the part. Janet Hirschenson mused, “Imagine Ford uncovering dinosaur fossils. That could’ve been an interesting twist!”
Sean Connery as John Hammond
Spielberg offered the role to Connery, with whom he’d previously worked. However, the James Bond star turned down the part. It could have been intriguing to see Connery’s take on the park’s visionary founder.
Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Alan Grant
Dreyfuss, a Spielberg favorite, was also considered for the role. It’s tantalizing to wonder how Dreyfuss would have brought his signature style to the part of Dr. Grant.
Jim Carrey as Dr. Ian Malcolm
Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that Carrey auditioned for the role of Ian Malcolm. “Carrey’s audition was terrific,” Hirshenson shares. “But when Jeff Goldblum walked in with his unique style, we knew he was the one.”
Kurt Russell as Dr. Alan Grant
Already a star in the 70s, Russell was another strong contender for the role of Alan Grant. Unfortunately, negotiations about pay didn’t reach an agreement.
Robin Wright as Dr. Ellie Sattler
Wright was offered the role of Dr. Ellie Sattler. “Robin Wright was considered,” says Hirschenson, “But the role was destined for Laura Dern.”
William Hurt as Dr. Alan Grant
This role was also offered to Hurt, known for his portrayal of the MCU’s General Ross. Hurt, however, felt that Jurassic Park wasn’t the kind of movie he wanted to make at that time.
Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ellie Sattler
The role was offered to Binoche as well, but she had to decline due to prior commitments. Imagine the French actress dodging dinosaurs!
Christina Ricci as Lex Murphy
Ricci was considered for the role of Lex Murphy, but the part ultimately went to Ariana Richards. “Christina would have been a fantastic Lex,” notes Hirschenson, “but Ariana’s scream stole the show!”
Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ellie Sattler
Sandra Bullock was considered for the role, which would have given her an entirely different breakout moment than Speed.