It’s Friday my friends. So let’s kick things off with one final Plutonium related nugget of goodness.
Did you know that Disney tried to get Jack Nicholson and John Lithgow for the role of Hades in Hercules before James Wood accepted it?
Ok, so this might be a stretch. But i figured Pluto is just the Roman name for the Greek god Hades so it still counts. And it was hard to come up with Pluto related topics. I even tried to find something in Sailor Moon to write about but there wasn’t much there. And I don’t think i’ve done a Disney related FOTD. Anyway, let’s start where we always do, Wikipedia.
The casting of Hades proved to be very problematic for Musker and Clements. When DeVito asked the directors who had in mind to play Hades, Musker and Clements responded by saying they hadn’t selected an appropriate actor. In response, DeVito blurted, “Why don’t you ask Jack [Nicholson]?” After DeVito notified Nicholson of the project, the next week, the studio was willing to pay Nicholson $500,000 for the role, but Nicholson demanded roughly a paycheck of $10 to $15 million, plus a 50% cut of all the proceeds from Hades merchandise. Unwilling to share merchandising proceeds with the actor, Disney came back with a counter offer that was significantly less than what Nicholson had asked for. Therefore, Nicholson decided to pass on the project. Disappointed by the lack of Nicholson, Clements and Musker eventually selected John Lithgow as Hades in fall 1994. After nine months of trying to make Lithgow’s portrayal of Hades work, Lithgow was released from the role in August 1995. According to John Musker, Ron Silver, James Coburn, Kevin Spacey, Phil Hartman, and Rod Steiger arrived to the Disney studios to read as Hades. When they invited James Woods to read for the part, the filmmakers were surprised by Woods’s interpretation, and Woods was hired by October 1995.
Sources 9 and 10 led to a website called The Laughing Place, a Disney news site. The links go to archives of articles written by Jim Hill. From what I can tell he is a Disney afficiando and historian. He has his own website and also writes for the Huffington Post...
Jim Hill is an award-winning entertainment writer who lives in New Boston, NH.
Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed hundreds of veterans of the animation & themed entertainment industry and written extensively about The Walt Disney Company.
Jim is currently working on a behind-the-scene history of the development & construction of Disneyland. For his more immediate musings on movies, TV shows, books and theme parks, please check out his blog, jimhillmedia.com and in-depth theme park history podcasts at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.com.
So he seems to be a credible source when it comes to Disney. This is what he said about directors Ron Clements and John Musker’s attempt to hire Jack Nicholson to play Hades. By his account Jack was excited about the role.
But one role eluded them: Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
Who would be cool enough, funny enough, but menacing enough to deliver the goods on this character?
There was really only one obvious choice. But he was so out of Disney’s league, so beyond doing something as piddley-squat as a cartoon, that no one on the Hercules production team even dared to mention his name.
It was only after Danny DeVito was on board the project that his name finally came up. One day, Danny asked who Ron and John had in mind to play Hades. Musker and Clements mumbled under their breath a bit, saying they hadn’t yet come up with the right performer for the job.
DeVito just blurted it out. “Why don’t you ask Jack?”
That’s right. Jack. As in Jack Nicholson.
Wouldn’t Nicholson have made the perfect Hades? The folks at Disney sure thought so. They even had a concept painting put together of Jack playing the role. If you have a copy of Stephen Rebello and Jane Healey’s wonderful making-of book for this film (The Art of Hercules: The Chaos of Creation. 1997. Hyperion Press), you can actually see that very same painting on Page 98. That’s Nicholson - wearing his ever-present sunglasses - as Hades, seated on his throne in Hell.
But the folks at the Mouse were so in awe of Nicholson’s reputation that they hadn’t even dared to approach him about the Hercules project. It was actually DeVito (who had directed as well as co-starred with Jack in 20th Century Fox’s 1992 release, Hoffa) who made the call to Nicholson, asking if he’d be interested in doing a voice for an animated film for Disney.
Would he be? Sure!
The very next week, Nicholson drove up to the Burbank lot. He brought along his daughter, Lorraine, who came dressed as Snow White. (When folks at the Mouse saw how Jack’s little girl was dressed, they took it as a very good sign.) Musker and Clements. along with several other top end Disney executives. gave Jack and his daughter a full tour of the lot. They then took the two of them to lunch at the executive dining room in the Team Disney Building.
After lunch, everyone wandered over to Feature Animation where Ron and John made their pitch. They told Nicholson and his daughter the story of Disney’s Hercules, emphasizing Hades’ central role in the proceedings. Jack was charmed by what he saw and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about taking part in the project.
But there was a hangup. Money.
There was just one slight minor snag.
Putting it simply, Nicholson wanted an obscene amount of money to play Hades. Disney was hoping to sign him for the part for $500,000, maybe as much as $1 million. Nicholson wanted something more along the lines of $10 - $15 million, plus a 50% cut of all the proceeds from Hades merchandise.
This may seem like an outrageous amount to ask for. But - to Jack’s way of thinking - it wasn’t unprecedented. He had asked for - and received - a similar deal from Warner Brothers way back in 1986, when he played the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. Since that film had grossed over $400 million, Warners had more than gotten its investment back in Jack. Plus Nicholson had made an absolute fortune off his share of the Joker merchandise. Some estimate that Jack’s cut of the Batman merchandising bonanza eventually came to $50 million.
Nicholson knew that his star power would add considerably to Hercules box office potential. All that Jack asked was that he adequately compensated for his efforts.
It was a heart-breaking moment for Musker and Clements. They knew that Nicholson really wanted to be in Hercules. They also knew that having Jack as the voice of Hades would do for this film what landing Robin Williams to play the Genie did for Aladdin. That 1992 Disney film went on to gross $217 million domestically - most of that just because people came out to see Williams in cartoon form. Audiences were sure to do the same for Jack which meant thatHercules’ domestic box office potential was almost unimaginable.
But Ron and John also knew that there was no way that Michael Eisner would ever okay giving Nicholson everything he had asked for. Eisner might see his way clear to giving Jack $5 million or so to play Hades. But there was no way the Mouse would share 50% of the profits from the Hades merchandise with Nicholson. That condition was the deal-breaker.
After Disney came back with a counter offer that was significantly less than what he had asked for, Nicholson passed on the project. It was hard to tell who was more disappointed: Musker and Clements, or Jack’s daughter, Lorraine.
I would say this guy was most upset.
But as they say, the show must go on. The quest for the voice of Hades continued.
After getting over their disappointment of losing Nicholson, Ron and John tried to find another Hades. They auditioned a number of actors looking for someone else who could play cool, funny and furious. Eventually, in the fall of 1994, they settled on character actor John Lithgow.
Then best known for his Academy Award-nominated performance as the trans-sexual former football player in 1981’s The World According to Garp, Lithgow was obviously a talent. And he labored mightily in his recording sessions to try and make the character of Hades work.
Personally I would think John would have been more known for his role in the Twilight Zone movie which came out in 1985 but I don’t have anything to back that up but my own gut. Nevertheless, it didn’t work,
But - as Hades’ lead animator Nik Ranieri roughed out sequences using Lithgow’s vocals - the scenes just laid there. There was no real humor or menace to John’s version of the Lord of the Underworld. The character just came across as ... well ... a hammy actor.
After nine months of trying to make Lithgow’s portrayal of Hades to work, Musker and Clements had to face facts. While John was a nice guy and a total professional to work with, he was also the wrong performer for this part. After apologizing profusely (and blaming the failure of Hades on their inadequate script, rather than on Lithgow’s less-than-inspiring performance), Ron and John released John from the project in August 1995.
(One of the great ironies of this whole situation was that Lithgow was let go from Hercules because Musker, Clements and Ranieri felt that John just didn’t have enough comic energy to play the part. Later that year Lithgow’s new sitcom, Third Rock from the Sun, debuted on NBC. In his performance as alien-in-disguise Dick Solomon, John revealed that he has a huge gift for playing comedy. His broad farcical performances even won him two Emmys for Best Actor in a Comedy. Not enough comic energy, eh?)
I have to be honest, I would be curious to see what a Hades voiced by Dick Solomon would look like. But it was not to be.
With Lithgow gone, Musker and Clements are in a real tough spot. With less than 20 months ‘til Hercules due in theaters, the film still doesn’t have a voice for its villain. Things were looking pretty hopeless until someone suggests James Woods.
Best known for his work in edgy dramas like Joseph Waumbaugh’s The Onion Field, Woods may seem like an odd choice to play a cartoon Lord of the Dead. At least, Musker and Clements thought so. But the folks over at Disney’s casting office liked the speed and intelligence James demonstrated during his audition for the role. They asked Ron and John to give the guy a shot.
So that’s how Musker and Clements found themselves in a recording session with James Woods, fumbling for a handle on Hades. James was looking for some sort of direction. So Ron and John explained that the Lord of the underworld was a powerful figure who was charming but ruthless, capable of doing anything he had to to get ahead.
“Sounds like some studio executives I know,” Woods joked.
Voice casting is hard. You need to find the right voice to go with the role. It has to have the right energy, panache, tone and fit with what the director envisions for the character...
Allright, allright, sorry. Anyway, we all know how it worked out. Woods voice is one of the reasons that Hades remains one of Disney’s most popular villains. E Online put him at number 3 behind Cruella DeVill and Ursula.
Yeah i’d be pissed to. But hey, at least the Huffington Post put him.....9th....behind Gaston.....and the step mother from Cinderlla.
Ok well you know what, lists are dumb. We can all agree Hades is cool and James Woods is cool. So there we go. No need for firey death and destruction. We’re all civil here. Now if you’ll excuse me i’m getting out of here before I piss off anymore death gods. I wish everyone a pleasant weekend and I will see you on Monday for another Fact Of The Day.
Fact Of The Day is the daily column where RobGronkowski’sPartyBusDriver shares some random tidbit of science fiction, fantasy or horror knowledge. If there is a show or movie you would like to see done, leave a note in the comments below. You can see the full archive of past columns here.