There are some roles that stick to actors all through their careers, no matter what other parts they go on to play. Today Tom Hanks may be playing Mr. Rogers and Robert Langdon, but for many generations of fans, the actor will always be known as Forrest Gump. As it turns out, another one of Hanks’ iconic roles, the lead character in the 1988 movie Big, almost went to Robert De Niro, as the film’s female lead Elizabeth Perkins recently revealed.

“Yes, Robert De Niro was actually cast in the role of Josh in the movie ‘Big. It fell apart because he had a scheduling conflict, and then they went to Tom Hanks. It’s like a totally different movie in my brain with Robert De Niro.”

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Big tells the story of a young kid who makes a wish to become a grown-up, and is changed into an adult overnight. Tom Hanks played the adult version of the character, a literal man-child who tries to adjust to his mature appearance while still having the heart of a naive teenager.

The movie was a huge box-office success and was one of Hanks’ first box-office hits that established him as a reliable leading man. The idea of De Niro in place of Hanks playing the part of a boy stuck in a man’s body is strange, to say the least. Although we would have dearly loved to have seen De Niro perform the movie’s rap song or dance duet across the giant electric keyboard.

However, those whimsical elements were probably added into the script after De Niro left the project and Hanks was brought on board in his stead. According to Perkins, De Niro’s interpretation of the lead character would have been darker, and in fact, the family-friendly comedy was originally meant to have a more “horror” vibe to it.

“[De Niro] was more moody. It was more of a – a little more of a horror movie. Robert De Niro wandering around the streets of New York. What Tom Hanks brought to it was so much lighter.”

While movies where the lead character changes bodies are generally filmed as comedies, last year’s Freaky, which involved a serial killer swapping bodies with a high-school teen, shows just how well the concept also lends itself to the horror genre. So a darker Big starring Robert De Niro does sound like it could have been interesting.

It is believed that De Niro, who had been doing heavily dramatic roles for many years, wanted to try something different, which is what led to him pursuing the lead role in Big. Still, while audiences never got to see De Niro’s version of Big, the actor did manage to dip his toes in the comedy genre the same year with the release of Midnight Run, where De Niro played the role of bounty hunter Jack Walsh. Meanwhile, Hanks was able to use the opportunity afforded to him by De Niro’s exit to make the lead role in Big his own, kickstarting a film career that has gone from strength to strength ever since.

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