Clint Eastwood starred in some of the best westerns to ever hit the big screen and has gone down as one of the best cinematic gunslingers, period. The legendary actor rose to international fame after being cast in Sergio Leone’s iconic Dollars Trilogy in the 1960s as the mysterious character dubbed The Man With No Name. However, despite receiving his big break as a spaghetti western anti-hero, Eastwood turned down the shot to be Leone’s leading man for a fourth time.
Eastwood famously worked with Leone on the thriller movies, A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The trilogy starring Eastwood as a charming but morally dubious hero would go down as a massive success for the genre, and saw both the actor and director thrown into the limelight.
However, the two never collaborated on a fourth movie. After the Dollars Trilogy, Paramount hired Leone to direct Once Upon a Time in the West, which saw Henry Fonda play a villain. Eastwood was apparently approached to play opposite Fonda as the flick’s protagonist Harmonica. However, he ultimately turned down the gig.
According to The Clint Eastwood Westerns by film historian James L. Neibaur (via Screenrant), the star met with Leone to discuss the role, but “was turned off by Leone’s lengthy explanation of the character and how the movie was going to introduce him.”
Leone biographer Christopher Frayling, has also said in the past that Eastwood wasn’t pleased with how his character got less screentime than co-star Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Eastwood was ready to move onto the next stage of his career.
The role of Harmonica went to Charles Bronson, and Once Upon a Time in The West went down as an all-time favourite for many western fans. Eastwood would go on to thrive in the genre starring in action movies such as Hang ‘em High – but ultimately, he left spaghetti westerns behind.