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Shaquille O’Neal rejected one of the best Tom Hanks movies, here’s why

It's difficult to imagine basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal in an Oscar-nominated drama, but he nearly showed up in one of the best Tom Hanks movies.

Shaquille O'Neal almost starred in one of the best Tom Hanks movies

Shaquille O’Neal and Tom Hanks don’t necessarily seem like the most obvious co-stars, but one of Hollywood’s best actors very nearly shared the screen with the basketball icon in one of the best Tom Hanks movies.

Hanks played the lead role in The Green Mile, which was based on a Stephen King novel and stands as one of the best ’90s movies based on the horror maestro’s work. It’s a magical realism tale rather than a spookfest, with Hanks at his everyman best playing a corrections officer on Death Row.

It’s there that he meets John Coffey, who has been wrongly accused of rape. Coffey also seems to have magical healing powers. It is this role that Shaquille O’Neal had the opportunity to play.

Speaking on The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast in 2021, O’Neal explained the reasons he said no to the role, which was ultimately played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan.

He said: “I didn’t want to play the down south African-American guy during slavery. I didn’t want to play that role. But the guy who played it, Michael Clarke Duncan, did an excellent job. I think I made the right decision because he did way better than I could have done, but I got offered that role.”

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Duncan got a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars for his sensitive and nuanced portrayal of Coffey. With all due respect to O’Neal, it’s difficult to imagine a non-actor giving so much heft and gravitas to the character.

O’Neal has indeed gone on to have a film career, including several Adam Sandler comedies for Netflix and the ’90s fantasy adventure Kazaam, which is considered one of the worst movies of the period.

For more on Hanks, check out why he almost turned down one of his best movies and the underrated Tom Hanks movie he has loved seeing become a cult classic. We’ve also looked at one of his new movies in our Asteroid City review and interviewed the director of A Man Called Otto about working with Hanks.

Elsewhere, find out more about the best movies on the way in 2023 with our guides to the Wonka release date and the Killers of the Flower Moon release date.