We always hear about cinematic near misses. Like Tom Cruise nearly being Edward Scissorhands, Will Smith saying no to Neo, or Leonardo DiCaprio deciding not to be in American Psycho. Perhaps one of the cruellest cuts though is Helen Mirren missing out on a role in one of the best comedy movies ever, Shaun of the Dead.
According to Clark Collis and documented in his fantastic book ‘You’ve Got Red on You’, Mirren was actually offered a role in the film. Neither of the film’s writers, Simon Pegg or Edgar Wright, planned on offering her a role, but the production company, Working Title, funding the zombie movie were concerned about the film’s perceived lack of star power and pressuring the two to “cast up” and attach a name to the project.
Working Title executives wanted Mirren to play Barbara (Shaun’s mum), a part Wright and Pegg had written with Penelope Wilton in mind. When Wilton turned the role down, Mirren was sent the script, which she absolutely. There was just one problem she wanted to play Ed, the role reserved for Nick Frost.
Collis writes in his book that Mirren said: “I’m passing on the role of Barbara, I would only do the movie if I got to play Ed.” Why? She thought he was the funniest part of the movie.
According to Collis Frost actually thinks Mirren would have been great as Ed, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, Wright and Pegg reached out once again to Wilton -taking her for afternoon tea – and convinced her that she should play Shaun’s lovely mum.
Clearly, their charm offensive worked, and the rest is history. If you love Shaun of the Dead, check out our guide on the best rom-coms.