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Woody Harrelson lost an amazing role and it’s all John Grisham’s fault

John Grisham reluctantly allowed his novels to become thriller movies, with some caveats, and Woody Harrelson wound falling prey to some creative control.

Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers and Mathew McConaughey in A Time To Kill

You win some, you lose some, and in one instance in the ’90s, Woody Harrelson lost one opportunity through little merit of his own. John Grisham proved a roadblock the former Cheers star couldn’t overcome when it came to an exciting adaptation.

Woody Harrelson, according to a report from Variety, was up for a new movie. It was called A Time To Kill, and was based on Grisham’s book. Harrelson was going to play the lead, a young hotshot lawyer in Mississippi for what would be one of the best drama movies of the decade. Then becoming a major star, Harrelson made some of the best movies of the era, like Natural Born Killers and White Men Can’t Jump.

According to the report, Harrelson was trying to move around the schedule of Larry Flynt Vs. The People to make A Time To Kill, such was his passion for the picture. He got a little ahead of himself because Grisham had “unprecedented” creative control and vetoed Harrelson’s involvement, causing a fallout with director Joel Schumacher.

Apparently, the filmmaker considered leaving over the frustrating turn of events, since this left them without a leading man all of a sudden. Thankfully, everything worked out, because a young Matthew McConaughey was drafted in, and everyone was happy.

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Lo, one of the best thriller movies came to pass, and A Time To Kill went on to be a massive success for all involved. The story follows an attorney defending a Black man who kills his daughters rapists against a predominantly white community, jury, and court system. McConaughey joined Sandra Bullock, Samuel L Jackson, and Donald Sutherland in the cast, so there was good company all around.

If you’re wondering how Grisham was able to make sure his opinion mattered so much, he managed to negotiate an incredible deal for the rights to his book, his debut, because he was so reluctant to sell them. Variety notes this probably sent warning signals to other studios about casting approvals.

Have a look at our lists of the best thriller series and best drama series if you’d like more grounded storytelling. Likewise, we have guides to Yellowstone season 5 part 2 and Reacher season 2.