Small Talk: Casting A Dead Poets Teacher

Reading a Robin Williams biography by Dave Itzkoff (it’s so-so…really it’s hard to capture Robin’s dynamic energy on a still page) and I’m at Dead Poets Society casting. For the role of John Keating the teacher…

Initially producers reached out to Dustin Hoffman…which would be weird but it’d work (he did good as Lisa Simpson’s teacher). Hoffman hadda decide between Poets and…Rain Man with this popular Hollywood cool guy Tom Cruise. He of course went with Rain Man and won an Oscar for his work (“Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded.”)

After Dustin producers considered:
Alec Baldwin…that’s not bad, it could work

Liam Neeson…oh hell no. That’s awful.

Christopher Reeve…oh I dunno…I can’t see that. Maybe?

Eventually the producers settled on Robin Williams. (Who got nominated for an Oscar along with Morgan Freeman – Driving Miss Daisy, Tom Cruise – Born on the Fourth of July, Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot who of course won. (“Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full retard, went home empty-handed.”)

The other alternative universe casting was in Awakenings where Robert De Niro was offered the choice of the doctor or the catatonic Leonard.


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