Actors who left a role after a disturbing incident

Actors act. Being in front of the camera is their livelihood, so when they quit a potentially lucrative role, you know it has to be serious. In a 2020 interview with Vanity FairMacGyver star Lucas Till revealed the abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of showrunner Peter Lenkov.

"I've never worked this hard in my life, and I am fine with hard work," Till said. "But the way Peter treats people is just unacceptable. I was suicidal that first year on the show, because of the way he made me feel. But the way he's treated the people around me — that's just my breaking point." Fortunately, Lenkov was fired and Till was able to remain on the show without having to quit a role he loves.

However, some actors reach their breaking point and decide to walk away. Whether it be racism, an emergency hospitalization, or tragic death, here are a few actors who quit a role after a disturbing incident.

Thandie Newton quit because of a racist studio head

In a 2020 interview with Vulture, Thandie Newton revealed that she turned down the Charlie's Angels remake after a disturbing encounter with the film's director and former Sony studio head Amy Pascal. The Westworld star recalled a meeting with the director who explained the first shot of the movie as, "You're going to think it's like yellow lines down a road, and you pull back and you realize it's the stitching because the denim is so tight on your a** it's going to look like tarmac." She knew immediately the role wasn't for her. 

She then described her meeting with Pascal who said the "educated" character Newton was set to play needed to be rewritten "to make sure that it's believable." Pascal's suggestion for the Cambridge-educated actress? "Maybe there could be a scene where you're in a bar and she gets up on a table and starts shaking her booty." Yikes.

"She's basically reeling off these stereotypes of how to be more convincing as a Black character," Newton said. "Everything she said, I was like, 'Nah, I wouldn't do that.' She's like, 'Yeah, but you're different. You're different.'" Newton then inferred Pascal's infamous downfall as a result of the 2014 Sony email hacks, which exposed, among many other things, Pascal's racially insensitive jokes and remarks in private emails to colleagues. "That's not really a surprise, is it?" Newton said, adding, "Let's face it: I didn't do the movie as a result."

Rick Moranis disappeared after a tragedy

Strange Brew. Ghostbusters. Spaceballs. Little Shop of Horrors. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. If you grew up in the '80s, Rick Moranis played a significant role in your childhood. But three years after starring 1994's blockbuster The Flintstones, Moranis unexpectedly left not just a single role, but all of them when he retired from the business to be a single father of two small children after his wife died of breast cancer.

"I took a break, which turned into a longer break," he said in a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "But I'm interested in anything that I would find interesting. I still get the occasional query about a film or television role and as soon as one comes along that piques my interest, I'll probably do it." He added, "Stuff happens to people all the time, and people make adjustments, change careers, move to another city. Really, that's all I did."

Did he ever second-guess his decision? Absolutely not. "I was working with really interesting people, wonderful people," he said, adding, "I went from that to being at home with a couple of little kids, which is a very different lifestyle. But it was important to me. I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever. My life is wonderful."

In February 2020, Deadline broke the news that Moranis would be breaking his long hiatus to join Disney's Shrunk, the long-awaited follow-up to the 80's and 90's classics. 

Scarlett Johansson was no match for the backlash

In 2018, Scarlett Johansson was tapped to play a transgender man in Rub & Tug, a biopic about Dante "Tex" Gill, "who succeeded in Pittsburgh's 1970s and 1980s massage parlor and prostitution business by assuming the identity of a man" (via The Hollywood Reporter). The casting choice faced immediate backlash from the LGBTQ community, including trans actress and Transparent star Trace Lysette. "So you can continue to play us but we can't play y'all? Hollywood is so f****d... I wouldn't be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that's not the case. A mess," she tweeted.

Let's just say Johansson didn't handle the criticism well. Her rep provided a statement to Bustle straight from Johansson's mouth: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment." Those three people, of course, are cisgender actors who played trans roles.

Eventually, Johansson withdrew from the role amidst the backlash. "In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project," she said in a statement to Out Magazine. "Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I've learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive."

Was Kel O'Neill scared of Daniel Day-Lewis?

Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, widely hailed as a cinematic masterpiece, helped Daniel Day-Lewis earn the Oscar for Best Actor at the 2007 Academy Awards. Paul Dano plays two roles in the film, Eli and Paul Sunday, and according to The New York Times Magazine, he replaced Kel O'Neill (who was originally cast as Eli) 60 days into the shoot. 

The reason? The publication reported that "the first actor suffered from intimidation," and Day-Lewis stated the production was "struggling" before O'Neill was replaced. "It just wasn't the right fit," Anderson told the outlet, which did not name O'Neill. According to Vulture, this led people to believe O'Neill "freaked out" on set having to deal with Lewis and quit.

Sharing with Vulture his side of the story, O'Neill explained how he didn't have a "super positive" relationship with Anderson that would have brought out his "best work." He admitted it was his fault, saying, "An actor should, with every ounce of their humanity, be attempting to give the director what he or she wants. And I recall going in and out on whether I could really do that." He then squashed any notion that Lewis made the set difficult, and revealed that he'd actually been fired. But he also felt that "this was a critical juncture in my life and if there were any goals that I had been sublimating to pursue acting, I had to go after those." The story, from O'Neill's perspective, begs the question: Did he actually want to be fired? 

Buddy Ebsen's tragic trip down the yellow brick road

Buddy Ebsen will forever be known as patriarch J.D "Jed" Clampett in the iconic sitcom The Beverly Hillbilliesbut he lost the chance to portray another classic character, because the role almost took his life. That character? The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.

According to ThoughtCo., Ebsen was hired for the role, but in the 1930s special effects makeup wasn't what it is today. So they decided to paint his face white — and cover it in "aluminum dust." Nine days into the shoot, Ebsen started having difficulties breathing and was eventually rushed to the hospital where his lungs failed after an allergic reaction to the toxic combo. 

During his hospitalization, Ebsen was replaced with actor Jake Haley, who had the luxury of a makeup team who finally figured out how to bring the Tin Man to life. Now that's a tough break. "I think Buddy Ebsen was bitter all his life that he didn't get to be in this great motion picture classic," Washington Post television critic Tom Shales said (via CBS News).

Charlie Sheen forced the hand of the network

In 2011, Charlie Sheen was the highest-paid actor on television on the highest-rated show, CBS' Two and a Half Men. That same year he was fired. "After careful consideration, Warner Bros. Television has terminated Charlie Sheen's services on Two and a Half Men effective immediately," Warner Bros. Television said in a statement (via Reuters). After calling the show's co-creator and producer Chuck Lorre a "stupid, stupid little man" and a "clown," the season was canceled. 

Attorneys for Warner Bros. explained Sheen's firing in a letter saying the actor "has been engaged in dangerously self-destructive conduct and appears to be very ill." They also revealed Sheen was very problematic and unprofessional on set and made "comments poisoning key working relationships," and stated Sheen was "endangering his life" with his drug and alcohol abuse. For those that need a reminder, this was all amid Sheen's disturbing pornstar-and-drug-fueled downward spiral, or #winning period, as he so often liked to refer to it. So technically, Sheen didn't quit, but he seemingly did everything in his power to get fired.

How did he respond to the news? In the most Sheen way. "It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge because now I can take all of the bazillions, never have to look at whatshisc**k again and I never have to put on those silly shirts for as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension," he said in a statement. 

Dave Chappelle's bad reaction

Before the third season of his highly-rated (and quoted) sketch show Chappelle's Show was set to air in 2005, Dave Chappelle stunned his fans and the industry when he abruptly left the production, fled to South Africa, and turned down $50 million from the network. 

A few weeks later, the legendary comedian told Time his reasons for walking away. "My personal feeling is I didn't like the direction of the show. I was trying to explain it to people, and no one was feeling me. There's a lot of resistance to my opinions, so I decided, 'Let me remove myself from this situation,'" he said, adding, "You hear so many voices jockeying for position in your mind that you want to make sure that you hear your own voice. So I figured, 'Let me just cut myself off from everybody.'"

But a specific incident sealed his decisions to leave. While filming a sketch where he played a black pixie who "wears blackface and tries to convince blacks to act in stereotypical ways," a white man in the audience laughed way too loud and made Chapelle second guess whether or not he was reinforcing stereotypes. "When he laughed, it made me uncomfortable," says Chappelle. "As a matter of fact, that was the last thing I shot before I told myself I gotta take f*** time out after this. Because my head almost exploded.

Leonardo DiCaprio walked away from Mel Gibson

Fresh off Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio was set to star in an untitled Viking-epic helmed by Mel Gibson. To say DiCaprio was ecstatic about the project would be an understatement. "I always wanted to do a Viking movie...I'm a big history buff, and I don't think there's been a really fantastic Viking movie ever made," he told MTV News at the time, adding, "Those were some of the most barbaric people ever in history."

The selling point of the movie for DiCaprio was Mel Gibson. "I'd love to see Mel Gibson's version of that, because certainly with Apocalypto and some of the other films he's made, he's been able to transport me back in time unlike very many filmmakers have been able to," he said. Less than a month later, DiCaprio dropped out after Gibson's former partner Oksana Grigorieva accused the director of domestic violence. A source close to the actor told Radar Online, "Leo has earned the right to pick and choose who he works with and Mel Gibson is not one of them."

But the dream of an ultra-violent Viking film didn't die when DiCaprio walked. When Gibson signed with CAA in 2017, Deadline reported that the project — now titled Berserker — was still "atop that list" of projects he had in development at the time.