Actors Who Were Almost Cast In Star Trek: The Next Generation

It must be hard to cast actors for nearly any show. So much of a character's reception hinges on an actor, leading to a lot of fuss at the outset of a show as you try to balance the needs of the series, the requests from showrunners, and more, all while imagining how future fans will interpret the casting.

Surely, that was doubly hard for the folks who were casting the lead roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation. When its first episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," first aired on Sept. 26, 1987 (via IMDb), TNG was already being compared to its predecessor, the original Star Trek series.

It all worked out in the end, with Vulture even calling TNG the "platonic ideal of the Star Trek ethos." Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played by Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, now consistently ranks as the top Star Trek captain in fan polls like the one conducted by SyFy that had over 50,000 respondents.

Yet, even the smallest casting decision could have changed everything. Stewart very nearly missed the chance to join the Star Trek team, for one. And other central characters, from the android Data to ship's counselor Deanna Troi, once were going to be played by completely different people. As it turns out, quite a few actors were almost cast in Star Trek: The Next Generation, making for an interesting alternate-universe take on a beloved sci-fi show.

Edward James Olmos was almost the captain of the Enterprise

Edward James Olmos is one of those actors that you just can't escape. As per IMDb, he's appeared in everything from 1982's Blade Runner, to 1997's Selina, to the modern prestige television revival of Battlestar Galactica. Chances are pretty good that, at some point in your film and television-watching career, you've come across his face once or twice.

Yet, Olmos once stood to have even more of a presence in the world of sci-fi television as the 1980s drew to a close. According to the The Los Angeles Times, Olmos recalled that showrunners had called him and offered to give him the lead role of the captain of the Enterprise. Yet, he wasn't interested. This wasn't too long after Olmos' turn in Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction classic, Blade Runner. "Science fiction wasn't really where I wanted to be," Olmos said, though he would eventually return to the genre with his role as Adm. William Adama on 2003's Battlestar Galactica.

How would the role of Jean-Luc Picard have been different with Olmos in the captain's chair? Thanks to his work on Battlestar, he probably would have brought plenty of gravitas to the role, though one imagines that he may not have been as much of a philosopher king-type as Picard was when he was interpreted by Patrick Stewart.

Jean-Luc Picard's role might have also gone to Yaphet Kotto

Yaphet Kotto also turned down the role of Jean-Luc Picard, though he was on the short list for the studio, as evidenced by a 1987 Paramount memo (via Trek Movie). This was no easy decision for Kotto, who had already appeared in Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror film, Alien, and as a villain in the 1973 James Bond film, Live and Let Die. He later came to regret the move. As he told The Big Issue, "I think I made some wrong decisions in my life, man. I should have done that but I walked away." 

If he had actually gone for the role, this would have been a truly groundbreaking step for Star Trek and much of primetime TV, even in the 1980s and 1990s. Picard, as played by Kotto, would have been the first Black lead on Star Trek. This would have happened years before Avery Brooks actually did so on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which premiered on Jan. 3, 1993, as Star Trek reports. Kotto, who drew attention for saying that James Bond shouldn't be played by Black actors in his interview with The Big Issue, nevertheless said that Black actors should play a wide variety of characters and clearly would have relished commanding the Enterprise on the Paramount Studios lot.

Rosalind Chao was a favorite to play Tasha Yar

Star Trek fans may know Rosalind Chao best for her turn as Keiko O'Brien, botanist and wife of engineering chief and perpetually downtrodden Starfleet enlisted officer Miles O'Brien. She first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, according to IMDb, but both her role and that of Miles (played by Colm Meaney) were expanded when they joined the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Yet, if things had gone only slightly different way back in 1987, Chao could have been playing a very different character. According to the 1987 Paramount casting memo revealed by Trek Movie, Chao was described as a "favorite" for the role of security chief Tasha Yar.

It certainly would have meant more work for Chao, since, as ScreenRant reports, Keiko O'Brien didn't appear until season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation. While it's hard to speculate how, exactly, Chao would have changed the role, there's a chance that she would have stuck around longer than Denise Crosby, who was ultimately selected to play the part of Yar. After Crosby decided she wanted to leave the show, her character was abruptly killed off in the first season. Chao would have also been the only Asian-American member of the main cast.

Marina Sirtis could have been a Star Trek security chief

Though she wasn't included anywhere on the 1987 casting memo reported on by Trek Movie, British-American actress Marina Sirtis was amongst the group of people who tried out for the role of security chief Tasha Yar. Except, when Sirtis made it to the final group, the character wasn't named Tasha at all.

Instead, according to The Next Generation Companion, the character that would eventually become Yar was then named "Macha Hernandez." Sirtis, who had only been in the United States for five months, read for the role in auditions, with Denise Crosby reading as counselor Deanna Troi. Showrunners liked both of them, but creator Gene Roddenberry decided that the two actors should switch roles. Sirtis, who they believed had "exotic" looks, was deemed a better fit for the slightly alien Troi.

Things did not move quickly, however, or at least not from the actors' perspective. Sirtis waited while showrunners dithered on the exact casting, with her nearly leaving the country before they told her she had finally secured the role of Troi.

Denise Crosby was all set to be the Enterprise's counselor

If both Marina Sirtis and Rosalind Chao were once favorites to play Tasha Yar as the head of security, then what was going on with Denise Crosby? She was still in the mix, at least in terms of casting, but was initially going to take over another role on the Enterprise.

As the 1987 casting memo via Trek Movie plainly stated, Crosby was pretty much "the only possibility" for the role of Deanna Troi, ship's counselor. Though it may seem strange for Star Trek fans who are now so used to Sirtis playing the typically soft-spoken, measured Troi, who was so often outfitted in ultra-tight jumpsuits, the character would have originally been very different.

Forgotten Trek reports that Troi was originally going to be very "Spock-like," in Crosby's words. The counselor would have been a more detached character with, one assumes, a pretty logical way of addressing the ship personnel's various problems. Perhaps, in some other universe, there's a cool, almost creepy Troi sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise, while Sirtis was busy decking hostile foes as the security chief.

Since Crosby was going to play the security chief after Roddenberry's decision, the character was changed from the Latina "Macha Hernandez" to "Tasha Yar," a blonde with Ukranian heritage, as The Next Generation Companion reports.

Reggie Jackson almost popped up in Star Trek engineering

Before he began regularly appearing on TV and movie screens, baseball great Reggie Jackson was set to audition for the role of engineering chief Geordi La Forge. Yes, really, according to the 1987 casting memo circulated at Paramount in the lead-up to Star Trek: The Next Generation (via Trek Movie). True, the role of La Forge was clearly undecided at this point, as it had a few more contenders than that of any of the other characters listed in the memo. Still, it would have been interesting to see Jackson star in a long-term series, rather than one-off appearances in films and shows like The Naked Gun, Richie Rich, Diff'rent Strokes, and The Love Boat, as IMDb reports.

Jackson clearly was interested in some sort of role in front of the camera, then. So, why didn't he apparently push harder for the role of La Forge? While he hasn't spoken about his personal inclinations regarding the show, a look at the timing of his career contains a hint. As Yahoo News pointed out, by the time Jackson was in the running for a role on Star Trek: TNG, he was also in the middle of baseball season. Though this would prove to be his last baseball season, it might have been difficult for the legendary "Mr. October" to abruptly step away from his life on the baseball diamond.

Tom Hanks nearly made it into a Star Trek movie

Yes, even America's Dad is, by all accounts, a pretty dedicated Trekkie. As Patrick Stewart told Entertainment Weekly in 1994, Tom Hanks himself ran into the British actor, who was then well known for playing Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise. Hanks told Stewart that he even watches the credits of every episode and, in Stewart's words, "knows the name of every Trek character, past, present, and I think future." In the midst of what sounds a lot like a fan gushing about his favorite show was this admission — Hanks really, really wanted to be on an episode of Star Trek.

Even half-hearted fans of the sci-fi franchise can probably guess that Hanks still hasn't made it in the world of Star Trek, though. Yet, he got close. Futurism reports that Hanks nearly secured the role of starship pioneer Zephram Cochrane in the film Star Trek: First Contact, which featured the TNG crew. Unfortunately, he was too busy directing his first movie, That Thing You Do! With Hanks out of the picture, James Cromwell of Babe fame stepped in as Cochrane, the flawed inventor of the warp drive.

Data could have been played by Freddy Kreuger

In the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data is very often a fan favorite. The hyper-intelligent, ultra-capable android gets away from his admittedly creepy look (come on, white skin with yellow eyes and slicked-back hair isn't exactly soothing) by constantly striving towards finding his version of humanity. It's a compelling, deeply affecting character arc that's made all the stronger by actor Brent Spiner's interpretation of the simultaneously hopeful and emotionless android.

But, what if Spiner never made it past the auditions. What if, instead, Data was played by none other than Freddy Kreuger?

Though it may seem surpassingly strange, it's true. Robert Englund, the American actor who's now best known for his turn as Freddy Keruger in the Nightmare on Elm Street film series, really was in the running to become Data. At least, as ScreenRant reports, Englund took part in the auditions for that character. It's not clear why Englund didn't make the cut. Perhaps producers were worried about the visual presented by someone who was so deeply linked to a scary horror franchise, though you wonder if Englund himself wanted to break out of that pernicious horror movie typecasting.

Eric Menyuk may have become Data if only Patrick Stewart wasn't bald

Eric Menyuk may not exactly be a household name, but Star Trek fans likely know that he would eventually appear in TNG as the "Traveler," the mysterious and reality-transcending alien who eventually did us all a solid and spirited Wesley Crusher away from our reality. Then again, a slight change could have made all the difference for the nascent show. According to Trek Movie, Menyuk was apparently the front runner to play Data.

As ScreenRant reports, Data was originally going to be bald. That was just fine for Menyuk, who was clearly losing his hair by the late 1980s, when casting for TNG was underway. Then, Patrick Stewart was cast as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. While people were no doubt enthusiastic about Stewart's acting pedigree, it was clear that he, too, had precious little hair left on top of his head. This presented a visual problem, apparently, as producers realized that it may have looked strange to have two nearly bald characters. Thus, Brent Spiner and his full head of hair were cast in Menyuk's place.

While it's not totally confirmed, it's very possible that Menyuk got the boot because of his hair. As he said in an interview with Star Trek, his agent told him that the show's producers were balking on the very issue of his hair. "I like to think that if only Patrick Stewart had hair, I could have been Data," he said.

Geordi La Forge was almost played by Wesley Snipes

Before he was Blade, to may have made his mark in the Enterprise's engineering section as yet another contender for the role of chief engineer Geordi La Forge, according to the 1987 casting memo (via Trek Movie).

LeVar Burton, who actually got the role, later confirmed via Twitter that Snipes really was in consideration. In the same Tweet, he also said that the possibility of baseball player Reggie Jackson playing La Forge was also very real. And, with respects paid to Burton's interpretation of the character, is it possible that Snipes' La Forge would have been pretty cool? Of course, this may be influenced by his later work in the Blade film series as a super-cool, leather-clad vampire hunter, complete with practically iconic sunglasses. 

Then again, maybe audiences needed a Geordi La Forge the way LeVar Burton played him — as a loveable, competent nerd whose foibles (like creating a creepy holodeck mimic of a fellow engineer in "Booby Trap" and "Galaxy's Child") made for interesting, if occasionally cringy, television.

One Star Trek role was written for Robin Williams

Many Star Trek fans naturally dream of appearing in an episode of the series or one of its accompanying films. Of course, when you're famous or at least well-connected, you might be able to achieve this dream. Look at Mae Jemison, former NASA astronaut and first Black woman in space, who also happens to be a big Trekkie herself. Per Smithsonian Magazine, she has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo on Star Trek: The Next Generation's season six episode, "Second Chances." She got the role once LeVar Burton, the episode's director, learned of her love for the franchise.

Then again, being a vocal superfan is no guarantee that you'll land a spot. Robin Williams, another Star Trek fan, nearly landed a guest spot on TNG himself but had to step away at the last minute. According to Screen Rant, he was set to play Berlinghoff Rasmussen, a wily time traveling conman in season five's "A Matter of Time." Though the role was reportedly written for him, Williams had to pass because he had already promised to star as Peter Pan in Hook.

Jeffrey Combs didn't make it as Riker but still made an impression

Jeffrey Combs was one of the group who auditioned for the role of Cmdr. William Riker, the second-in-command of the Enterprise. Though he did not make it past that process and into the regular cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Combs made such an impression that he was bound to return as a guest not just in the subsequent series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but in two more series and a Star Trek video game for a total of nine characters.

As Combs himself told 1428 Elm, he grew up as a fan of the original Star Trek series, though his dad often told young Combs to turn it off. When, as an adult, his agents told Combs that they'd gotten him an audition for the rebooted series, he balked. "I told them that I wasn't right for it," he said. 

"I might as well not have gone because it didn't matter," he said, but that's not quite the case. He went on to audition for Deep Space Nine. On his third audition, he caught the eye of one episode director — Jonathan Frakes. As fans likely already know, Frakes was the one who was ultimately cast as Riker. With that in mind, Combs was able to establish himself in the series. According to Screen Rant, he's played nine characters, including a recurring role as a series of villainous clones on Deep Space Nine.