Steven Spielberg rejected Mel Gibson for lead in Oscar-winning film and went with no-name actor instead

Thirty years after sweeping the Oscars, Michael Ovitz, who played a pivotal role in making the iconic film Schindler’s List, participated in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter revealing a little known secret about the film’s lead role.

Keep reading to find out more.

According to Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, Mel Gibson expressed interest in playing the lead role in Schindler’s List.

But it wasn’t as simple as casting Gibson as Oskar Schindler.

Gibson’s name was just one of many considered for the role.


“I heard Harrison Ford’s name. Costner’s name. The Australian actor Jack Thompson — I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, Jack looks very like Schindler’” Liam Neeson, who would eventually be cast as Schindler told The Hollywood Reporter.

“A lot of people were interested in playing Schindler, and a lot of them were movie stars, and to all of them I promised never to divulge any of their history with me, so I’m not saying those names are accurate,” Spielberg said. “I’m saying there were a number of people, even more than the names you gave me.”

Ovitz said Gibson’s chances were nonexistent because Spielberg was interested in a “non-movie star for the part.”

It wasn’t until Spielberg, his wife, and mother-in-law saw Neeson in Anna Christie on Broadway that he knew Neeson had to be the lead.

“After the show, we went to meet him backstage. Kate’s mom, who was uncensored, looked at Liam and almost burst into tears. She just adored him in that performance.”


“Kate kept elbowing me in the side. ‘That’s him! That’s him!’”

“The mythological story is, Kate said to Steven when they were driving home, ‘That’s just what Schindler would have done, was give my mother a hug!’” Neeson said.

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 5: Liam Neeson attends Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial To The Holocaust Generation To Generation Gala Dinner at Museum of Jewish Heritage on December 5, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Schindler’s list went on to earn 12 Oscar nominations, winning seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Neeson was nominated for Best Actor.

In 2006, Gibson faced controversy when he yelled an anti-Semitic slur at a police officer while he was under arrest for a DUI. He later apologized saying, “I acted like a person completely out of control … and said things I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed.”

Did Steven Spielberg make the right choice? Let us know your thoughts!



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