Woody Harrelson Turned Down Tom Cruise’s Best Role

Woody Harrelson turned down a role in Jerry Maguire, and the part eventually went to Tom Cruise

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

woody harrelson

Woody Harrelson is a genuine Hollywood legend, and a has achieved that status by acting in one iconic role after another. Obviously, he’s good at picking great roles for himself (and great at speaking his mind), but that doesn’t mean the easygoing actor never makes mistakes. In fact, during an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Woody Harrelson says he turned down the chance to play Tom Cruise’s role in Jerry Maguire, a decision which Harrelson admits “was a blunder.”

Interestingly, Woody Harrelson had regrets about turning down the role only two days later when he heard that Tom Cruise had taken the offer. While Cruise wasn’t quite the megastar then that he is now, he had already headlined some spectacular movies, including Risky Business, Top Gun, Rain Man, and A Few Good Men. Hearing that such an accomplished actor immediately pounced on the Jerry Maguire role left the characteristically-blunt Harrelson thinking “Oh, I might have f****d that up.”

tom cruise golden globes

By the time Jerry Maguire was being shopped around, Woody Harrelson didn’t have the same caliber of a film career that Tom Cruise did. While Harrelson had appeared in the controversial cult hit Natural Born Killers and a few other roles, he was at that time still mostly known as a television actor due to his many years on the popular show Cheers.

However, we like to imagine that his regrets about Jerry Maguire passed fairly quickly: that movie came out in 1996, which was the same year that Harrelson headlined Kingpin and The People vs. Larry Flynt, two of his most popular and successful movies.

It’s entirely possible that if Woody Harrelson had played Jerry Maguire instead of Tom Cruise, the two of them might have very different film careers by now. For example, Harrelson has made a career out of playing an array of quirky and diverse characters while Tom Cruise has perfected the art of bringing stoic, charming badasses to life in franchises like Mission Impossible and Top Gun.

It’s possible that Harrelson’s career could have looked a lot more like Cruise’s career if he had starred in Jerry Maguire, but there were other factors potentially holding him back.

For example, Harrelson speaks candidly in the interview about his advocacy for marijuana legalization. He first started speaking up about this matter over 25 years ago, and he believes that his frequent and open support for cannabis actually held back his career.

Compared to Woody Harrelson, Tom Cruise is much better at keeping his personal beliefs to himself, and the only thing that really threatened this Hollywood maverick’s career was that strange incident where he kept jumping on Oprah’s couch.

Still, considering that both Woody Harrelson and Tom Cruise enjoyed immense success as actors both before and after Jerry Maguire, we doubt Harrelson has too many lingering regrets. And the fact that Harrelson has a whopping seven upcoming film and television projects is proof that neither passing on good scripts nor puff-puff-passing the good word about marijuana has seriously hindered his career.

At this point, hardcore Harrelson fans only have one big hope for his career, and that’s to see him reprise his famous Cheers role on the upcoming Frasier revival.