John Lithgow has inhabited some unforgettable science fiction roles over the years. Dr. Lizardo in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. The eccentric alien Dick Solomon in Third Rock from the Sun. Dr. Walter Curnow in one of my favorite movies of all time, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Hell, he even played William Shatner(’s role) in the Twilight Zone movie! But it turns out there was one major genre role that could have been his…if only he didn’t think it was so darn gross.
Speaking to In Magazine, Lithgow revealed that he could have played the role of obsessive scientist Dr. Seth Brundle, which eventually went to Jeff Goldblum. If you recall, Brundle is working on the secrets of teleportation, but when he decides to test the tech himself, he gets his DNA scrambled with that of a fly. What proceeds then is a goopy, bloppy, slimy tour de force of Cronenberg brilliance. At first it all seems good — he’s stronger, his sex drive is up, and so on. But then his deterioration, both mental and physical, begins. Soon his fingernails are falling out, he’s (literally) climbing the walls, and he’s vomiting digestive enzymes on his food — which, at one point, is one dude’s foot. It’s thoroughly gross, and it’s thoroughly Cronenberg. But it was apparently beyond the pale for Lithgow.
Lithgow told In Magazine, “My agent wanted me to do The Fly and I didn’t want to do it. I just finished another project and I was exhausted, and I found it such an icky story. I told my agent I just didn’t want to play something so grotesque.”
Hey, “it’s too icky” isn’t the weirdest excuse I’ve ever heard for not doing a job. (For the record, that was a former friend who’d taken a job stripping but claimed she couldn’t work because she “was sunburned” and no one would tip her.)
It’s interesting to think what Lithgow would have brought to it, but Goldblum did such a good job with it, it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role of Brundle. Along with Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, Brundle is easily one of Goldblum’s defining roles. Well, that and his work as “Verminous Skumm” on Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
It does make for an intriguing exercise in parallel-universe speculation. Is there a timeline out there where Lithgow did sign on for The Fly? And if so, did he go on to play Goldblum’s parts in Jurassic Park and Independence Day? Was it Goldblum seeing gremlins on the wing and trying to murder Dexter? Wait, a minute…they were both in Buckaroo Banzai! HOW DEEP DOES THE RABBIT HOLE GO, PEOPLE?!?