This week’s news that Kurt Russell may be offered a role in Marvel’s upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is not the first time that the actor has been potentially linked to a popular outer space franchise. Back in January 1976, the actor was just one of many who made it through the audition process all the way to a screen test for a new science-fiction picture from the director of the hit film American Graffiti. The film, we know of course, is Star Wars and we know Russel didn’t get the part. Neither did Robbie Benson, Terri Nunn, Cindy Williams, William Katt or many of the other hopeful actors who auditioned for George Lucas on video tape. Portions of those auditions still survive and we’ve collected a number of them, cleaned them up a bit and are presenting them for your edification here.
There’s a lot of interesting things to note amongst these thirteen clips.
First off, we see Harrison Ford reading opposite many of these hopefuls. Ford, who had appeared in American Graffiti, had not yet been cast as smuggler Han Solo in the film yet and Lucas was fairly adamant that he did not want to reuse anyone who was in his previous film. However, Ford happened to be at the offices of Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zeotrope Films where Lucas was holding these videotaped auditions in his other occupational role of a carpenter, hanging a new office door for Coppola’s casting director Fred Roos. It was Roos who casually suggested to Lucas to let Ford read opposite the auditioning actors, and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
We also see that even though Ford would unintentionally be earning the part of Han Solo on that day, Russell was just one of a number of other actors who were vying for the part. Russell gives a good read and interestingly enough, when he reads with William Katt, Lucas had them swap parts and perform their scene again.
Cindy Williams was just weeks away from the premier of her sitcom Laverne & Shirley, and with production of Star Wars set to begin in March, there might have been a conflict that could have prevented the actress from taking the role of Princess Leia, despite a pretty good read.
At the end of the auditions, Lucas had his choices for the roles of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa narrowed down to two possible groups – Christopher Walken, Will Seltzer and Terri Nunn in one group and Ford, a young soap opera actor that Lucas hadn’t initially been too enthused about and the daughter of an actress friend of Ross’s who Lucas met with as a favor. Needless to say, the roles went to the second group, partly due to the fact that Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were all available for the looming production start date.
As for the other actors who auditioned? They seemed to do all right for themselves with all of them continuing in show business.
Russell went on to have a strong career in film as did potential Leia, Amy Irving. Robbie Benson made his mark with the romantic drama Ice Castles and by supplying the voice of the Beast in Disney’s animated Beauty And The Beast. Frederic Forrest, who appeared in Coppola’s underrated 1974 thriller The Conversation with Ford, would wind up getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1979 for his work in The Rose.
Perry King would go on to star in the action TV series Riptide which would run for three seasons on NBC. He would finally get a chance to play Han Solo when National Public Radio adapted Star Wars, and its two subsequent sequels, into serialized radio dramas. King’s audition partner Charles Martn Smith, another American Graffiti alum, would continue making television appearances and reprise his American Graffiti character for the 1979 sequel More American Graffiti. Will Seltzer would also eventually appear in the non-George Lucas-involved More American Graffiti.
Of the other Princess Leia hopefuls, Cindy Williams had another seven seasons of Laverne & Shirley in front of her while Terri Nunn left acting for a career as a singer, most notably fronting the 80s New Wave band Berlin. Frequently appearing under her stage name of Ann-Marie Martin, Eddie Benton would continue to work in television and film for another decade appearing in the slasher Prom Night and co-starring on the sitcom Sledge Hammer!. Linda Purl remained very active in television, most recently making several guest appearances in the US version of The Office and the short-lived series Reckless. Prior to auditioning for Star Wars, Lisa EIlbacher had spent much of her teen years working in television and career continued on that path afterwards though she also appeared in 1982’s An Officer And A Gentleman and 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop.