Holy Crap: Mark Spitz Was Almost Cast In The Richard Dreyfuss Role In ‘Jaws’
Imagine the movie Jaws -- the first real action blockbuster and one of the greatest films of all time -- with swimmer Mark Spitz in the role of Matt Hooper instead of the guy who eventually got the part, Richard Dreyfuss.
In other words, imagine Jaws if it totally sucked.
Many forget that until Michael Phelps came along, Spitz ruled the water like Aquaman. He won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, setting world records in all of his races -- and took nine golds overall (winning two in the 1968 Games). Then he retired, even though he was only 22. He immediately signed with the William Morris Agency, which was determined to make him a movie star.
The problem was that he wasn't much of an actor. Other than appearances on late-night talk shows and a few TV guest roles, that career never materialized. But he came close. According to Spitz, he almost won a top supporting role in Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975). Spitz, to Today's Natalie Morales:
"I went to Universal Studios and met some guy that was in a small, little office for a part that was in a movie that was kinda like this action movie," Spitz, 66, said. "The guy was Steven Spielberg and the movie was 'Jaws.'"
Spitz, who had been taking acting lessons, said he read and screen tested for the part that ultimately went to Richard Dreyfuss.
But ultimately someone decided that Spitz was just too famous as an Olympic swimmer, and that it would be too distracting. Spielberg and Universal eventually hired Dreyfuss, but had to rewrite the character because Dreyfuss couldn't swim well.
But it was a real Great White Shark which rewrote the biggest portion.
Spitz: "I was going to get eaten. But [Dreyfuss] didn't get eaten."
In the original script, Dreyfuss' character gets eaten. But the unit which was filming real sharks in Australia for use in the movie lucked into some great footage of a shark attacking a shark cage underwater. The problem was that the stunt double had not yet entered the cage. So they rewrote the script to show Dreyfuss escaping the cage and hiding out behind a rock.
Jaws is one of my favorite movies and I know a lot about it, but I never knew about Spitz. The movie came out of nowhere to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. Productions problems were legendary -- Spielberg was fired multiple times, the mechanical shark rarely worked, etc. You can learn more about the movie by watching the documentary about the making of the movie, Jaws: The Inside Story.
I can't imagine Spitz delivering the line: "I'm not going to argue with someone who's lining up to be a hot lunch," and I'm glad I didn't have to.
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