Shaquille O’Neal has done many things in his career. The Hall-of-Fame basketball player has been a rapper, video game voice, producer, honorary U.S. Deputy Marshal, advertising pitchman, professional wrestler, investor, developer, business owner, and spokesperson.
And of course, he’s also done plenty of acting. After making his debut in Blue Chips, O’Neal would go on to star in Kazaam and Steel, neither of which were received all that well. For the most part, he’s spent his career doing cameos, voice acting, and commercials. However, according to O’Neal, he almost had a chance to star in a role that would end up netting its actor an Academy Award nomination.
The four-time NBA champion was a guest on Wednesday’s episode of The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast with Andrew Marchand and John Ourand. He was asked if he’d ever turned down any major movie roles and O’Neal said that if he’d wanted it, Michael Clarke Duncan’s role in The Green Mile could have been his instead.
“That was my role in Green Mile. I turned it down,” said O’Neal.
“I didn’t want to play the down-South African American guy during slavery. I didn’t want to play that role. But the guy who played it, Michael Clarke Duncan, did an excellent job. I think I made the right decision because he did way better than I could have done, but I got offered that role.”
In The Green Mile, based on the Stephen King book of the same name, John Coffey is an imposing black man in the 1930s wrongly convicted of murder who is sent to a prison where he displays magical powers. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Michael Clarke Duncan was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2000 Academy Awards.
All due respect to Shaq, who is a fun studio host and certainly knows how to make his big personality work in various ways, but it’s hard to imagine that he would have been able to provide the same level of gravitas to John Coffey that Duncan did. O’Neal is many things but a great actor is not one of them, and while his size certainly would have fit the role, that alone wouldn’t have been enough to make the part work.
It’s also worth noting that there may or may not be more to the story. While it has been documented elsewhere that O’Neal was considered for the role, it has been said that director Frank Darabont was the one who decided against it, not Shaq (Darabont talks about casting the role here). Short of other people coming forward, however, we’ll have to take Shaq’s word for it for now.