It’s hard to believe, but Leonardo DiCaprio nearly played one of cinema’s most famous virgins in a classic Disney film.
The spooky season is currently in full swing, as evidenced by the constantly repeated airings of “Hocus Pocus” on basic cable. The 1993 film is now a beloved cult classic, with fans still flocking to midnight movie screenings, tribute concerts and even “Hocus Pocus”-inspired drag brunch performances after all these years.
The movie has since become so synonymous with Halloween that it’s almost unthinkable to imagine any other actors in the movie’s main roles, but of course, that’s exactly what the filmmakers were envisioning during production.
When developing the film, producer and story originator David Kirschner said he was picturing a completely different actress for the role of Winifred Sanderson, ultimately played by Bette Midler in the finished film.
“The first person that I really wanted for Winifred Sanderson was Cloris Leachman,” Kirschner said during a panel discussion in honor of the film’s 25th anniversary. “And that was the first person, because I was so in love with her from the Mel Brooks films, from ‘Young Frankenstein,’ especially.”
Kirschner didn’t say whether Leachman, also known for her roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Last Picture Show,” was ever officially offered the role. It’s much more well documented, however, that the role of Max Dennison, played in the film by Omri Katz, could have easily gone to Leonardo DiCaprio if he’d wanted it.
“Hocus Pocus” director Kenny Ortega, in an interview with D23 in 2018, said he met with Leonardo DiCaprio at the insistence of a couple of casting agents during pre-production. But everyone — Ortega, the casting agents and DiCaprio — already knew that the young actor would very likely pass on the role as he was already up for parts in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “This Boy’s Life.”
Nevertheless, Ortega met with DiCaprio and wanted him for the role. But by the end of the meeting, DiCaprio politely made it clear that his head was “somewhere else,” Ortega said.
DiCaprio himself once commented on his decision to turn down “Hocus Pocus” in an interview with Variety, saying Disney made it difficult by offering him “more money than I ever dreamed of.”
“I don’t know where the hell I got the nerve,” DiCaprio told the outlet in 2014. “You live in an environment where you’re influenced by people telling you to make a lot of money and strike while the iron’s hot. But if there’s one thing I’m very proud of, it’s being a young man who was sticking to my guns.”
Ortega has since said he was thrilled to get Omri Katz to play Max.
“Omri was just so in his shoes,” Ortega said. “So down to earth. So honest. His acting is invisible. So I was really grateful to get to work with him. I must say that.”
As for some of the film’s other iconic roles, it’s been widely reported that Rosie O’Donnell was offered the role of Mary Sanderson before it went to Kathy Najimy, but she turned it down because she worried the character was too dark. Rumors also persist that Jennifer Lopez auditioned for Sarah Jessica Parker’s role of Sarah Sanderson, though it’s unclear if there’s much truth to the claim.
In any case, the filmmakers — like the fans — are frightfully happy with how the cast came together.
“I think the Sanderson sisters are so perfectly cast,” said Mick Garris, one of the film’s writers, during a 25th anniversary event that aired on Freeform in 2018. “[They’re] like a supernatural Three Stooges. In drag.”