1. - Bernard La Jarrige, Pantalaska, France, 1960. “I can’t do that - it’s for Michel, non?” The response of Pierre Mondy and Yves Robert when offered the role of Clergeon. Photographer-turned-realisateur Paul Paviot thought the same. But after making Paviot’s first four films including the Parodie Parade trilogy - and Paviot figured on many more” - the actor simply decided that was enough. He went on to make more than 220 films. And Paviot... 18.
2. - James Mason, Lolita, 1962. French New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard dreamt of filming Vladimir Nabokov’s novel with Piccoli (obviously) as Humbert Humbert and the then top French pop star, Sylvie Vartan, as his downfall. Stanley Kubrick moved faster. Years later, Mason said of Piccoli: “Now there’s a career I would love to have had.”
3. - Michel Auclair, La chance et l’amour (sketch: Une chance explosive), France, 1964. For his second film, the former critic, publicist and Jean-Pierre Melville assistant, Bertrand Tavernier, was too late... Piccoli was already booked for the Charles L Bitsch’s sketch in the same collection: Lucky la chance.
4. - Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierrot le fou, France, 1965. After securing the rights of Lionel White’s pulp fiction, Obsession, bilious realisateur Jean-Luc Godard decided to shoot in English. With Richard Burton opposite Madame Godard, Anna Karina. Reverting to French, he first thought about Michel Piccoli (they made Le mepris in 1962) and pop star Sylvia Vartan before settling on Karina and his A bout de souffle star, Belmondo. (In many ways, Pierrot is a different take on their 1959 breakthrough). The film unfurled at the Venice festival five weeks after shooting ended.
5. - Jean-Pierre Léaud, Masculin Féminin, France-Sweden, 1965. Jean-Luc Godard halted his 21st film the day before shooting started. “Blood pressure,” he said. “Keep the advance,” said producer Anatole Dauman, “until you’re better.” And he was, soon as he dropped the adults, Piccoli and Italian Marilu Tolo, for two youngsters: pop star Goya and the Truffaut find, Léaud, as “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” As locations included Sweden and two of his actors, Ingmar Bergman went to see... “a classic case of Godard: mind-numbingly boring.”
6. - Bruno Cremer, Bye Bye Barbara, France, 1968. He gave up the Machiavellian Hugo Michelli (he could have phoned it in) for the first of his seven films with Italian maestro Marco Fererri - Dillinger è morto/Dillinger Is Dead. 1968.
7. - Alain Cuny, Emmanuelle, France, 1974. Cuny was cheaper.
8. - Donald Sutherland, Fellini’s Casanova, Italy-USA, 1976. Some years earlier, the French Don Juan had been in Federico Fellinji’s sights. Then the project was delayed. And reborn with silly thoughts of Marlon Brando, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino - even Robert Redford!! - before settling for a more parochical venture with, maybe,Alberto Sordi, Gian Maria Volonte or the unknown cabaret performer Tom Deal. Ultimately, it was “Donaldino.” Piccoli also won... he dubbed Sutherland for the French language version!
9. - François Truffaut, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, 1977. Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Lino Ventura - they were well known in casting annals. Piccoli, however, was a secret finally revealed in 2002 by Steven Spielberg, himself, a great admirer of French cinema and actors. “I didn’t want a Frenchman, I wanted Truffaut. J’aime son regard d'enfant.”
10 - Michel Serrault, Malevil, France, 1981. When cineaste Francis Girod planned Robert Merle's nuclear winter drama in 1976.
11 - Jean Claude Brialy, La Nuit de Varennes, France-Italy, 1982. Michel Serrault also refused the role of Marie-Antoinette’s gay, baroque and tragic hairdresser. “He has no dialogue! Pas un mot!” Brialy, who had just directed a tele-film on the same events, was promised there would some by Italian helmer Ettore Scola. Yeah, right, sure ...
12 - Alain Delon, Un Amour de Swann/Swann In Love, France, 1983. Michael Lonsdale was also up for the gay Baron Charlus...aimed at Marlon Brando in the previously scuppered plans of Italian maestro Visconti (Count Don Luchino Visconti Di Modrone)
13 - Raf Vallone, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
14 - Max von Sydow, Time Is Money, France, 1993. “We felt Piccoli had played this kind of role before,” said writer-director Palo Barzman, “so it wouldn't have been interesting for him - or the audience. Or, not as much as von Sydow being very funny.”
15 - Jean-Claude Brialy, La Reine Margot, France, 1993. Piccoli thought the role too short. French stage-screen director Patrice Chereau was not too keen on Brialy but...
16 - John Malkovich, Par-dela les nuages (US: Beyond The Clouds), France-Italy-Germany, 1995. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's comeback after one stroke and 13 years away.
17 - Patrick Bauchau, La Possibilité d'une île/The Possibility of an Island, France, 2008. As The Prophet, Bachau is full of gravitas, sympathy and, said novelist turned realisateur Michel Houellebecq, “sincere spirituality... something pure and naive." However, Houellebecq originally saw the “very ambiguous” Piccoli as the cult leader in the €4.5m sf movie about cloning, religious sects and post-apocalypse life - almost laughed off the screen at the 2008 Locarno festival and labelled ridiculous, catastrophic... with a quite exemplary tedium.