Danny DeVito Originally Wanted Edward Norton For Robin Williams’ Death To Smoochy Role

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Danny DeVito’s 2002 dark comedy “Death to Smoochy” is an odd animal indeed. Caustic, misanthropic, and surreal, “Death to Smoochy” came at the tail end of the peculiar wave of cultural hatred directed at Barney the purple dinosaur (the recent Peacock documentary series “I Love You, You Hate Me” covers that particular chapter in 1990s history). 

“Death to Smoochy” takes place in a world where children’s entertainment hosts are the most watched and venerated position one can hold. The once-successful Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) recently lost his venerated position as the genre’s unchallenged king after accepting bribes and for being a crass alcoholic. Positioned to replace him is Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), aka Smoochy the Rhino, a seemingly honest man who is full of legitimate wonderment and an earnest need to entertain children. The bulk of the film’s comedy stems from Randolph’s attempts to sabotage Smoochy’s show. Eventually, the mob gets involved. 

“Death to Smoochy” was widely hated upon its release, although not for lack of ambition. Roger Ebert, who gave the film a mere one-half star, said that “Only enormously talented people could have made ‘Death to Smoochy.’ Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience.” As with many reviled films of a 20-year vintage, however, “Death to Smoochy” is now being reappraised by certain critics (including /Film’s own Danielle Ryan). 

Williams is wonderfully enraged as Randolph, and Norton balances him well with his feckless innocence. Norton revealed, however — in a 2019 video interview with PeopleTV — that he was initially asked to play Randolph.

‘No. NO! Yes. YES!’

Norton was approached to act in “Smoochy” by a lucky happenstance of geography. In 2001, Norton was in Canada, acting opposite Robert De Niro in Frank Oz’s heist film “The Score.” DeVito, meanwhile, was nearby, performing in David Mamet’s “Heist,” opposite Gene Hackman. Norton recalls receiving the script and loving how misanthropic and dirty it was. It made him laugh. As he tells the story: 

“We were both in Montreal making different heist movies. We were having a drink one night and he said ‘I have this funny script.’ And he sent it to me; he said to look at Rainbow Randolph. He wanted me to look at the Robin Williams part. But I read it, and when we got together for drinks, I said ‘I think Smoochy.’ And he said [a very good Danny DeVito voice] ‘No. NO! Yes. YES!'” 

By Norton’s impersonation, DeVito seemingly had a catharsis in that moment, realizing that Norton would be wonderful in the role. Norton was cast as Sheldon Mopes, and the film was made as audience saw it. 

Norton, 53, also revealed that DeVito, 78, still thinks of him as Smoochy. “He still calls me Sheldon Mopes,” Norton said. “When he writes me, he says ‘Mopes.'” Although “Death to Smoochywas not well-received by critics in 2002, and earned only $8.3 million on a $50 million budget, Norton still seems to have enjoyed working on the picture, and has fond memories of it. 

Read this next: 14 Awesome Comedies That Never Got Sequels

The post Danny DeVito Originally Wanted Edward Norton For Robin Williams’ Death to Smoochy Role appeared first on /Film.

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