‘Schindler’s List’: Mel Gibson Could Have Starred In Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust Drama

Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” swept at the Oscars 30 years ago next month, and to mark the anniversary, THR has put together a very impressive and comprehensive oral history about the film, its Oscar campaign, and much more. The article has tons of little tidbits— famous director Billy Wilder desperate to make ‘Schindler’ as his last film (Spielberg was weeks away from shooting, it was too late), and then a casting what-if with Mel Gibson that seems rather shocking in hindsight.

Yep, Gibson was one of the many A-list actors of the time chasing the role.

READ MORE: Steven Spielberg Says Robin Williams Helped Him Through The Trauma Of Filming ‘Schindler’s List’

“Mel Gibson’s name came up. He was interested. His agent put him forward,” Forrmer CAA co-founder Michael Ovitz told The Hollywood Reporter in their 30th anniversary cover story. “But it wasn’t going to happen. Steven wanted a non-movie star for the part.”

“Schindler’s List” came out late in 1993, so this would have presumably been some time in 92—“Schindler’s List” came together extremely fast, and Spielberg shot in March 93. Liam Neeson was cast in December ’92, so Gibson would have been coming off the “Lethal Weapon” films and, specifically, “Lethal Weapon 3,” but had yet to come to Oscar glory with “Braveheart” in 1994.

Either way, given Gibson’s controversies over the years, especially some of the anti-Semitic comments he made over the years, one shudders to think of the prospect in retrospect (not to mention his father was an extremist who engaged in Holocaust denial commentary often in his lifetime).

Liam Neeson said after he tested for the part, he heard many names that were up for the lead role and then started to lose hope for the part.

“I heard Harrison Ford’s name. [Kevin] Costner’s name. The Australian actor Jack Thompson — I thought, “Oh, yeah, Jack looks very like Schindler.” I looked nothing like Schindler. Anyway, it was always in the back of my head, but I wasn’t holding out huge hope,” Neeson said.

As for confirming some of those names, Spielberg promised them he wouldn’t, so he would not confirm or deny.

“A lot of people were interested in playing Schindler, and a lot of them were movie stars, and to all of them, I promised never to divulge any of their history with me, so I’m not saying those names are accurate,” the filmmaker said. “I’m saying there were a number of people, even more than the names you gave me.”

In the article, Spielberg reiterates some of his stories about the late Robin Williams calling him during production to lift his spirits and make him laugh, and also calls Jonathan Glazer‘s 2024 Oscar contender “The Zone of Interest” the “best Holocaust movie I’ve witnessed since my own.”

Definitely read the entire THR piece, as it’s fascinating and full of compelling stories.