Back in the late ’90s, there were a number of actresses up for what would eventually become the iconic role of Marla Singer in David Fincher’s Fight Club. In addition to Helena Bonham Carter — who snagged the part — Winona Ryder, Courtney Love, and Reese Witherspoon were also up for the role. In fact, the studio wanted Witherspoon, but she declined the offer because the role was “too dark,” so it fell to Helena Bonham Carter.
However, months before Helena Bonham Carter was in the picture, apparently director David Fincher offered the role to Janeane Garofalo, according to Garofalo herself, speaking to Ricky Camilleri on Yahoo’s live Interview show, BUILD.
There was, in fact, a period in the ’90s where Garofalo was coming off of a number of notable hits, including Reality Bites, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, and Copland, plus several movies that would go on to become cult hits, like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, The Matchmaker, and Mystery Men. During this period of her career, according to Garofalo, Fincher offered her the role of Marla Singer, and she accepted the role. “Then, some time went by,” and her agent saw in the trades that Helena Bonham Carter had been cast. “So, I called Fincher and I asked, ‘Are you allowed to do that?’ And he said, ‘Apparently.’”
As Garofalo tells it in the interview, Edward Norton — who was co-producing the movie — “didn’t think that I had the chops for it,” and he “may or may not have been correct,” but “nobody told me.” She said that she asked if she could audition for the role anyway, and was told that Norton wanted his girlfriend at the time, Courtney Love, to play the role, but “Brad Pitt wasn’t going to sign off on that,” and so they ended up with Bonham Carter.
There is a nice post-script to the story, however. “A few years later,” Garofalo continued. “Brad Pitt, who I do not know, said very kindly said, ‘I’m sorry about what happened with that,’ even though he had nothing to do with it.” On the flip side, Garofalo added, “I live right near Ed Norton. I see him all the time. He’s never said anything.”