Tom Cruise and Britney Spears Were Almost Cast In The Notebook… Seriously!

They could’ve stalled Ryan Gosling’s and Rachel McAdams’ breakthroughs.

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The Notebook is one of the most popular romantic dramas of the past 20 years — even though opened in theaters with a thud. If Tom Cruise and Britney Spears had starred in The Notebook, it probably would’ve taken off immediately.

We mention those names because, unlikely as it sounds, Cruise and Spears actually were considered to play in the romantic drama. Of course, we all know that Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams landed the roles in the end.

But, back to Cruise and Spears in The Notebook? HUH?

The Notebook: A Prologue

In October 1996, author Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Notebook hit bookshelves. Not only did it top The New York Times Best Seller list in its first week, but it also remained a bestseller for the ensuing year.

As Hollywood is apt to do, New Line Cinema snatched up the film rights to the book so quickly that 1996 hadn’t even ended yet, Variety reported.

And from there, the project collided with another Hollywood cliche: development hell. The screenplay was written — and then rewritten and rewritten.

At various intervals, Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) and Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Edge of Darkness) were poised to direct The Notebook.

And so was Steven Spielberg, Variety reported in April 1998. Spielberg reportedly departed due to commitments with other projects. Eventually, Nick Cassavetes — son of indie-film pioneer John Cassevetes — directed the film. 

Casting Off Tom Cruise and Britney Spears

It was Spielberg who pined for Tom Cruise to be in the movie. Presumably, Cruise would have played the older version of the male lead. Then again, he is 18 years older than Ryan Gosling.

“Steven Spielberg was going to do with Tom Cruise, and I moved on,” Campbell reportedly told the magazine. “I want to do a smaller character-driven piece, one that harkens back to my BBC roots. It’s a love story with very few characters involved and not an explosion in sight, which I find very appealing.”

George Clooney was also in the running for the male lead in The Notebook, he revealed last month. He told Deadline that he nearly landed the role alongside Paul Newman.

According to Deadline, the actor stated, “We were going to do The Notebook together. Basically, I was going to play him as a young man, and it was funny. We met and said, ‘This is it. It’s going to be great.’” 

With Clooney Out, Who Else Will Step In?

Clooney shared kind words about the actor who, at age 24, eventually got the gig.

“[Gosling is] one of the handsomest guys you’ve ever seen,” Clooney said. “We met up again and I said, ‘I can’t play you. I don’t look anything like you. This is insane.’ We just wanted to do it because we wanted to work together, but it ended up being not the right thing for us to do.”

James Garner played the older version of the central male character in The Notebook, after Newman passed away in 2008 at age 83.

Britney Spears came much closer to getting the Notebook role that eventually went to McAdams. In May 2021, Daily Mail unveiled photos of Gosling and Spears hugging in their auditions, while the two reportedly did a screen test together as well.

The British tabloid correctly noted that Britney Spears was at her career apex during the time The Notebook got rolling. A casting director told Daily Mail that it was “a close call” between Spears and McAdams.

The casting director didn’t reveal the deciding factor in choosing McAdams over Spears.

Why Did The Notebook Eventually Catch On?

It’s impossible to say whether The Notebook would’ve had the supreme legacy it does now had Cruise and Spears been a part of the project.

What is undeniable is that it launched the careers of both Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, who was 26 years old at the time.

The Notebook wasn’t an immediate success. The movie adaptation of The Notebook took the number four spot in its opening weekend — behind the Wayans Brothers’ universally stomach-turning White Chicks and two other flicks.

But some curious moviegoers went to see what all the fuss over these Gosling and McAdams kids was all about.

So, why do moviegoers — especially hopeless romantics — consider The Notebook to be one of the genre’s best entries ever? 

For one thing, as the public became better acquainted with Gosling and McAdams, they reconsidered the romantic drama in which they both starred. Many of those moviegoers probably noticed that Gosling and McAdams have nearly flawless chemistry in the movie. (Better, even, than the chemistry between Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, perhaps.)

In August 2015, The Hollywood Reporter said the CW was developing a TV version of The Notebook. That hasn’t transpired yet. But what has is a stage musical adaptation that opened in Chicago in early October. That project could eventually land on Broadway.

Meanwhile, the Notebook movie currently stands as the 15th highest-grossing romantic drama movie ever, per Box Office Mojo.

Don’t expect the movie to blow a kiss goodbye to its ongoing success anytime soon.

Read More: “George Clooney Almost Starred in ‘The Notebook’ with Paul Newman

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