It’s difficult to imagine what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would have been like without Avery Brooks as Commander, later Captain Benjamin Sisko. His portrayal of Star Trek’s first Black lead character was essential to the show’s success as the series focused much more on its lead than previous Star Trek shows.
However, Brooks was not the producers’ first choice for the role. They had several other A-list actors in mind, some of whom they offered the role before it went to Avery.
Here are some of the big-name stars that turned down the role of Commander Sisko.
James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones is one of the best-known and most well-respected actors in Hollywood. He’s won multiple awards including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy, multiple Emmys, and multiple NAACP Image Awards. He’s one Tony Award short of being an EGOT. Jones is best known for his roles as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise, the voice of Mufasa in both versions of The Lion King and Admiral Greer in The Hunt for Red October.
In an interview with StarTrek.com, Ron Surma, one of the casting directors for DS9 revealed that Jones was on the “wishlist” for the role of Commander Sisko. Surma chatted with Jones’ representatives about the role, but he was rejected pretty quickly. His reps said that Jones didn’t want to take on the commitment of a seven-season television show since it would limit his ability to take on other opportunities.
Surma told the publication that they didn’t give up on asking until right before they cast Brooks because “you never give up on the wish list until it’s too late.”
At the time that DS9 was looking for its Commander Sisko, James Avery was known to the world as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He was one of TV’s favorite dads, and his portrayal of a strong, successful Black man helped change the narrative around Black success.
A casting document from the desk of Star Trek’s casting director of Junie-Lowry Johnson, who cast Trek’s most iconic roles, revealed that Avery was also on the wishlist for Sisko. However, the notes next to his name stated that he wasn’t available because of his work on Fresh Prince.
Versatile and talented actor Tony Todd, who is best known for his iconic role in Candyman, was already a Star Trek veteran by the time he auditioned for DS9. He played the Klingon Kurn in three episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In an interview with StarTrek.com, Todd said that he was in the running for Sisko, but Brooks ultimately beat him out for the role. He also revealed that he and Brooks had worked together before, on a production that Todd was fired from! Todd said that Brooks was very kind to him at the time.
Todd would later appear in DS9 as an older version of Sisko’s son Jake.
Other A-Listers Who Turned Down the Role
Lowry-Johnson’s casting document revealed an enormous list of A-list actors who were considered for the role or offered the role before they gave it to Brooks. Not all of them were seriously considered for the role, but some of them were contenders.
Before the producers decided they wanted a Black leading man, the role was offered to James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan. The notes on the casting doc indicated that he didn’t want to commit to a television show at the time. Colin Firth, Gary Busey, Liam Neeson and Bill Paxton were also considered, but none of them had any interest in television.
When the producers decided to go with a Black lead, a few other A-listers were more seriously considered.
Laurence Fishburne, who would later play Morpheus in The Matrix, was high on the wishlist. However, he was focused on his movie career at the time and didn’t want to spend time on television. Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. was available, but not very interested in the role, though the offer was made. Carl Lumbly, who would later star in Alias, was also offered the role but wasn’t available due to his role in Going to Extremes.
According to IMDB, both Eriq LaSalle from ER and legendary Rocky actor Carl Weathers read for the part of Sisko, but ultimately didn’t take the role.
It’s interesting to imagine each of these actors playing the role of Sisko. However, Star Trek fans know the role wouldn’t have been the same without Brooks.