Rob Lowe Reveals the Silver Lining of Turning Down Patrick Dempsey's Grey's Anatomy Role

Don't worry about Rob Lowe turning down the chance to play Derek Shepard on Grey's Anatomy—or else fans would have never gotten to see him in this other beloved role.

By Samantha Schnurr Feb 05, 2021 5:57 PMTags
Watch: "Grey's Anatomy" Cast Weighs in On McDreamy's Death

Had this actor taken the role of Derek Shepard on Grey's Anatomy, we might never have had McDreamy.

At least that's what Rob Lowe thinks. The actor, famous for countless roles over more than four decades in Hollywood, turned down the role that turned Patrick Dempsey into the medical heartthrob beloved by practically every household in America. Dempsey went on to play the role for 11 seasons before his (spoiler alert) untimely death on the show. Though, to fan's delight, he made an unexpected return in the most recent 17th season

Meanwhile, in a new interview with Variety, Lowe reflected on his decision and the impact it had on not only his career, but the course of pop culture. 

"Me in that part isn't as interesting as Patrick in that part," he told the website. "If it'd been me [the fans] wouldn't have called me 'McDreamy,' they would have called me Rob Lowe." 

Grey's Anatomy's Departed Doctors: Where Are They Now?

Just as significantly, someone else would have been the face of Parks and Recreation's Chris Traeger, which Lowe starred as for six seasons. "Had I done Grey's," he pointed out, "I wouldn't have been in Parks and Recreation."

Clearly, the actor doesn't hold any regret over his pivotal choice. As he told Variety of getting to star in Parks & Rec as a result, "That alone for me is enough."

Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images; Todd Williamson/Getty Images

While some might get caught up in the "what ifs," the 56 year old accepts the outcome of his choices and doesn't dwell. "This is what longevity, experience and recovery give you. There are no accidents," he told Variety. "Whatever decision you come to, if you come to it from the right place, it's never wrong."

For more beloved TV roles that almost went to other stars, just keep scrolling!

Jason Biggs as Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother

"I was offered the role and it's probably my biggest regret, you know, on passing," the American Pie alum revealed in a 2021 SiriusXM interview. "I think I was in a phase of, at the time—it sounds so obnoxious to say right now—but at the time it was like, 'Okay, do I want to do TV?' I don't know that I was quite ready to go that route."

Alden Ehrenreich as Dan on Gossip Girl

Casting director David Rapaport told EW, "Before Penn was involved, I desperately wanted Alden Ehrenreich to play Dan," but producers thought he was too short to play the role of Blake Lively's love interest. So the role went to Penn Badgley, who is just about the same height as Ehrenreich, according to the internet. 

Rob Lowe as Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy

Lowe revealed that he turned down the role of McDreamy in his 2014 memoir, and it came back up in an episode of Marc Maron's podcast. "That's probably cost me $70 million," he joked. "Eh, it's just money." Lowe says he watched the pilot when it came out, "and when they started calling the handsome doctor 'McDreamy,' I was like, 'yeah, that's not for me.'" 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Bill Compton on True Blood

Sherlock and Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch auditioned for the role of vampire Bill Compton back in the day. Stephen Moyer went on to land the part.

Jessica Chastain as Sookie Stackhouse on True Blood

Before she was an Oscar nominee, Jessica Chastain read for the role of Sookie Stackhouse. The part eventually went to Anna Paquin.

Jennifer Lawrence as Crystal Norris on True Blood

A 17-year-old Jennifer Lawrence read for the part of werepanther Crystal Norris, and almost got the part, but her age played a factor in the part going to another actress. Lindsay Pulsipher landed the gig.

Tiffani Thiessen as Rachel on Friends

Saved By the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210 veteran Tiffani Thiessen said she auditioned for the part of Rachel on Friends, but she was too young for the role.

Katherine Langford as Betty Cooper on Riverdale

Katherine Langford on Riverdale? It almost happened. The Golden Globe-nominated star of 13 Reasons Why auditioned for the role of Betty Cooper, according to Riverdale star Camila Mendes. "I remember we went out and we got falafel with a guy who was auditioning for Archie," Mendes told EW.

Katherine Heigl as Jen Lindley on Dawson's Creek

It's hard to imagine anyone else playing Capeside's resident NYC transplant, but as creator Kevin Williamson revealed to Entertainment Weekly, the role of Jen almost went to future Grey's Anatomy star Katherine Heigl, thanks to pilot director Steve Miner, who brought the star of his 1994 film My Father the Hero to Williamson's attention. "She looked slightly older at that time. Even though she was younger, I just think she was more mature," Williamson recalled. "She gave a great audition, I remember we were all sort of like, ‘Wow, she's good.'"

Selma Blair as Joey Potter on Dawson's Creek

The role of Dawson Leery's lovesick BFF Joey Potter turned Katie Holmes into a star, but the role almost wasn't hers. As creator Kevin Williamson admitted to Entertainment Weekly, the role was Selma Blair's to eventually lose. "I really loved Selma until, of course, I got the infamous videotape from the basement of the Holmes family in Toledo, Ohio,"he said of Holmes' last-minute audition. "And when that video showed up, it changed my whole life."

Lisa Edelstein as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City

The House and Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce actress was so close to taking on the iconic role of Carrie Bradshaw that she even had a completed contract. In the end, however, she was just the back-up to the producers' first choice, Sarah Jessica Parker. "I was either going to do it or not. It all depended on whether she said yes," Edelstein said. "My contract was complete. I was waiting." While we struggle to imagine a world in which SJP is not Carrie Bradshaw, Edelstein actually makes a lot of sense. 

Ashley Olsen as Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl

Initially, The CW wanted Ashley Olsen as our favorite beautiful blonde Upper East Sider, casting director David Rapaport told Buzzfeed, but he only had eyes for Blake Lively. "I was terrified we wouldn't get her or they wouldn't like her because, honestly, the show lived and died on her and I had absolutely no other ideas," he said.

Rumer Willis as Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl

The CW wanted future Dancing With the Stars champion Rumer Willis as the bitchy Gossip Girl lead, but casting director David Rapaport knew she wasn't right for the role (and would eventually cast her on 90210). "I love Rumer," he told Buzzfeed. "She's grown into quite an amazing actress and person, but that, to me, was based on protecting the investment of a television show where creatively, these lesser-known girls really captured the essence of the show and carried it for six years."

Keke Palmer as Iris West on The Flash

Before Keke Palmer was cast on Fox's hilarious horror comedy Scream Queens, she was in the running to play Iris West on The Flash, a role that eventually went to Candice Patton. "We had seen Candice initially, but I think we were too early on in the process to cast her so we ended up testing Keke Palmer and this other girl, but they felt a little too young next to Grant [Gustin]," casting director David Rapaport told Buzzfeed. When he brought Candice back, "it was magic."

Iwan Rheon as Jon Snow on Game of Thrones

Iwan Rheon told The Telegraph that when the Game of Thrones pilot was being cast, he made it to the final two for the role of Jon Snow. Of course, Rheon went on to play Ramsay Snow, aka season 5's most hated character, while Kit Harington cemented a place in our hearts as Jon. We can't even bear to imagine it any differently, so we just won't. 

Chris Pratt as Chuck on Chuck

After working with the Guardians of the Galaxy star on the final season of The O.C., Josh Schwartz revealed Pratt was his first choice for the role that eventually went to Zachary Levi. "He was the first guy I wanted to play 'Chuck'. But as fate would have it, he was destined to guard the galaxy, not the Buy More," Schwartz revealed. "And might I add, couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

Katie Holmes as Piper on Orange Is the New Black

The Dawson's Creek veteran met with Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan early in the show's development, Kohan revealed. Holmes, who is an admitted fan of the series, had "other things to do," Kohan told E! News. "And also in the beginning no one knew what this was."

Cobie Smulders as Kate on Lost

Yep, Robin Scherbatsky  could have been Kate Austen, and two of our favorite shows were almost very different, according to Cobie Smulders.

"[Evangeline Lily and I] were both testing for Lost. She owes a lot to me because I went in and I bombed the audition. [laughs] And she was like, ‘Thank you!'"

Nancy McKeon as Monica on Friends

Back when Friends was still being cast, Courteney Cox read for the role of Rachel, but wanted the role of Monica. However, NBC was looking at The Facts of Life star Nancy McKeon to fill the role.

"Nancy McKeon, from The Facts of Life, also read for Courteney's part. She gave a terrific performance," Lori Openden, head of casting for NBC at the time, said. "Warren [Littlefield, the then NBC president] let Marta [Kauffman] and David [Crane] make the call. They went off for a walk and came back and said Courteney."

Lisa Whelchel as Rachel on Friends

The former Facts of Life star revealed she read for the role of Rachael Green when Friends was still in its pilot stage. "I remember reading the pilot episode and I said to my husband, ‘This is the funniest script I have ever read and this is going to be a huge hit,'" Lisa Whelchel said on an episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? But she didn't pursue it because she knew the show would find a lot of its comedy in sex, she said.

Helen Hunt, Ashley Judd as Alicia on The Good Wife

Everybody knows The Good Wife is Julianna Margulies' show, but that almost wasn't the case. The Emmy winner revealed the studio wanted Ashley Judd and Helen Hunt before she got the gig.

Katie Holmes as Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Hard to imagine anyone else hunting down vampires in Sunnydale, but the ex-Mrs. Cruise almost had the title role in the WB series. Katie Holmes turned it down to go to high school, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was cast.

Lorraine Bracco as Carmela Soprano on The Sopranos

The role that eventually went to Edie Falco was originally offered to Lorraine Bracco, but the Oscar nominee said she had already done the role in Goodfellas and wanted to try her hand at something new.

Taraji P. Henson as Olivia Pope on Scandal

Before she was breaking records on Fox's Empire, Taraji P. Henson revealed she auditioned to be Scandal's ultimate fixer, Olivia Pope. "When I went in to read for Shonda Rhimes, in my mind I was like, ‘This is Kerry Washington. Why am I even in here?'…It was hers," she said.

Gillian Anderson as Lady Cora on Downton Abbey

Can you imagine Agent Scully residing in Downton Abbey? It almost happened, but the X Files star turned down the role that eventually went to Elizabeth McGovern.


Danny DeVito, Chris Rock and More as George on Seinfeld

Jason Alexander revealed Chris Rock, Danny DeVito, Larry Miller, Nathan Lane and more famous faces were all up for his role on Seinfeld before he got it.


Courtney Cox as Rachel on Friends

Most die-hard Friends fans know this, but for the uninitiated, Courteney Cox auditioned for Rachel before being cast as her best friend Monica. Jennifer Aniston won the role of Rachel and the rest is history.

Ashlee Simpson as Elena on The Vampire Diaries

It's hard to imagine anyone else playing Elena Gilbert on the CW hit series, but Jessica Simpson's sister was the network's first choice. It wasn't until the producers took a second look at Nina Dobrev's audition tape that they decided to go with the Bulgarian beauty.

Mary Lynn Rajskub as Pam on The Office

Damnit, Chloe! As much as we love you, you were never meant to play Pam. The 24 star auditioned for the role that eventually was won by Jenna Fisher, and the rest is paper company love history.

Ray Liotta as Tony on The Sopranos

The late James Gandolfini was brilliant as Tony Soprano on the HBO drama, but Ray Liotta was the first choice to play the mob boss. In a Today Show interview, he said he turned it down because he wanted to focus on movies, and he didn't want to make the two-year commitment.

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