“You’d wonder why he wouldn’t be a successful lawyer earlier”: Matthew McConaughey Claimed One of His Breakout Roles Almost Went to Kevin Costner But Yellowstone Star Was Too Old to Play the Part

'A Time to Kill' required a young actor like Matthew McConaughey to play a struggling lawyer than a veteran like Kevin Costner.



  • Matthew McConaughey's career took a turn after his performance as Jake Brigance in the 1996 film, A Time To Kill.
  • However, he was not the initial choice for the role, as both Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson were considered for the role.
  • Costner was rejected for the role because he was too old to play a struggling lawyer in the film.
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Before he made the disastrous Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher helmed the summer blockbuster film A Time to Kill starring Matthew McConaughey. The Interstellar actor was still a newcomer at the time, only having the cult film Dazed and Confused popularly in his portfolio. He was cast in the role after Schumacher pulled some strings, but two other famous stars were rejected before McConaughey’s casting.

Matthew McConaughey with Samuel L. Jackson in the Joel Schumacher film A Time To Kill
Matthew McConaughey with Samuel L. Jackson in the Joel Schumacher film A Time To Kill

Kevin Costner was a contender for the role and a much older actor than McConaughey. Costner was rejected because the film needed someone younger to play the up-and-coming lawyer. Interestingly, McConaughey is rumored to appear as the next big star in the Yellowstone franchise after Costner.

Matthew McConaughey’s Breakout Film Rejected Kevin Costner Before Considering Him

JFK star Kevin Costner was considered for the role in A Time to Kill before Matthew McConaughey was cast in it
JFK star Kevin Costner was considered for the role in A Time to Kill before Matthew McConaughey was cast in it

In May 2023, Esquire Magazine reported that Kevin Costner was leaving Yellowstone to pursue his dream project and the original series was to be replaced with a new one starring Matthew McConaughey. While fans still await an update on the project, it was not the first time that the Dallas Buyers Club actor replaced Costner as a leading character.


The 1996 film, A Time to Kill, was based on true events that were fictionalized by John Grisham for his book of the same name. The lead character, originally based on the author, was a struggling lawyer, Jake Brigance, who takes on the case of a father who killed his daughter’s r*pists. Before McConaughey was brought in to play the lead, Costner was one of the first choices for the role.

Speaking on Rob Lowe’s Literally! podcast, McConaughey shared how his break-out role almost went to the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves star. Jake in the film is a young lawyer who has the challenging task of going against the powerful district attorney Rufus Buckley, played by Kevin Spacey. This ultimately made the much older Costner the wrong man for the job.

McConaughey shared with Lowe that Grisham had casting approval over the role since it was based on him. He rejected Costner, with the logic that if he were older he would have been more successful than the underdog lawyer portrayed in the story. McConaughey shared with Literally!:


“John Grisham has casting approval over that role because it’s based on him. I think Kevin Costner was in consideration. But if he’s that old, you’d wonder why he wouldn’t be a successful lawyer earlier.”

The Wedding Planner actor screen-tested for the role in secret since director Joel Schumacher was not sure if Warner Bros. would approve a relative newcomer in the film. McConaughey shared with Lowe that Schumacher was considerate and didn’t want a rejection on the actor’s resume. However, McConaughey eventually landed the part in the film.

Woody Harrelson Was Also In The Running For Matthew McConaughey’s A Time To Kill Role

Woody Harrelson's Natural Born Killers role lost him the lead role in A Time To Kill
Woody Harrelson’s Natural Born Killers role lost him the lead role in A Time To Kill

While Kevin Costner was rejected for being too old, another actor in consideration, Woody Harrelson, was rejected for starring in another film. Harrelson played a serial killer in the 1994 film Natural Born Killers. According to McConaughey, the director of that film, Oliver Stone, and author John Grisham got into an editorial fight because of a murder that was allegedly inspired by the film. Grisham didn’t want Harrelson playing him right after he played a serial killer. McConaughey shared-

“They were looking at Woody, but Woody had come out in Natural Born Killers. Oliver Stone and John Grisham get in an editorial fight because there was a copycat murder in Mississippi of someone that garnered some news. I heard John Grisham was going, ‘Oh, no way that guy, Woody, who played Mickey is going to play me.’ That moves him out.”

Despite receiving generally mixed reviews, the film was a commercial success and launched the career of Matthew McConaughey. The film grossed $152 million at the worldwide box office (via The Numbers). The Killer Joe actor was even recognized for Best Breakthrough Performance at the MTV Awards.


A Time To Kill is now available for rent on AppleTV+.


Written by Hashim Asraff

Articles Published: 1374

Hashim, Entertainment Writer. With over 1000 published articles on FandomWire, he covers a wide range of topics from celebrity life to comic book movies. He holds a Masters degree in Sociology and his expertise proves invaluable in handling sensitive news. His passion for crime investigation thrillers has turned him into a detective, exploring the darkest corners of the internet during his research.