Today it is impossible to think about Princess Leia without picturing Carrie Fisher. Even a silhouette of the character with the signature hairstyle will automatically conjure an image of Carrie Fisher’s face. The performance was so iconic that the character and the actor are practically inseparable at this point. But that wasn’t always the case. Like almost every other character in a movie, at one point, Princess Leia was just a name on a script page with some lines, and a list of actors auditioning for the chance to bring the character to life.
More than a few of the actresses who auditioned for the role of Princess Leia have gone on to have successful careers of their own. For example, Sigourney Weaver who a few years later would star in a successful sci-fi franchise of her own in Alien in 1979. Other names that went on to have great success include Jane Seymour, Kim Basinger, Geena Davis and Anjelica Huston.
Sissy Spacek was also among the list of names of actresses that read for the part, though in her case she may have been more interested in a different role. Directors George Lucas and Brian De Palma were casting for their movies, Star Wars and Carrie at the same time. The two directors decided to hold auditions for their movies together, and Spacek was one of many people who read for both movies. However it’s likely that Spacek was more interested in Carrie than Star Wars. She had previously worked for Brian De Palma before, working as a set dresser on his film Phantom of the Paradise in 1974, and actively worked to persuade De Palma to cast her in the title role of Carrie. While she did read for Princess Leia, it’s clear her focus at the time was on securing the role of Carrie. The focus paid off for her as she was not only cast in the title role, she also earned a Best Actress nomination for the role.
Cindy Williams was also considered for the role before she would later on to become a household name as Shirley Feeney on Laverne & Shirley. Even though she was still relatively unknown at the time that Star Wars was being cast, she still had some film work to her name and it ended up working against her. Williams had starred in American Graffiti a few years earlier, and George Lucas felt that he didn’t want to cast anybody in Star Wars who had appeared in either of his previous movies. (Harrison Ford ended up being the exception to this rule when he read lines opposite the auditioning actors as a favor to Lucas and ended up proving to be the best person for the role.)
Apparently the other actress who was the closest to getting the part was Jodie Foster. Foster had already had multiple roles as a child actor, and was still one of the youngest people considered for the part at the time of auditions. While Foster was never formally offered the role that we know of, she ultimately wasn’t able to take the part due to her busy schedule. It’s likely that her role in Taxi Driver is what kept her from being able to take a part in Star Wars, but given that Foster was in eight different movies in 1976 and 1977, there was plenty of work that could have kept Foster from being a part of the galaxy far, far away.
Finally Meryl Streep was among the list of names who auditioned for the role of Leia before it ultimately went to Carrie Fisher. Streep mostly had done theater work at the time of the audition, but since then has gone on to become one of the most decorated actresses in history, with a record twenty-one acting nominations to her name. (Her successful career caused some fans to petition for Streep to replace Fisher in Episode IX when Fisher sadly passed away.) While Streep lost the part to Fisher at the time, she has clearly gone on to have a spectacular career of her own, and in an interesting twist, would years later star in Postcards From the Edge, a movie based on a novel written by Carrie Fisher, and in a role that is somewhat loosely based on Fisher herself.
While Carrie Fisher has spoken at length about how much she was associated with Princess Leia for the rest of her life, it was the way that she brought the character to life that was so iconic, that makes us associate the character with Fisher so definitively. While it would have been interesting to see any of the other actresses take on the role of Princess Leia, in the end, we’re lucky that it was Carrie Fisher that ended up with the part.