Weintraub, who died last July when the film was in postproduction, had been developing the project for years. When he finally got to the point where he could think about casting, he told Vanity Fair writer Rich Cohen that his first choice for Tarzan was Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps.
At the time, Cohen was speaking to Weintraub as he was working on his memoir.
“It’s going to be like Johnny Weissmuller,” Weintraub told Cohen, referring to the swimmer who played Tarzan in films from the 1930s and 1940s. “All the reporters are going to say, ‘Weintraub found the new Johnny Weissmuller!'”
But Weintraub had never seen Phelps act. Around the same time, it so happened that Phelps was set to host “Saturday Night Live.”
As Cohen tells it, Weintraub’s assistant recorded the episode, since the show airs past the producer’s bedtime. The next morning, Cohen sat beside Weintraub at breakfast and they started to watch Phelps’ monologue.
“As he watched Phelps’s monologue, I watched him, his mood shifting from excited to perturbed, green to red,” Cohen wrote. “Two minutes in, Jerry turned to his assistant and shouted, ‘This isn’t Tarzan! This isn’t Johnny Weissmuller! He’s a goon! Why didn’t anyone tell me he’s a goon? Turn it off. Goddammit, turn it off.'”
The role inevitably went to “True Blood” actor Alexander Skarsgård, but it would have been quite memorable to see Phelps swing from tree branches.
“The Legend of Tarzan” opened in theatres over the Fourth of July weekend and has earned over $71 million to date.
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