Robert Duncan McNeill Reveals He Was Set To Star In ‘School Ties,’ Then Replaced By Brendan Fraser

Robert Duncan McNeill - School Ties

During our interview with Garrett Wang and Robert Duncan McNeill about their podcast The Delta Flyers and their time on Star Trek: Voyager, Robbie McNeill talked about why he didn’t speak up much about his character during the first season of Voyager; his prime directive was to avoid getting fired.

Garrett Wang asked the all-important question: Had he been fired from a job before? The surprising answer—even to Garrett—was yes, so Robbie filled in the details:

I was fired three years before Voyager—I was doing a Broadway play called Six Degrees of Separation. And while I was in that Broadway play, there was a movie casting in New York and Los Angeles called School Ties. Brendan Fraser played the lead. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck. They were all in this movie.

School Ties poster

School Ties came out in 1992 to mixed reviews but is still remembered today, mostly because of its young, on-the-cusp-of-fame cast and its story about anti-Semitism at a prestigious prep school in the 1950s. McNeill was hired to play the lead, David Greene.

Before the movie got made, I was doing this play and I auditioned and got the role that Brendan Fraser ended up doing. I was set to star in School Ties. And then the director was unable to direct, he had to be replaced. The new director’s name was Robert Mandel, and he came to meet me in New York, ‘cause I’d already been cast and had a contract and everything. And we had brunch, I met him over at his hotel, we had a long conversation, then he came to see me in the play. And then about a week later, I started hearing from friends of mine that they were auditioning for my part.

I was like, “Maybe they’re just using the sides for my part, to audition—you know, there’s a lot of roles.” My buddies were like, “No, it’s for your part.” Long story short, they ended up releasing me. They paid me off so I did get the contract amount, but I never filmed a day on the movie ‘cause Robert Mandel fired me.

At some point, Noah Wyle, Kyle Chandler, and Matthew Perry all auditioned for the lead. “Anyone who is now between the ages of 40 and 50 auditioned for School Ties,” said co-casting director Pat McCorkle, looking back on it in 2017. McNeill explains why he lost the role:

It’s about a very WASPy private school, like a prep boys’ boarding school, where a scholarship kid, Brendan Fraser, comes in. And he fits in, he’s a football player and at the beginning accepted and very popular, and then they find out that he’s part Jewish, and there’s a lot of racism and anti-Semitism.

The original director’s name was Stanley Jaffe… what he wanted was someone like me who doesn’t look Jewish at all, look like you fit in perfectly and then just because you’ve got some Jewish blood… so Stanley imagined it like Robert Redford—not that I’m Robert Redford—but, you know, a young Robert Redford, playing this role. The new director wanted young Al Pacino. He wanted somebody more ethnic, and more obviously Jewish. He just goes, “I don’t think it works with anybody who looks WASPy at all.” Brendan Frasier looks kind of ambiguously ethnic. You can’t really tell with Brendan Fraser.

Fraser auditioned only three weeks before filming began and went right into rehearsals with the rest of the cast. The movie ended up helping launch the careers of many of its stars.

McNeill admitted, “It would have sent my life in a different direction, that’s for sure.” He doesn’t seem to have any regrets—he always had his eye on directing, and has since become a prolific and successful TV director and producer. The whole story came up only so he could clarify why he didn’t give pushback on Voyager scripts and stories; he didn’t want to lose his job:

Going on to Star Trek, I knew that those things happened. The business is a business, and I was just like, ‘Show up. Don’t ask any questions. Do what they say. Make sure they’re happy.’ That was my attitude.

In addition to Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck, School Ties also starred Chris O’Donnell, Cole Hauser, and Star Trek: Discovery‘s Anthony Rapp. Entertainment Weekly spoke to Rapp in 2017 as part of an oral history on the movie.

Anthony Rapp: Because of Ben and Matt and Chris and Brendan, who went on to have such fame and fortune, that’s probably what has retroactively brought attention to it. But I always thought it had real power to it.

School Ties cast photo

The cast of School Ties, which includes a young Anthony Rapp from Star Trek: Discovery on the right, kneeling.

Good thing Garrett asked the question! Subscribe to The Delta Flyers wherever you get your podcasts, and become a Patreon subscriber here, with options and bonus content for monthly contributions of $3, $5, or $15. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out part one and part two of our interview with the Star Trek: Voyager co-stars.

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Robbie Mcneill shouldn’t feel too bad. Brendan Fraser’s career(I believe he become an alcoholic?) has fizzled out and Robbie’s become a successful TV director. He should be proud of what he’s accomplished so far.

I think Brendan Fraser needed to do a few more Mummy films and maybe he would have reached a more A-level. I am wondering if Marvel would call on him now and offer him a career resurgence role in the vein of Robert Downey Jr.

Don’t know what you’re talking about!

Fraser is one of the stars of DOOM PATROL, and both he and the show are receiving tons of praise. His career hasn’t fizzled out.

Wasn’t his role in Doom Patrol more of a voiceover role though? It is not really stretching his acting muscles.

Brendan Fraser’s career cratered because he was sexually assaulted by a producer.

“Brendan Fraser’s career(I believe he become an alcoholic?)”

Now you’re just making stuff up.

The truth hurts, doesn’t it? If you think about it, it explains a lot. No studio, director or producer is going to greenlight a big budget film with an unstable lead.

lol what? fraser had a solid film career… most film stars eventually age out of that role… it’s not like duncan is tom cruise… i mean what? what? dude starred in tons of movies. and duncan doesn’t even act… what does he do does he still direct? i met him he’s a nice guy. but fraser is still working… he was sexually assaulted which led to some of his problems apparently and him walking away for a while… but is working again. mummy movies… journey to the center of the earth… bedazzled… gods and monsters… he’s encino man!

Never heard of that one before.

I wasn’t a 90s kid so I’m not familiar with 1990s TV shows. I’m more of a 2010s kid. Born in the early 2000s kind of guy.

The 2020s will be one interesting decade for sure.

In this day and age, not being a ’90s kid,’ as you put it, isn’t really a great reason for not being familiar with shows from then. Unless you’re talking about only watching things live? Do people still do that? ;-) Have you ever tried watching Star Trek The Next Generation, or DS9, or Voyager? All 90’s shows (well, partly for TNG). How about the X-Files? I remember growing up in the 80s and watching lots of pre-80s TV, including black & white shows from the 50s and 60s. Expand your horizons!

Am I the only one who thinks that Robert looks alot like Jonathan Frakes in that header image?

You’re the only one.

Yes, since he looks nothing like him.

To be fair he still probably looks more like Jonathon Frakes than that facepalm bust of Riker that’s promoted in one of the other articles 😉

Well, they are both white dudes with beards and glasses, so….nope, you’re still the only one. ;)

You are not the only one, Dr. Beckett! Every time I see this photograph I have to do a triple take to make sure it’s not Jonathan.

Then you both need to get your eyes checked. They look nothing like.

It’s a very average movie, notable mostly for its cast and good intentions. Love this tidbit though. A shame McNeil had to learn about the firing that way.

It’s a shame Robert Duncan McNeill wasn’t in “School Ties”. It would have made the naked shower room fight scene super interesting!

I am curious if anyone asked Robbie McNeill his opinions about “Masters of the Universe”. It is one of my favorite films. (I still enjoy it at this age) I know Dolph Lundgren didn’t like it, but it was a cheesy fun flick in my opinion. I also read somewhere that the role of Skeletor in the film was one of the favorite roles of Frank Langella in his career. (Langella of course later made an uncredited guest appearance in DS9). In any case I am curious what McNeill thought about it being one of the leads of the film.

Brendan Fraser is the front-runner for “most overrated actor in Hollywood.”

Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Fraser isn’t Jewish, but his ex wife and his three boys are. In School Ties, he’s hiding his ethnicity and in real life Fraser mumbled the words bar mitzvah during an interview. Still hiding? It’s also ironic that Fraser replaced McNeill and never batted an eyelash. He also replaced the original actor cast as Robotman in Doom Patrol and then got his buddy the job wearing the costume, while Fraser does the voice and occasional onscreen appearances. Meanwhile, Fraser’s fans are still complaining about Cruise and Johnson “stealing” his career. Fraser is a “victim” of his own stupid choices, both personal and professional. No sympathy.