The Witches Of Eastwick Pulled The Rug Out From Under Susan Sarandon On Day One

Based on the 1984 novel by John Updike, George Miller's 1987 film "The Witches of Eastwick" is an entertainingly odd duck about the overwhelming combined power of divorced and widowed women. In it, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon play Alex, Sukie, and Jane, three best friends living in the picturesque and utterly boring upper-crust town of Eastwick, Rhode Island. They frequently gather to chat about boys over a glass of wine. What they don't know is that they are each powerful witches whose abilities can unwittingly manifest at unexpected times. When they idly imagine their ideal boyfriends at one of their hangouts, they accidentally summon the sexy and wicked Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) who is undoubtedly the Devil. Alex, Sukie, and Jane are charmed by Daryl at first, and he gradually opens them up to using their witch-like powers, but it doesn't take long for the trio to realize that he is legitimately demonic. They eventually summon their collective powers to banish him. 

"The Witches of Eastwick" was directed with the usual amount of verve that Miller typically brings to his projects, and the three lead actresses are each at the top of their game, believable as down-to-earth, put-upon humans, but also as badass demi goddesses. Each one embodies their roles well. 

That last statement is a compliment aimed particularly at Sarandon, who, as she revealed in a recent video interview with Vanity Fair, wasn't supposed to play Jane. When she signed on to appear in "Eastwick," Sarandon was set to play Alex, the role that went to Cher.

Cher's star power

Sarandon recalls the phone call she received from Miller, asking her to swap roles. The role of Alex, she said, would have had the best moments with the Daryl character, and Jane was a cellist, which Sarandon was most decidedly not. Despite Sarandon's refusal, Alex was handed over to Cher. This was, it turns out, at Cher's insistence; she used her star power to take the part she wanted. The producers were fine with kowtowing to Cher since, well, she's Cher. 

Luckily for everyone, Sarandon moved into the Jane role nimbly. Sarandon said:

"I was cast in Cher's part initially. I was living in Italy, and I went off to Italy, and George called me and said, 'How would you feel about playing [Jane]?' And I was like, 'No, I don't wanna play [Jane]. First of all, I can't play a musical instrument, and she has to play one, and secondly of all, those scenes with Jack are the best scenes. No, I don't want to. So that was the last I heard. And then I showed up in LA, and I was no longer playing the part that I was cast [in]."

The role of Alex was also once offered to Anjelica Huston, who, the story goes, had a terrible audition. Amy Madigan was in consideration for the role of Jane. Daryl Van Horn was, perhaps curiously, once going to be played by Bill Murray. Nicholson nails his demonic qualities nicely, but one can perhaps imagine a demon as played by the often-aggressive Murray. The alternate cast of "The Witches of Eastwick" is another speculative project that fans can idly imagine for entertainment purposes. 

That blasted cello

Of course, now occupying the role of Jane forced Sarandon to suddenly undergo an all-new rehearsal. She had new lines to memorize, a new character to delve into, and a new skill to learn. Because Jane was a cellist, Sarandon had to, with her 18-month-old in the house, learn how to play. The infant daughter, incidentally, was Eva Amurri, who would grow up to be an actress in her own right. Sarandon recalls that her daughter was not at all fond of her mom's cello lessons. She also was given a leg up by Cher, who was willing to pass a lot of accouterments to Sarandon, a great help when it comes to getting into character. She said: 

"They wouldn't let me out of it, and I had to learn to play the cello. My poor 18-month-old daughter was horrified every time the cello teacher came over. Because the noise that I was making was devastating. I couldn't deal with them suing me, so I stayed. And became friends with everybody. Thank God for Cher giving me her wig and her clothing, because that gold dress was Cher's. That wig was Cher's. That helped me figure out my character, because my character didn't even go to the end of the script when I got it. So, thank you, Cher."

In both 1992 and 2002, two separate pilots for two separate "Witches of Eastwick" TV shows were produced, but neither show went to series. In 2000, the book was adapted into an acclaimed stage musical. In 2009, an additional "Eastwick" TV show was made for ABC, but that show never made it past its 11th episode. 

In August of 2021, it was announced that Ninja Thyberg ("Pleasure") was going to direct another adaptation of Updike's novel.