Stanley Kubrick Came 'Out Of The Blue' To Cast 2001: A Space Odyssey's Star

Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey" — arguably one of the best films of all time — is so expansive and far-reaching in its story and tone that a casual viewer might miss that astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) is the protagonist. Indeed, Dave doesn't even appear until about halfway through the film, and that's after an early extended sequence set during prehistoric times among a group of proto-human hominids, and then a very long sci-fi sequence wherein characters other than Dave discover a mysterious monolith buried on the surface of the moon. 

Dave, however, does get the lion's share of the film's screentime. Dave also has the more "exciting" scenes, like matching wits with the malfunctioning computer intelligence HAL 9000 (Douglas Rain). Dave will also be the recipient of an effable form of evolutionary awareness, allowed to first see space travel as the logical next step in human evolution. After millions of years bound to this floating rock, we shall, eventually — with the aid of invisible, unknowable cosmic entities — become reborn into the cosmos. Humanity, in staring beyond the infinite, has become a mere child. Our journey can now begin. 

Humanity itself is the protagonist of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Dave is merely our envoy.

When it came to casting the representative of humanity, however, there were more practical concerns at work — namely, finding an appropriate performer to pay Dave Bowman. Dullea, in a 2018 interview with, revealed that his audition process was ... actually, there was no audition process. There was only a cold call.

Meet Dave

Prior to "2001: A Space Odyssey," Dullea was building a thriving career in bit parts on TV and then larger roles in film. He was involved in multiple TV shows with titles named after their sponsors ("Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse," and "Kraft Mystery Theater," that sort of thing). In film, Dullea broke out in Frank Perry's 1962 Oscar-nominated drama "David and Lisa," an ambitious film about mental illness. Dullea seemed drawn to intense psychological dramas — increasingly in vogue in the mid-1960s. 

In the interview, Dullea recalls where he was when he got the call about "2001: A Space Odyssey." He was working the 1965 kidnapping thriller "Bunny Lake is Missing," which, he admits, wasn't an entirely enjoyable experience. He wasn't arranging anything with his agent. He hadn't called Stanley Kubrick or mailed in an audition reel. He merely got a telephone call. By his description: 

"I was filming a film in London with Laurence Olivier and Carol Lynley. It was an Otto Preminger film. Not a pleasant experience. Working with Olivier was the exception. That was wonderful, and he was very kind to me. One day after work, my wife said to call my agent. So I call, and my agent asks, 'Are you sitting down?' I said, 'No, why?' He said, 'You've just been offered the lead in Stanley Kubrick's next film.' I absolutely had no idea I was being considered. I never met anybody about it. It was totally out of the blue."

Note that he wasn't invited to audition — Dullea was merely offered the lead. Stanley Kubrick was already a well-known hotshot director, so this was a big deal. Dullea, as we can now infer, said yes. 

Kubrick's control

According to well-circulated trivia, Dullea was always the first choice to play Dave Bowman. Dullea didn't know what Kubrick had seen him in specifically that got the director interested in working with him, but the call came regardless. Had Dullea turned down the role or was unavailable for some reason, Kubrick was also considering George Hamilton, James Coburn, and Rod Taylor. Dullea seems to more appropriate choice; while possessing handsome, matinee-idol features, Dullea is also a stern and steely performer. One cannot imagine a warm, charismatic actor like Coburn in a cosmic contemplation like "2001: A Space Odyssey." 

Also by well-worn film lore, the voice of HAL was initially cast by several better-known actors before Rain took the role. At one point, Martin Balsam was set to play the voice of the computer. A film about Balsam and Coburn matching wits would have been a very different film indeed. 

A fun piece of trivia: As soon as the "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" sequence begins, click on Pink Floyd's "Echoes" from their album Meddle, and they'll sync up almost exactly. It has been rumored by Floyd fans that this was a deliberate homage after the band was asked to contribute music to "2001," but had to turn down the gig due to prior commitments. That latter bit is most certainly apocryphal.