An episode of The Big Hit Show podcast revealed that famed actor Leonardo DiCaprio was once considered as a possible voice actor for Ash Ketchum, the main protagonist of the Pokémon anime series.
This information came to light in the Spotify podcast by host Alex Pappademas, who spent the episode discussing the early history of Pokémon and the cultural phenomenon it became in the United States. Pappademas explained that during the height of the Pokémon craze, 4Kids and Norman Grossfeld, the producer for the English language version of Pokémon: The First Movie, began “shopping” the film to American movie studios. During a meeting, a representative of one of the studios pitched Grossfeld the idea of casting Leonardo DiCaprio as Ash Ketchum.
“He said, ‘Hey, we really want this. We can make this work. We’re going to bring in Leonardo DiCaprio to play the voice of Ash,” Grossfeld said. “‘It’s going to get a lot of buzz, we’re going to have a lot and we’ll get all these celebrities. It’s going to be really big.'”
Pappademas explained that by the time the first Pokémon film was pitched stateside, Leonardo DiCaprio’s starring role in the 1997 film Titanic had made him “one of the biggest stars of his generation.” However, despite the studio’s excitement at the prospect of casting DiCaprio, Grossfeld, keeping the audience of the Pokémon anime in mind, turned the idea down.
“Whether he [DiCaprio] could have been enticed to play Ash in this movie is unclear, but either way it wouldn’t have mattered because Norman says he said no to DiCaprio in that meeting,” Pappademas said. “Because, as Norman saw it, having somebody else do the voice would have been weird for the kids who’d grown accustomed to Ash sounding the way he did in the show. Pokémon had become so big so quickly that the addition of Leonardo DiCaprio–a person you generally want involved in a movie if you’re making one, and he’s available– would have taken away from it. Norman ended up making a distribution deal with Warner Bros.”
Decades after the first film’s release, the Pokémon franchise is still going strong, with 24 anime seasons and 23 animated films under its belt. New episodes of the ongoing Pokémon Master Journeys are being released in English on Netflix. The next major installments of the Pokémon video game series, Scarlet and Violet, are currently in development and will launch for Nintendo Switch on Nov. 18.