UPDATE: This post has been updated with the two covers for the film in Empire Magazine:
The lead-up to Doctor Strange has been a fascinating one. While the character may be even lesser known to mainstream audiences than Iron Man was before he made a big splash in 2008, the names of actors considered to play him have been staggering. I famously broke the story, many moons ago, that Johnny Depp had taken a meeting with Marvel about possibly taking on the role- back when he was still a made man. In the years to follow we heard all kinds of other rumored candidates, and now- thanks to a new feature in Empire Magazine, we’ve got some new insight into the casting process for Doctor Strange.
As part of a story meant to highlight how star Benedict Cumberbatch thought he’d lost his chance to play the Sorcerer Supreme because of a scheduling conflict, they name-dropped several major names that had been considered for the part.
The mysterious and mercurial star of Signs and I’m Still Here was considered for the part of Stephen Strange, but he passed. He’s publicly commented on the matter, so this one isn’t entirely new. But these next two…
At one point the actor was said to have taken meetings with both Marvel and DC about the possibility of joining their superhero ranks. When he met with Marvel, the topic of discussion was Doctor Strange. Ultimately, it doesn’t look like the two sides thought they’d be a good fit. But I’d be damned if he wouldn’t make a great Hal Jordan if he went back for more talks with DC.
Which brings us to this other fascinating candidate for Doctor Strange:
What’s so interesting about the fact that Leto was up for the part is the 1:1 connection it has with the current DCEU. When Leto and Marvel weren’t able to make it work with Doctor Strange, it led to the actor showing up on DC’s shores where he would become the Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker, in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. That decision by him, followed by a highly-scrutinized post-production that saw his part get trimmed down to the point where all he really was in the theatrical cut was a glorified extended cameo…has been a major topic of discussion since the film’s release.
While these actors, and other rumored contenders (Jake Gyllenhaal, Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Ewan MacGregor, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt), all wound up not wearing the cape, this all just reminds us of what a wild ride it was, leading up to Cumberbatch finally getting the part of Doctor Strange. You’d be hard-pressed to find a character in either the Marvel or DC universes that had this many high-profile stars discussing the role.
Ultimately, Cumberbatch was seen as the man for the job, which was a relief for the actor.
“I really did think I had to kiss it goodbye,â€ Cumberbatch told Empire. He had to initially pass on Doctor Strange because he was set to play Hamlet in Autumn of 2015, while Marvel was eyeing a summer 2016 release for the film. â€œIf you canâ€™t jump on board when the rideâ€™s going past, thatâ€™s usually it,â€ Cumberbatch added. But then Marvel made the rare decision to change the release window in order to accommodate the star. â€œSo the hugest compliment they paid me was to come back to me. It motivated me to try to fulfill their faith in me.“
Indeed, director Scott Derrickson met with Phoenix, Gosling, and Leto after Cumberbatch’s scheduling conflict came to light. But after meeting with them and others, Derrickson went straight to Marvel honcho Kevin Feige and said, “Itâ€™s got to be Benedict.”
And so, with those words, a strange odyssey finally came to an end.
Why do youthink it is that Doctor Strange garnered such a star-studded list of contenders? Initially, the prevailing theory was that Marvel was preparing for a post-Robert Downey Jr. era, thinking he’d disappear from their films once his contract requirements had been met; So they needed a big star to fill his shoes. In subsequent years it’s become apparent that Downey Jr. isn’t going anywhere. Had they known that back in 2013/2014, I wonder if they would’ve put this much effort into finding the perfect Doctor Strange?
Doctor Strange arrives in theaters on November 4.