As things got cooking for Marvel's Phase 3, there were a slew of big name actors in contention for the magical role of Doctor Stephen Strange. And a few A listers came very close to signing that contract. As Marvel puts it, Benedict Cumberbatch was always the first choice. But we're not so sure about that, as one particular actor was very close to being announced at Comic-Con, though said actor couldn't quite pull the trigger. So, today, we look at him and 9 other actors who were almost in Marvel's Doctor Strange.
By all accounts, the role of Doctor Strange belonged to Joaquin Phoenix, an Oscar nominee for The Master, Walk the Line, and Gladiator, if he wanted it. The longtime vegan and younger brother of the late River Phoenix considered taking the part, but ultimately found the long term commitment and heavy creative input of so many people behind-the-scenes involved with these kind of pictures too restrictive. He hasn't ruled out joining the major franchise world someday, but this wasn't the time.
Shortly after Phoenix's official exit from the conversation, another vegan actor campaigned heavily for the role of Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts. Jared Leto didn't end up entering the MCU, but landed one of the biggest roles in the DCEU instead. In 2016, Suicide Squad opened just a few months before Doctor Strange.
Oscar Isaac had already landed a then still somewhat mysterious role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so the folks at Disney who own both Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios were clearly already fans. He did end up starring in one of the movies from the mutant-centric mini-Marvel Universe controlled by Fox, playing the titular villain named in the title of the tepidly received X-Men franchise sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Oscar Isaac wasn't the only actor part of the canon of the galaxy far, far away to have a shot against Dormammu of the Dark Dimension as Stephen Strange. Doctor Strange would have been Ewan McGregor's first major tentpole franchise since the Star Wars prequels, had he and Marvel ever moved past the discussion phase.
Matthew McConaughey has had a few brushes with the Marvel Universe, most notably when he was offered the part of Ego the Living Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But Variety reported he was one of the big name actors in consideration for Doctor Strange, 'though he was mum about this particular role.
In the same report, Variety said that Ethan Hawke chased after the role both before and after Marvel was said to be close to closing a deal with Joaquin Phoenix. He'd worked with Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson before, on the movie Sinister. In a 2015 podcast interview with MTV News, Hawke said he had "a sneaky suspicion that Scott wanted me for that," while noting the huge time commitment necessary for the promotion work around a movie like Strange. Nevertheless, he added, "We're living in the age of Marvel," saying he's "totally open to doing something like that."
Years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with the first Iron Man, Jake Gyllenhaal nearly joined a Marvel Comics film. After a Seabiscuit related back injury threatened to sideline Tobey Maguire from starring in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, Gyllenhaal was so close to stepping in, he'd even been to a form of "spider camp" to get in shape for the role. Sources put him on the shortlist for the role of Doctor Strange. The only massively budgeted movies Gyllenhaal had in his filmography were The Day After Tomorrow and the poorly received Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Of course, there was more than one role to cast for this movie. While many fans were understandably focused on who would wear the Cloak of Levitation, there were meetings happening for the rest of the Doctor Strange roster, too. The shortlist for the role of the Ancient One, the mentor and teacher who ended up played by Tilda Swinton, was said to include Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, and Bill Nighy.