ByAlisha Grauso, writer at
Editor-at-large here at Movie Pilot. Nerd out with me on Twitter, comrades: @alishagrauso
Alisha Grauso

We can all agree Marvel's casting carousel for the upcoming [Doctor Strange](movie:559685) has been, um, well...

I don't think it would be incorrect to use the word "clusterf**k".

Virtually every single A-lister who even remotely resembles the Sorcerer Supreme has been at least briefly attached to the role, including Jon Hamm, Mads Mikkelsen, Johnny Depp (can we just not), Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Leto (cringe), Justin Theroux, and Benedict Cumberbatch, with the most hyped being Joaquin Phoenix, who was reportedly thisclose to signing on the dotted line...but, as we know, got cold feet and backed out at the last second. Since then, the rumored attached names have been Ethan Hawke, Keanu Reeves, Ryan Gosling, Ewan McGregor, Matthew McConaughey, Oscar Isaac, and at this point, any random, dark-haired dude who happens to walk past the Marvel HQ. And I know I've forgotten a few by now.

(Fun fact: I just Googled "moviepilot Alisha Grauso Doctor Strange" and at least 5 articles regarding casting popped up on the first page.)

Word on the internet is that the newest contender is swarthy Irishman Colin Farrell, according to The Wrap. But, as with everything Doctor Strange-related, we don't yet know if he's merely a contender, in negotiations, or the new frontrunner.

But why has it been so hard to cast the role? Actors and actresses are usually fighting each other, Highlander-style, for the chance to take on a superhero role and make some of that franchise bank - but not Doctor Strange. With the movie's release date being set for less than two years now, Marvel is cutting it awfully close. And still, no one has signed. Why?

It probably won't surprise you learn that I have a few theories.

The casting game is different for the MCU than it was in Phase 1

"We have no idea what we're doing yet! Please just pay us!"
"We have no idea what we're doing yet! Please just pay us!"

I love Marvel. But one thing that is absolutely true is that they are notoriously cheap, particularly when it comes to pay day. Still, when they were building toward the first Avengers movie in Phase 1, they understandably couldn't afford to blow their budget on big-name actors.

Instead, they made the decision to cast lesser-known, but still very talented young actors and actresses in the roles, the sort that had a few solid credits to their name, whether in the U.S. or U.K., but weren't household, A-list names. well-known but mercurial actor who was in the process of rehabilitating his career after a string of less-than PR-friendly incidents, an actor who couldn't really argue a $500k paycheck for his first film with Marvel.

But the game has changed completely now for Marvel. Fast-forward to 2014 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is no longer a risky venture but the most sure thing in Hollywood. Actors and actresses are all jumping at the chance to play a superhero and be a part of the Marvel machine, and Marvel has the luxury of knowing it can now cast - if it needs to - bona fide A-listers with loads of experience under their belts. When you can land as wide a range as Vin Diesel, Josh Brolin, and James Spader to do voice roles, you're doing something right. And that's important when it comes to casting the role of Doctor Strange, because...

Marvel can't go with a young, relatively inexperienced actor for this one

Stephen, imma need you to take your fabulous down from an 11 to no more than a 7.
Stephen, imma need you to take your fabulous down from an 11 to no more than a 7.

Doctor Strange is, well...strange. He wears a wacky costume, his backstory (and middle story and front story) is more than a little out-there, and VFX hasn't yet figured out, unfortunately, how to make an actor or actress look anything but goofy when casting a spell. Swing a hammer, throw a shield, or blast someone with rays from your palms, that's fine. But wave your hands around in the air and toss out a spell, and for some reason, it just looks kind of...silly. Especially when doing it in a medieval knave-meets-seedy Vegas magician outfit. Hey, I didn't make the rules.

So, while I expect the eccentric nature of the Sorcerer Supreme to be toned down at least a little in the film, Marvel nonetheless isn't going to be able to cast a young, relatively unknown actor in the role this time. They'll have to go with someone who has some audience recognition, a bit of experience. Someone with enough swagger to pull off being the baddest sorcerer on this side of the universe, but also someone with quite a bit of gravitas, lest the character slide into cheesiness and unbelievability. You better believe that for a studio who just brought us a hit movie with a sentient tree and talking raccoon, this is still the trickiest casting they have to date.

Once you understand, as well, that this isn't one movie they're looking to cast, but for the character of Doctor Strange to launch his own franchise, much like Iron Man, Thor, Cap, and Star-Lord (who, yes, is just one of the [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073), but for argument's sake, leads the team), you start to realize just how crucial this casting decision is. This is an actor who will need to anchor this role, and bring the character of Dr. Stephen Strange to life for quite a few years to come.

Which leads to the whole issue of why Marvel's having a hard time getting anyone to commit...

Established actors don't really NEED Marvel

And that's the problem, isn't it? While some of the first Avengers actors and actresses were a little wary of signing to a long-term contract (Chris Evans being the most vocal of those), Marvel still had the upper hand. These young actors and actresses were either unknown or just on the cusp of breaking out in a big way, and they all knew that signing up for Marvel films was the thing that would put them over the edge.

But established actors don't need Marvel the way the first round of Avengers actors did. They don't need Marvel to rehab their image, they don't need Marvel to launch their careers - they're already launched. And they don't need Marvel to make them a household name to American audiences, because they either already are or they were and then decided they were content doing smaller, more critically-acclaimed films.

To be fair, it takes a lot of time to be a professional crazy person.
To be fair, it takes a lot of time to be a professional crazy person.

And while the negotiation process with Joaquin Phoenix was the most discussed, because he came the closest to signing, in the end, he backed away for the same two reasons that will scare off many other potential actors for the role (and, I suspect, already has).

One, he was very, very hesitant about signing himself to one of Marvel's infamous multi-picture contracts. Understand, being in a Marvel movie doesn't just mean showing up for a few weeks to months, shooting, and then going home. It means endless publicity tours and a globe-trotting juggernaut of a promotional campaign for every single movie. It means having to appear in other Marvel character movies if Marvel writes it into the script. And as a franchise anchor, it means signing away up to the next decade of one's life with Marvel as the priority.

To a young actor, that may not seem like that big a deal. Five to ten years to open doorways he or she never would have had opened otherwise? Small price to pay for a major career launch. But a veteran actor will back away from that, wondering if he'd be sacrificing too much, would have to devote too much of his life to Marvel, if he'd have to turn down an amazing project simply because he's caught in the perpetual motion machine that is being in a Marvel franchise. It's not absolutely impossible to be in a non-Marvel project, but it certainly makes it far more difficult with a contractual obligation of that size and length.

There's also the understanding that they would be giving up a fair bit of creative control. Utilitarianism is the name of Marvel's game, with the greatest amount of good for the greatest number coming at the expense of each individual actor and actress. They must sacrifice some creativity and free will to be able to fit with the continuity of the storyline, with the other characters, and with the larger picture Marvel is building with the MCU. That would chafe an established actor who is used to doing smaller films with more freedom and less moving parts than to make a film in Marvel's insanely huge studio system.

Oh, and...

About that Matthew Modine as Doctor Strange thing...

Some of you may or may not know that actor Matthew Modine has been waging a grassroots campaign the past few months to land himself the role of Doctor Strange. Fans have picked up on it on Twitter, and director Scott Derrickson must be sick of fans tweeting their support for Modine at him already.


But Modine may have inadvertently shot himself in the foot when he, you know, kind of started the whole flame war between Marvel and DC when he went on VH1 and vowed that [The Dark Knight Rises](movie:39011) (in which he played Deputy Commissioner Foley) would kick [The Avengers](movie:9040)' butt at the box office.

Not exactly the best way to get into Marvel's graces, Modine, even if it was just a bit of gamesmanship on your part.

Still, if the casting carousel continues to revolve without a stop, Modine may indeed get a call from Marvel to come in and read for the role. At this point, would we mind?


If you were an established actor, would you sign on with Marvel to play Dr. Strange?


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