The wait appears to be over, everyone!
And by "wait," I am, of course, referring to the seemingly endless merry-go-round that has been the casting process for Marvel's upcoming [Doctor Strange](movie:559685), which, as I've already covered, has been one giant clusterf**k so far.
Everyone in Hollywood has been attached to the role at one point or another, it seems like. And they finally found their guy in Joaquin Phoenix, who was an inch away from signing on the dotted line before backing out at the last second.
But a breaking...rumor? news? item has just come from Deadline claiming an old, familiar face might be Joaquin's replacement: Benedict Cumberbatch, who, if you remember, has already been on Marvel's short list for months, then seemed to stir the pot even further with some coy, cryptic comments made about his involvement during this year's San Diego Comic-Con.
According to Deadline, while Marvel is keeping their eye on a few other actors for the role, their first choice is Cumberbatch, and negotiations are set to begin.
So do I think this is really happening? Or not? I'm actually leaning toward the former - here are a few things to consider:
Cumberbatch Was Already Speaking to Marvel When Negotiations With Phoenix Went South
Now, the news of the deal with Joaquin Phoenix falling apart was confirmed just the other week, but reality is that the negotiations had broken down long before that. If you were thinking it was strange that Marvel didn't blow the roof off Hall H during this past summer's Comic-Con as they usually do, you weren't wrong: The understanding was that Phoenix was supposed to sign on the dotted line just before Comic-Con so they could have him strut on stage with the casting announcement like a badass, much like they did with Mark Ruffalo.
As we all know, he got cold feet and backed away from signing at the last moment, leaving Marvel without their big reveal as planned. But as we've seen before, Marvel are masters when it comes to damage control and having a Plan B (and C through Z) in place for when things go awry. So you can guarantee they were still in the process of talking to some of the other actors on their short list at the time, which included Cumberbatch.
My guess is that once Phoenix officially pulled the plug, Marvel jumped straight into working kinks out with Cumberbatch, those kinks being his conflicting shooting schedule, which he half-heartedly threw out as a deflection when asked about the Doctor Strange rumors during SDCC. Of course, they've been courting other actors in the event they couldn't work something out with Cumberbatch, but I would not be surprised to learn that the Marvel-Benedict Cumberbatch talks have been going on for far longer than people realize.
The Tom Hiddleston Connection
Don't underestimate the influence actors have on each other, either. Word-of-mouth is a big thing in the industry, and it's worth noting that Cumberbatch happens to be very, very close friends with another Marvel star: Tom Hiddleston. The two are so close, in fact, that when Cumberbatch had to drop out of the filming for [Crimson Peak](movie:774042) and was replaced by Hiddleston, Tom called him up to get his good friend's blessing to take on the role before accepting. True story.
So it's not far-fetched to think that Cumberbatch would call up Hiddleston after being approached by Marvel, wanting to get the low-down on what it's like to work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from a friend he trusts and respects. And with Tom Hiddleston being firmly in the pro-Marvel camp (and possibly appearing in [Thor 3](movie:956858)), it's entirely possible he sold his friend on the idea of getting the chance to work together again at some point.
We Already Know He's Down for the Marvel Circus
The biggest issue with Phoenix was that he balked at two major things: One, signing himself to one of Marvel's monster contracts, and two, not being comfortable working on huge, blockbuster movies. Benedict Cumberbatch, on the other hand, is box office gold the past few years, having appeared in [Star Trek Into Darkness](movie:37722), [The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug](movie:512310) and upcoming [The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies](movie:512312). The man is clearly okay with a green screen. Need him to do mocap? He's cool with it. Voicework? He's comfortable. Dramatic gravitas? He's got you covered.
It's also worth noting that something else that may have scared Phoenix away was not just the work involved with making a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but of the circus and spectacle of the non-stop promotion and fan frenzy that come in a package deal with being a Marvel star. Cumberbatch has already had a rabid fanbase with [Sherlock](series:201416), so the thought of stepping onto a red carpet or in front of a panel to a sea of teenagers and 20-somethings absolutely losing their collective shit won't faze him in the slightest. In our modern climate of churning out franchise stars, this is more important a quality than one might expect.
Marvel Needs to Sign an Actor to the Role ASAP
[Doctor Strange](movie:559685) is scheduled to be in theaters on July 8th, 2016. That's less than two years from now. The average Marvel film takes at least two years to complete, from start to finish, which would have put them right on track to keep with their usual schedule had they announced Joaquin Phoenix's involvement back in the summer during Comic-Con.
But that went to hell, so Marvel is way behind their usual schedule. With a movie that will be as understandably CGI-heavy as Doctor Strange should be, this means a lot of post-production time needs to be allotted to polish the special effects. Time also needs to be made for the reshoots that can be expected on a film of this magnitude. At the very least, the movie will need a solid year in post, meaning filming will need to ideally be wrapped by mid-summer, so filming will need to start no later than early next year. Which means they need to sign an actor ASAP.
Taking a look at Cumberbatch's timeline, it appears he may very well have those months open. He's not yet started his run as Hamlet in London, so that's down the road. His only announced upcoming projects are [The Jungle Book](movie:1038643), [Yellow Birds](movie:1433446), and [Flying Horse](movie:1003134). Jungle Book is simply a voice role, something he could complete in a week or two. The Yellow Birds is scheduled for a 2016 release, but doesn't appear to be penciled in for any sort of shooting dates or official release date. But, as it's a war drama, expect it to be a fall or winter release - which means he could easily shoot at any point next year and still have plenty of time for the film to be completed by then. As for Flying Horse, there's virtually no information about it other than that it's announced. This means it might not even get made, and it's certainly not going to happen in the next year or two.
So it looks like those scheduling conflicts may not be conflicts, after all...and that Benedict Cumberbatch may very well be our Sorcerer Supreme. Expect an official announcement pending from Marvel very, very soon.