Actors who were almost cast as an Avenger

Assembling the right cast for the Marvel Cinematic Universe — the solo superhero movies that informed the various, massive Avengers movies — was as tough a task for the executives at Marvel Studios as it was for Nick Fury to assemble the Avengers. Personalities, egos, money, input from movie people and comics people … what a headache. It took years to get all of the stars signed up and signed on for multiple movies, and still Marvel couldn't get their first choices some of the time. Here are some stars who were almost an Avenger.

Emily Blunt as Black Widow

The British star of The Devil Wears Prada and Sicario was one of Marvel's top choices to play Black Widow (and Natasha Romanoff) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beginning with a major role in Iron Man 2. The studio was reportedly very close to signing her, until all parties realized a scheduling conflict couldn't be overcome. Blunt had to honor her commitment to starring in the 2010 adaptation of Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black … which flopped.

John Krasinski as Captain America

We almost had married Avengers! Emily Blunt's husband, John Krasinski of The Office, was very close to portraying squeaky-clean, all-American good guy Steve Rogers and his alter ego, Captain America. In 2010, many news outlets reported that he was very close to signing on the dotted line. That's not quite true, as Krasinski relayed on Conan in 2016. Krasinski had put on a lot of muscle and reported to a movie studio to try on the Captain America costume. And then he saw Chris Hemsworth, all suited up as Thor … which made Krasinski realize he was nowhere near buff enough to play a superhero. "This is stupid," Krasinski said on Conan. "I'm not going to be Captain America, it's fine." And he pulled himself out of consideration.

Tom Hiddleston as Thor

Sure, the serious British actor played a major part in the MCU, bringing the villainous Loki to life in Thor, but he first got his foot in the door at the casting agency because Marvel was interested in him for the role of Thor. Marvel and Hiddleston were both so positive it was going to work out that he hugely bulked up, gaining somewhere around 20 pounds of muscle by doing "less running and more lifting of things for awhile." But after his screen test, filmmakers realized he was far more suited to the meatier role of Loki, the bad guy. Fortunately, Thor fans can catch a glimpse of what might have been if Hiddleston had played the hero: his audition tape appears as a bonus feature on the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray.

Alexander Skarsgard as Thor

The Scandinavian star of True Blood and Tarzan certainly looked the part of the ancient Norse god of thunder. He made it all the way to the final round of casting, even filming a screen test in full Thor costume, including the helmet and hammer. He really wanted the part, but Marvel went with Australian hunk Chris Hemsworth instead.

Sam Rockwell as Iron Man

Iron Man director Jon Favreau has publicly acknowledged that the quirky character actor (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) was someone he seriously considered for Tony Stark. "He was one of the actors I was looking at for Tony Stark," Favreau said. "Of course, when I met with Robert there was nobody else on my mind." That's Robert Downey Jr., obviously, but Favreau liked Rockwell so much that he cast him in Iron Man 2 as Justin Hammer, a guy who really, really wishes he was Tony Stark.

Eliza Dushku as Black Widow

Best known for her roles on cult TV shows like Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, Dushku publicly campaigned for the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, a role that would be reprised in the Avengers movies. On The Howard Stern Show, she said that she was "perfect for the Black Widow character, that they just need to get into it." She also added that she'd learned a lot of Russian for an episode of Dollhouse, which would come in handy playing the Russian character. Ultimately, director Jon Favreau went with Scarlett Johansson. Oddly enough, Dushku's old boss Joss Whedon wound up directing The Avengers.

Saoirse Ronan as Scarlet Witch

This sure seemed like a lock for the Irish actress who has starred in multiple Best Picture nominees, including Atonement and Brooklyn. After all, Joss Whedon and Marvel implied during the development of Avengers: Age of Ultron that Ronan was the "prototype" or model by which they built the character of Scarlet Witch. Ronan was flattered and interested and the role was offered to her, but she eventually turned it down for undisclosed reasons. Ronan would later say that her involvement with the franchise at all was "one of those little rumors floating about."

David Duchovny as The Hulk

Over the past decade and change, three different actors have played that guy you wouldn't like when he got angry. Australian sketch comedy star Eric Bana landed the role out of nowhere in Ang Lee's brainy 2003 Hulk, but opted not to return for a sequel, possibly because there were rumors it would be released direct-to-video. That movie was ultimately canceled as Marvel decided to reboot the Hulk with another movie that would play into its Avengers movies and growing MCU. Marvel vice chairman Peter Cuneo said in a radio interview that, at one point, David Duchovny had the part locked up. It was his to lose, and lose it he did, to Edward Norton, who aggressively lobbied for the part. Norton ran afoul of Marvel at some point, so Marvel replaced him for any and all future projects … with Mark Ruffalo, and not David Duchovny.

Jensen Ackles as Hawkeye

Even Hawkeye, the least famous, least popular, and least super-powered (archery?) of all of the Avengers was the subject of a casting battle. But a multimillion-dollar action franchise is still a multimillion-dollar action franchise, and so Marvel had to be absolutely sure before they went with the Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner for the part. As it went down, the role of Hawkeye was nearly offered up as a kind of consolation prize. Supernatural star Jensen Ackles auditioned to play Captain America but was edged out by Chris Evans. Marvel executives liked him, though, and invited him to consider playing Hawkeye. Ackles passed because he couldn't get out of his arduous Supernatural shooting schedule.

Timothy Olyphant as Iron Man

Olyphant has headlined two beloved, critically acclaimed TV series: Deadwood and Justified. But he was looking to take his film career up a notch, and his management team was able to get him onto Jon Favreau's short list for Tony Stark in Iron Man. His auditions went well, and he filmed a screen test, but he filmed on the exact same day Robert Downey Jr. filmed his screen test. "I'm still waiting to hear back," Olyphant joked on Conan in 2015. "Those superhero movies are huge! That could be a real game-changer."

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