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A Big-Name Actor Recently Turned Marvel Down

Contrary to popular belief, Kevin Feige doesn't always get everything he wants. 

At the end of December 2019, Marvel Studios' chief creative officer made an appearance at the New York Film Academy to give a Q&A session with students, and during the discussion, he revealed a swing-and-miss effort that happened in the very recent past: he pitched a role to an unnamed high-profile actor who ultimately turned down the opportunity. 

"It happened the other day with an actor," Feige said when discussing how often plans fall through in pre-production. "There's an actor we want for something, they come in, you give a big pitch and you can sort of tell they're not into it. 'I guess I'm a failure, I'll show them, we'll cast somebody even better.' So it's just part of it — and don't linger on them, is what I usually try to do. Don't think too much about it, don't stew in it, move on quickly."

Despite Marvel's commercial success, sometimes there just isn't a price that will move an actor into performing a role they're not interested in. And even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe is beloved by fans, not everyone digs the superhero franchise. It's not necessarily mistake or a loss when an actor turns down a massive project like a Marvel movie — it's actually the best outcome for both parties. No actor wants to make a movie they're not personally invested in, as those tend to produce bad results.

There's no way to know who the mystery actor was unless they eventually choose to speak out, but this isn't the first time Marvel has faced rejection. Let's look at why this tiny peek into the deeply secretive planning phase of the MCU is interesting, and where and when it matters for what's to come.

Marvel is making an effort to cast A-list actors in major roles

If Feige is making a personal pitch to triple-A talent for a future Marvel movie, the project in question is likely way, way out in the development weeds. Now would be a great time for him seek out talent for big, connective-tissue character roles that can be built around once directors are attached — something like the miles-away Fantastic Four reboot. All the MCU Phase 4 films are far enough into development to have lead actors and directors, so their conceptual bedrock has been completed for at least a year. Casting the net for Phase 5 and beyond is the job for somebody like Feige; if you can lock in your pillar characters' roles well ahead of time, that smooths out the process going forward and the actor can offer more creative input — a thing a previously-established, peak celeb would likely demand to have — by joining earlier in the development stream.

It's important to recall that this new era of Marvel making an effort to cast talent at an echelon like Angelina Jolie's in a lead role is a relatively new effort. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth were nowhere near household names in 2010. Robert Downey Jr. was certainly a name, but still highly radioactive in terms of controversy when Iron Man was released in 2008. Marvel has an indisputable talent for spinning gold from yarn because before about 2013, gilt materials were both too expensive to justify cost and the MCU hadn't attained its juggernaut status that would draw in that kind of talent. It wasn't that long ago that superhero movies were a less-than role to be dismissed outright by "serious" actors. What a difference a decade makes.

Asking once isn't the end

Though the MCU is in huge demand today and employs a measurable chunk of Hollywood on both a short-term and long-term basis, there are still sizable barriers that should give any actor pause before signing on the dotted line. You don't have to know in detail all the rules main MCU actors have to follow after signing to know how much of a commitment taking the role is. Necessary reshoots and demanding press tours are already a big ask for an actor of any caliber — and performing as a major MCU character means multiple years of doing it. For a lot of actors, that's a disqualifying fact all on its own; no amount of money can replace a different project opportunity that an actor would have a lot of passion for. Franchise money and its big paydays make the industry go 'round, but it isn't a be-all, end-all.

Additionally, there's a reason you haven't seen most MCU actors doing a whole lot of projects outside the franchise: it's a full time job with overtime all by itself. Taking a role that will consume your life has to be something the actor is dedicated to and creatively invested in, and when you're in-demand talent, you can let an opportunity roll by knowing another can and will come. There are a few actors with household name status that have been approached more than once by Marvel Studios, and Feige's meeting mentioned at the Q&A could have easily been one of those people or someone new. The new effort to bring on bigger actors is of course exciting, but we do hope Marvel Studios remains invested in finding fresh, untested faces for its movies. No matter what, the studio has yet to utterly fail in casting someone that feels totally correct for its superheroes, even when the person it lands on isn't the first choice.