MCU Characters Played By More Than One Actor

Marvel Studios made cinematic history by linking the stories of over a half dozen different franchises into a larger narrative. Has it always been perfect? Have there been no inconsistencies whatsoever? No and no, but considering the MCU has existed for over a decade and includes more than 20 movies, the narrative's cohesion and consistency is pretty impressive. 

One challenge the filmmakers have had to face that the comic book creators were spared from is the challenge of keeping consistent talent. After all, if the late Stan Lee or a subsequent Editor in Chief wanted Captain America to guest star in an issue of Doctor Strange, they just had the creative team of Doctor Strange include Captain America. If Marvel Studios wants Cap to show up in a Doctor Strange movie, they need to make sure Chris Evans is agreeable, that it works with his schedule, they'll need to negotiate money, they should probably make sure that Benedict Cumberbatch isn't rubbed the wrong way by another leading man edging in on his playground, etc. 

So in some cases actors have had to be replaced. Some were leading actors, some changes were less noticeable, and some were changed because the characters' initial appearance didn't actually reveal their faces. And some characters have always, by necessity, been played by more than one actor. To know what we're talking about, here's a look at the MCU characters who have been played by more than one actor. 

Bruce Banner/The Hulk - Ed Norton and Mark Ruffalo

In 2008 Ed Norton starred as Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. Four years later, Avengers saw the return of Bruce Banner and his green alter ego, but with Mark Ruffalo replacing Norton.

In an official 2010 statement, Marvel claimed it was the studio's choice to not have Norton return. The studio said it wanted an actor who "embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members." It seems likely the comment was meant to reference Norton's refusal to do a press tour for Incredible Hulk after his script rewrites on the film were cut for the theatrical release. Four years later, speaking to NPR (via THR), Norton implied it was his choice to not return, saying he "wanted more diversity" in his work. 

According to Mark Ruffalo, the announcement he would be stepping into the role was a little awkward. Speaking on the Graham Norton Show, he said that Robert Downey Jr. introduced him at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con as "reprising the role" of Bruce Banner, leading the crowd to believe they were about to see Ed Norton. He also said we didn't learn about the casting long after he did. Ruffalo said the night before his Comic-Con appearance his agent told him look out his window the following morning: "If there's a car there, you got the part. If there's not, just go back to bed." Thankfully, Ruffalo didn't get to sleep in.  

James Rhodes/War Machine - Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle

Toward the end of 2008's Iron Man, James Rhodes — then played by Terrence Howard — famously looks back at the earlier, unfinished version of the Iron Man suit in Tony Stark's workroom and says, "Next time, baby." Unfortunately while the next time came for Rhodey, for Howard it wasn't meant to be. 

Howard wasn't shy about his frustration with both Marvel and co-star Robert Downey, Jr. over what happened. On a 2013 episode of Watch What Happens Live, Howard said he initially signed a three-picture deal with Marvel, but that for Iron Man 2 the studio wanted to renegotiate and pay the actor one-eighth of what was originally promised. He also said he called Downey for support and guidance, but implied the actor avoided him. After years of anger, however, Howard and Downey mended fences. In 2017 Howard said he and Downey were friends again because "We just realized that life is too short."

Speaking of time being short, Don Cheadle didn't get long to decide whether to replace Howard. In 2019, Cheadle told Variety that Downey and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige called him while he was at his daughter's birthday party to offer him the role of James Rhodes, and that he had an hour to decide. Cheadle told Variety's Marc Malkin, "I said, 'Well, I'm at my daughter's birthday party.' They said, 'Oh, take two hours.'"

Howard Stark - Gerald Sanders, Dominic Cooper, and John Slattery

If you've found yourself noticing that Tony Stark's father Howard looks and sounds a lot different from movie to movie, don't worry — it's not an indication you need to make an appointment with your ENT doc. Iron Man's father has been portrayed by not one, not two, but three different actors. 

We first see Howard Stark in a photo as part of his son's award presentation early in 2008's Iron Man, where he's played by Gerald Sanders. But in 2010's Iron Man 2, in film footage Tony's reviewing to figure out how to cure himself of Palladium poisoning, Howard Stark is played by John Slattery, better known as ad man Roger Sterling in AMC's Mad Men. The character gets even more screen time in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, with Dominic Cooper cast as the young inventor who helps make Captain America a reality. 

While Sanders hasn't reappeared as Howard Stark, in the case of Cooper and Slattery it's unique in that — unlike a lot of cases of MCU characters played by more than one actor — neither truly replaced the other. Slattery went on to play Howard Stark in 2015's Ant-Man, 2016's Captain America: Civil War, and 2019's Avengers: Endgame. At the same time, Cooper has never left the role either. He played Stark in Marvel's Agent Carter TV series, and is set to reprise the role in Disney+'s upcoming What If...?

Fandral - Josh Dallas and Zachary Levi

The swashbuckling Fandral of Asgard's Warriors Three was minor enough of a character in 2010's Thor that some fans watching 2013's Thor: The Dark World didn't even notice the dashing swordsman was being played by a different actor. Unfortunately, as fun as being a part of Asgard might have been, a different fantasy world took the original Fandral away from Thor's hometown.  

Josh Dallas plays Fandral in Thor, but circumstances led him to bow out of the sequel. Starting the year after Thor hit theaters, Dallas landed a role alternating between David Nolan and Prince Charming on the ABC fantasy drama Once Upon a Time. He had nothing but good things to say about his time as Fandral, but said the shooting schedules between Thor and Once Upon a Time simply didn't allow for him to do both.  

Thor: The Dark World saw Zachary Levi taking over the role of Fandral. He reprised the role in 2017's Thor: Ragnarok, though sadly not for long. Along with the other Warriors Three, Fandral is killed by Hela (Cate Blanchett) early in the film. About a month after the release of Ragnarok, Levi expressed regret that Fandral's last words were cut, too. Speaking at a panel at the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest, Levi said when the scene was shot, he charged Hela yelling "For Asgard!" but his battle cry ended up getting edited out. 

Red Skull - Hugo Weaving and Ross Marquand

One of the better kept secrets of 2018's Avengers: Infinity War was the return of the Red Skull. The villain claims he'd been punished for attempting to wield one of the Infinity Stones by becoming the guide to anyone seeking the Soul Stone. But instead of Hugo Weaving who originally played the villain, it's Ross Marquand — best known as Aaron on AMC's The Walking Dead — doing his best Red Skull impersonation in Infinity War and the 2019 follow up Avengers: Endgame

It would be understandable if you assume Marvel didn't even bother calling Weaving. As early as 2012, the actor said he wasn't interested in reprising the role. "I think I've done my dash with that sort of film," Weaving said while speaking with Collider. He added that he was contractually obligated to appear in other films if Marvel asked, but that he assumed Marvel "wouldn't want to force someone to do it, if they didn't want to."

In early 2020 during an interview with Time Out, it came out that in fact Marvel did approach Weaving, but that he wasn't happy with the renegotiations. Weaving said that according to his original contract with Marvel, he would be paid more for each subsequent movie in which he appeared as Red Skull. But when they approached him for Infinity War and Endgame, they offered him "much less... and this was for two films." He described negotiations with the studio as "impossible." 

Thanos - Damion Poitier and Josh Brolin

Appearing in four movies as the Mad Titan Thanos, Josh Brolin's performance as the ultimate villain of the MCU's Infinity Saga is an unquestionable triumph. As Marvel president Kevin Feige said about the choice to cast Brolin in the role, "He could be Thanos without any effects. He has that kind of face and that kind of gravitas." Brolin proved so perfect for the role that you could be easily forgiven for forgetting that it wasn't him playing Thanos when the villain shows up in the mid-credits scene of 2012's Avengers

Perhaps best known as Duprez on HBO's vampire drama True Blood, Damion Poitier plays Thanos in that brief game-changing mid-credits scene. And according to Poitier, he didn't even find out he was playing Thanos until he was literally in the makeup chair. The actor told GeeksWorldWide (via ComicBookMovie) that — largely because of rumors that Loki's army would be made up of the shape-shifting Skrulls — he thought he would be playing the Super-Skrull, an old Fantastic Four villain. 

While that brief profile shot was Poitier's only appearance as Thanos, it wasn't his last time in the MCU. Poitier enjoys a minor speaking role as one of Crossbones' henchmen in the beginning of Captain America: Civil War

Cassie Lang - Abby Ryder Forston and Emma Fuhrmann

Few child actors in the MCU have won over audiences' hearts as thoroughly as Abby Ryder Forston as Cassie Lang — daughter to Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) — in 2015's Ant-Man and the sequel Ant-Man & The Wasp. Unfortunately, the plot of Avengers: Endgame necessitated a Cassie Lang five years older than when we left her, and in that film Emma Fuhrmann took over as Scott Lang's daughter. 

We don't know when or how Forston heard the news she wouldn't be returning as Cassie, though as late as July 2018 she was saying she hoped to keep playing Cassie and that she'd get to become a superhero. In the comics, Cassie eventually fights bad guys as the size-changing hero Stature in Young Avengers, and Forston told InsideTheMagic, "I really hope that I get to play Stature. I think it would be so cool to have the suit and just become a superhero... fight bad guys!"

Before you get mad at Emma Fuhrmann for poaching the role, she apparently didn't even know that's who she was auditioning for. Shortly after the release of Endgame, Fuhrmann told she auditioned in June 2017 and wasn't even given a movie name. She told the site her best bet was very different from what she ended up with: "I was guessing young Black Widow, because that was the only female character that I could think of that I resembled." 

Loki - Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, and Anthony Hopkins

Don't worry, Tom Hiddeston fans — we're not announcing any new casting changes for your favorite god of lies. It just so happens that one of Loki's more fun magical tricks — his ability to disguise himself as just about whoever he chooses — has made it necessary for other leading men to play Thor's adoptive brother.

As perfect as Anthony Hopkins was in the role of Odin in the first three Thor films, he's never funnier in the franchise than early in 2017's Thor: Ragnarok. Having been replaced by Loki at the end of 2013's Thor: The Dark World, Odin is still missing and Loki is masquerading as his adoptive father. We see a very funny version of Odin or a very strange-looking version of Loki — depending on how you look at it — that only ends once Thor threatens the pretender with his hammer.

Earlier than that is one of the best cameos in the history of the MCU. In The Dark World, Loki briefly assumes the appearance of Captain America. After the movie's release, Hiddleston told MTV the hilarious story behind the cameo. Hiddleston did everything you see Evans do in the movie, including wearing Cap's suit and carrying his shield. Then Evans watched the recording of Hiddleston's performance and did everything the Loki actor did. Or, as Hiddleston put it, "It's him doing an impression of me doing an impression of him. And it's brilliant."

Janet Van Dyne - Hayley Lovitt and Michelle Pfeiffer

You may not even have any idea anyone other than Michelle Pfeiffer played Janet Van Dyne — the original Wasp — but in both 2015's Ant-Man and the follow up Ant-Man & The Wasp, Hayley Lovitt played the young version of Hank Pym's long lost love. 

In the theatrical release of Ant-Man you're not going to see much of Lovitt beyond the flashback scene when her face is covered and she turns off her regulator, shrinking infinitely in order to stop the nuke headed for the United States. But in 2017, Lovitt told TV Series Hub that she filmed dialogue scenes with Michael Douglas for Ant-Man which were ultimately cut. She reappears as the young Janet Van Dyne in Ant-Man & The Wasp, with CGI used to make her look more like Pfeiffer. 

Janet Van Dyne wouldn't be Lovitt's only chance to play a Marvel hero, by the way. She had a recurring role as the X-Men character Sage on TV series The Gifted. 

Rocket - Bradley Cooper and Sean Gunn

The MCU includes characters a bit more physically, well... impossible than in other films. As such, there are some characters you need more than one person to play at the same time. Such a beast is the antisocial Rocket made famous by the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films. 

Most people think of Rocket as the product of Bradley Cooper's acting and while Cooper is the voice of Rocket, in just about every other way other than the CGI renderings themselves, credit goes to Sean Gunn. During a 2017 Facebook Live session, Guardians writer/director James Gunn dealt with the misconception that his brother is a stand-in for Rocket. "Sean Gunn is not a stand-in," James said. "He is a motion reference actor. That means we film everything Sean does on set as Rocket... I don't stop doing takes of him until we get the performance right." 

Speaking to EW in 2018, the Gunn brothers said a lot of what makes Sean perfect for the role is his flexibility. James told a story about his brother, at 12 years old, "fitting himself through a wire hanger without bending it," Sean confirmed that had a lot to do with why he could play Rocket.  "I can crouch down and even walk [on all fours] without too much trouble," Sean Gunn said. "I don't think many other actors would be able to do the physical part of it."

Groot - Vin Diesel, Krystian Godlewski, and Terry Notary

He only ever speaks three words, but it takes a team to make him work. Most of us probably know Guardians of the Galaxy's Groot is voiced by actor Vin Diesel. But you may not know he isn't the only actor who brings Marvel's most famous tree to life. 

In 2014's Guardian of the Galaxy, Polish actor Krystian Godlewski was the motion reference actor for Groot, wearing a motion capture suit and a big Groot-head hat during filming. In 2018's Avengers: Infinity War and the follow-up Avengers: Endgame, Terry Notary took over the role of Groot while doing double duty as the Hulk-sized behemoth Cull Obsidian. 

By the way, Vin Diesel wants you to know it isn't nearly as easy as you think it is to be the voice of Groot. Sure, it would be kind of tough for Diesel to forget his lines, but there's a challenge you might not consider in tackling the role. Diesel told Total Film (via CinemaBlend) people may not think of the limitations inherent in playing Groot. He said he gets a secret script which has all of Groot's actual dialogue — i.e. what Groot means to say — "but the catch of it all is the only way I can say it is 'I am Groot.'" 

We don't know if Hodor would have much sympathy for him, though maybe the rest of us should think twice about calling his job easy.