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The Two Huge Celebs Who Wanted To Play X-Men

Since its inception 20 years ago, the X-Men film franchise has boasted a killer cast. The first actor people usually think of is, of course, Hugh Jackman, but he was relatively unknown back in 2000; it was his stint as Wolverine that earned him star power in the first place. That first film also nabbed the then-already-famous likes of Halle Berry as Storm, Rebecca Romijn as Mystique, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellan as Magneto. Later on, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence would come along to play younger versions of the mutant cast.

In short, X-Men movies have clearly never shied away from casting household names. Even when it comes to celebrities who didn't end up as on-screen mutants, plenty of recognizable faces sent in their applications to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Let's take a look at some of the mutants that might have been.

Michael Jackson wanted to play Professor X

Michael Jackson left behind quite a legacy — however complicated — as a singer, songwriter, and entertainer when he passed away in 2009.  What you might not know is that he very nearly could've added a role as Professor X to that legacy.

X-Men executive producer Ralph Winter revealed in a 2020 interview with the Observer that "Michael Jackson was a big comic fan and wanted to play Charles Xavier." His love of the funny pages is indeed well documented, ranging from a vast collection of comics and related memorabilia to the time he almost bought Marvel. Yes, you read that right.

There's no telling how fans would have received Jackson as the wheelchair-bound telepath, but it's not like the singer was a stranger to the screen. His music videos are hailed as some of his strongest and most iconic work, and you need only watch "Thriller" to see why. Jackson even worked on full-length movies like musical adventure The Wiz and the Disney parks' 3D extravaganza Captain EO.

Shaquille O'Neal wanted to play Forge

Joining Michael Jackson in the "cultural icons who wanted to play X-Men" category is basketball retiree Shaquille O'Neal. Quoting from the aforementioned Observer interview, Winter mentioned that the sports star "showed up at the offices and wanted to play Forge, who wasn't in the movie." The mutant still hasn't shown up in any X-Men movies all these years later, though his name appears in a computer file in X2: X-Men United.

From what's known of Forge in the comics, various animated series, and video games, he could've been an interesting asset to the team on the silver screen. Though trained in the mystic arts, he is primarily an inventor, aided by a kind of superhuman intuition and the ability to visualize mechanical energy, allowing him to create devices like a power neutralizer. He's no slouch when it comes to knocking heads either, equipped with two bionic limbs and an assortment of weapons of his own invention.

By the time X-Men was released in 2000, Shaq had already headlined a superhero film three years earlier as the titular Steel. It was poorly received, but Shaq quickly moved on to act and make cameo appearances in various other films and shows, from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Fresh Off the Boat. Even outside of that, the towering legend has established himself as a media personality, famous worldwide for far more than just his basketball career. Who knows what he could've brought to the table as Forge?

Other celebrities who wanted to play X-Men

Jackson and Shaq aren't the only big names who almost signed on to the X-Men franchise. The role of Wolverine alone had a who's who of potential performers to choose from before Hugh Jackman secured his place in cinema history. Russell Crowe famously turned down the job and suggested Jackman instead, but Viggo Mortensen of The Lord of the Rings fame and singer Glenn Danzig were also purported candidates who eventually refused. And there's more where they came from.

Following in Shaq's footsteps, Mariah Carey herself came seeking a spot in the cast — though as the weather-manipulating mutant Storm rather than Forge. But it was Halle Berry who landed the role, succeeded by Alexandra Shipp in later films focused on the X-Men's younger days. Charlize Theron was courted for Jean Grey, but like many of Wolverine's potential actors, she too turned down the opportunity. Famke Janssen scooped up the role instead, with Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner filling in her shoes later on.

With the future of the X-Men now resting in the hands of Disney and Marvel Studios, we're all waiting with baited breath to find out who will fill these iconic roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is it too late for Shaq to join the party? Time will tell.