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Actors Who Were Almost Cast As Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a pretty perfect Doctor Strange — but the role could have been taken by a number of other actors. In fact, due to scheduling conflicts, Cumberbatch had to decline his first opportunity to star in "Doctor Strange," and director Scott Derrickson met with a number of potential leading men. Convinced none of them were the right fit for the part, Derrickson persuaded Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige to delay production to accommodate his star, and the rest is Sorcerer Supreme history. Here's how things might have gone if Cumberbatch hadn't signed on after all.

Joaquin Phoenix

In 2014, Marvel pursued Phoenix for "Doctor Strange." Contract negotiations were reportedly close to agreement, but Phoenix is said to have balked at how much time and creative energy starring in the movie would consume, not to mention the appearances in other MCU releases he'd be obligated to make over the next few years. He ultimately decided he preferred indie efforts to superhero blockbusters — though a few years later, he won an Oscar for playing the title role in "Joker."

Ryan Gosling

After Joaquin Phoenix turned down the role, Ryan Gosling took some meetings with Marvel Studios executives. In a 2014 interview that year with ScreenCrave to promote "Gangster Squad," he hinted he'd also love to play the Flash in "Justice League." Unfortunately for fans of costumed "Hey Girl" memes, he ultimately didn't land either part.

Jared Leto

Derrickson told Empire that when it looked like Cumberbatch was a no-go, he met with "a lot of good actors," including Phoenix, Gosling, and Jared Leto, hot off his Best Supporting Actor win for "Dallas Buyers Club." Leto would wind up crossing the comics adaptation tracks and signing on to play the Joker in the DCEU movie "Suicide Squad," which was in production at the same time as "Doctor Strange." He later played the titular character in "Morbius."

Ethan Hawke

While doing promotion for his Oscar-nominated turn in "Boyhood," Hawke mentioned on a podcast that he came "as close as anybody could" to playing Stephen Strange. Hawke suspects he didn't wind up with the part because he doesn't have a huge fanbase like Benedict Cumberbatch, nor is he a major box office draw. "If people are gonna put up with somebody like me," he mused, "they wanna make sure you're gonna put asses in seats, and there's a lot of actors that are gonna put more asses in seats than me." Hawke later joined the MCU, playing Arthur Harrow in "Moon Knight."

Ewan McGregor

There was apparently mutual interest between Marvel and Ewan McGregor for "Doctor Strange." In 2015, a reporter from MTV asked McGregor about his involvement in the movie. "I was into it, yeah. I thought it was exciting," he told the network, admitting he "liked the idea of creating or being a superhero character." He pointed to his lack of comic book knowledge as what he believes bumped him out of the running for the role, but said "it was still fun to be a part of the mix for a while."

Jake Gyllenhaal

After appearing in a series of dark, independent dramas like "Southpaw" and "Nightcrawler," Gyllenhaal was ready to do a fun superhero movie — coming full circle on a journey he'd started when he nearly took over the title role in "Spider-Man 2" after contract negotiations with Tobey Maguire broke down. He was reportedly on Marvel's shortlist of actors to star in "Doctor Strange," but apparently didn't get too far in the casting process. He eventually became part of the MCU anyway, playing Mysterio in "Spider-Man: Far From Home."

Patrick Dempsey

A movie star in the '80s, Dempsey enjoyed a massive comeback when he took on a starring role on ABC's popular soap "Grey's Anatomy" from 2005 to 2015. In 2011, he admitted he was looking to get back into movies, specifically with a movie adaptation of "Doctor Strange." Dempsey publicly discussed his attraction to the character with the Los Angeles Times, saying, "I've been lobbying for that. It would be fantastic. It'd be a great TV show, especially for HBO or something like that." Marvel obviously envisioned the Doctor on a bigger screen, and Dempsey wasn't part of the picture.

Aiden Gillen

In May 2014, a group of 4Chan users got together to let Marvel know who they thought should play the Sorcerer Supreme in the then-uncast "Doctor Strange" movie: Aiden Gillen — Littlefinger from "Game of Thrones" and Mayor Carcetti from "The Wire." The group even started a petition at Change.org which they promised would be sent along to Marvel executives. While Gillen's certainly talented, and the petition received a respectable 875 signatures, Marvel never publicly gave him consideration for the role.

Nicolas Cage

Director/writer Roman Coppola is part of the Coppola filmmaking dynasty — brother to "Lost in Translation" director Sofia and son of legendary "The Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola. Nearly two decades ago, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe got up and running, Coppola set out to make his own unique adaptation of "Doctor Strange," which at the time was still just a cult favorite among comics fans. Coppola says he never pursued it much beyond the planning stages, but he had an actor in mind for the title role: the actually strange Nicolas Cage, who also happens to be a member of the Coppola family.

Tom Hardy

In 2014, the Marvel Cinematic Universe feature "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" included a couple of references to Doctor Strange, which suggested that Marvel Studios was finally making a movie starring the character — a concept the production company had been toying with for years at that point. In June 2014, Scott Derrickson tweeted a confirmation that he'd direct "Doctor Strange," but the studio still needed a big-name actor to take on the title role for that movie and possible sequels, spinoffs, and in other MCU entries. 

According to Deadline, the frontrunner at the time was Tom Hardy, fresh off his work as villain Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises" and in the acclaimed drama "Locke." The other name bandied about as a contender in the report: Benedict Cumberbatch, just before he earned an Oscar nomination for "The Imitation Game." He'd get the role, but Hardy would return to superhero movies in 2018, portraying the symbiote-infected Tom Hardy in the Sony's Spider-Man spinoff "Venom."

Johnny Depp

A quirky actor who earned fame and accolades for serving as Tim Burton's muse in films like "Ed Wood" and "Edward Scissorhands" before moving on to '90s indie movie glory in fare like "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," Johnny Depp became a mega-star in the 2000s for his work as Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" blockbusters. Already a reliable and bankable member of the Disney family from that franchise and the live-action "Alice in Wonderland" movies, the company's affiliated Marvel Studios really wanted Depp to join another big brand by playing Doctor Strange in the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

According to Latino Review (via Variety), Marvel entered preliminary talks with Depp about the role in 2014. Variety note that Depp was very busy at the time, scheduled to film another "Pirates" movie and the "Alice in Wonderland" sequel, which meant shooting "Doctor Strange" would come too far down the road for Marvel's liking. For whatever reason, Depp didn't get the gig.

Keanu Reeves

A stoic, odd, but compelling and cool smart guy who travels through realms of existence otherwise unknown to humanity at large while wearing a flowing garment? That's Stephen Strange from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that could also describe Neo, the black trench-coat wearing hero of multiple universes in "The Matrix" franchise. In 2014, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel Studios reportedly considered the experienced Reeves to play the Sorcerer Supreme after major choice Joaquin Phoenix took himself out of the running. During a press junket for "John Wick," a Collider reporter asked Reeves if he could see himself donning the Cloak of Levitation in multiple MCU entries.

"From a practical standpoint the idea of a longtime contract is sort of 'errr' because you want to make sure the material is up to a certain level," Reeves said. "I didn't know Doctor Strange as a character, I didn't read that as a kid." He also rhetorically asked, "Would I be good for the role?" And the answer was apparently "no."

Justin Theroux

In the early 2010s, Marvel Studios made some moves toward putting a "Doctor Strange" movie into production. CBR reported that Marvel hired "Conan the Barbarian" script writers Thomas Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer to come up with a screenplay for a film that would help kick off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe around 2015 or so. A few years went by and Marvel execs weren't totally pleased with the script they had, and so they considered actor-writer Justin Theroux — star of HBO's "The Leftovers," and screenwriter of "Tropic Thunder" and Marvel's own blockbuster hit sequel "Iron Man 2" — to not only play Doctor Strange in a showcase film, but to possibly write up an entirely new version of the screenplay, according to CHUD.

Neither gig came to pass for Theroux. He got too busy with "Zoolander 2" and Marvel found different writers to pen a new script for the movie that would star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Jack Huston

When Marvel Studios producers intensified their search for the right actor to play Doctor Strange in future MCU movies and standalone films in 2014, they put both extremely famous and emerging actors on their list of possibilities. Marvel stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson were well-known before they played superheroes, while Chris Pratt of "Guardians of the Galaxy" was known mostly for smaller TV shows like "Everwood" and "Parks and Recreation." According to /Film, Marvel bosses nearly took the "take a smaller star and break them wide" approach with Doctor Strange, with English actor Jack Huston a candidate for the part. At the time, Huston was in his thirties and had performed primarily on dramatic television shows. He was probably best known for his stint as Richard Harrow on "Boardwalk Empire" and the limited series "Parade's End," the latter of which also starred the actor who would wind up playing Doctor Strange on the big screen — Benedict Cumberbatch.