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Marvel Actors You Forgot Were In The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards in 2010, but her critically acclaimed war film "The Hurt Locker" has become notable for a different reason in recent years. Numerous actors that featured in the Iraq War thriller went on to land roles in Marvel projects in the years that followed, a fact that hasn't escaped the notice of MCU fans. 

"The Hurt Locker" (which hit cineplexes in 2008, the same year "Iron Man" kicked off the MCU) even works as a Marvel Cinematic Universe prequel story, according to one imaginative Reddit theory. Though in reality, it was more of a stepping stone for some of the future Marvel actors involved, giving them a chance to show what they could do with some truly compelling material.

It has now been more than a decade since Bigelow's gripping film swept the Oscars (it won six awards in total, including Best Picture), which feels like just enough time to fully appreciate its many Marvel connections. With that in mind, these are the Marvel actors you may have forgotten were in "The Hurt Locker."

Guy Pearce dies in the tense opening scene

"The Hurt Locker" is filled with tense moments, with the film's impossible-to-forget opening scene setting the tone. We enter the fray as Sergeant Matt Thompson, head of a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, is preparing to deal with an improvised explosive device in the streets of Bagdad. He seems perfectly at ease with the situation (he's "craving a burger" as he slips into his blast suit), though the occasional glance towards the nearby rooftops lets the viewer know that danger is never far away. Just when it seems as though the sergeant is out of danger, the device is detonated, and a character that initially appeared to be central to the story is killed in dramatic fashion.

Thompson is portrayed by Australian actor Guy Pearce, who Marvel fans will recognize as Aldrich Killian, the villain from "Iron Man 3." Pearce accepted the Killian role after some back-and-forth with Marvel (he refused to sign on until they showed him the script) and he had a great experience making the sequel, despite some fan backlash over his character. 

Killian was revealed to be the Marvel villain The Mandarin in Shane Black's film, which was quickly retconned with a One-Shot. Tony Leung was later cast as the MCU's real Mandarin, though Pearce still hopes Killian could return. "I would certainly consider reprising it if they were interested," he told ScreenRant in 2021. "I love playing that character."

The film opened doors for Anthony Mackie

Guy Pearce's Sergeant Thompson has two colleagues with him when he's killed in the opening moments of "The Hurt Locker," one of whom would also become a future Marvel star. Anthony Mackie plays Sergeant JT Sanborn in the Kathryn Bigelow classic, a role that he sought because he believed it would open doors in Hollywood. "I thought I would be able to move forward in my career and not have to jostle and position myself for work," the actor, who plays Sam Wilson in the MCU, told Variety upon the release of "The Falcon and Winter Soldier" spin-off series on Disney+. "[My goal was to] get into rooms with certain people," he added. "I thought my work would speak for itself."

Mackie didn't receive a nod from the Academy when awards season rolled around, but he did what he set out to do — establish himself as a potential A-list star. "I didn't feel a huge shift, but I 100% think that 'The Hurt Locker' is the reason I got 'Captain America,'" he said. His character was a genial para-rescue airman who couldn't keep up with Steve Rogers when he debuted in 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," but now, Rogers is gone and Sam Wilson is set to take his place in a fourth "Captain America" film.

The future of the Captain America mantle was debated, deflected but eventually accepted by Mackie's Sam by the end of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," and Mackie couldn't be happier with the end result as he brings the character into the next phase of the MCU. "I was most excited about my kids seeing me as Captain America," he told Looper in 2020.

Jeremy Renner dissed superhero movies after it became a hit

Someone has to come in and take over Sergeant Thompson's Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit after his shocking death, and that man is Staff Sergeant William James, portrayed by a fresh-faced Jeremy Renner. Unlike his predecessor, James takes a maverick approach to his work, which gets him and his new colleagues off on the wrong foot. He clashes with Mackie's Sergeant Sanborn, though the two men put their differences aside when a civilian who has been locked into a suicide vest against his will approaches them for help. The two do their best to save the terrified local, but can't remove the vest in time.

Renner received widespread praise for his performance in "The Hurt Locker" (he was nominated for an Oscar), and the reaction to the film blew him away. "Yeah, it's at a much bigger level than I ever experienced," he said, via Interview magazine in 2009. "I feel pretty blessed and lucky." Renner went on to say that he would rather "be recognized for something like this rather than doing 'The Green Lantern' or something." Little did he know, his most recognizable career role would soon be playing a superhero.

Renner made his debut as Marvel's Clint Barton (a.k.a Hawkeye) with a cameo appearance in 2011's "Thor," and has reprised the role multiple times since then. He's set to play Barton again in the Disney+ series "Hawkeye," during which he'll likely pass the baton to Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).

Evangeline Lilly plays a military wife in The Hurt Locker

"The Hurt Locker" was released during the run of ABC's "Lost," the show that launched the career of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" star Evangeline Lilly. The Canadian appeared in just a handful of movies during her "Lost" days, and Kathryn Bigelow's war thriller was among them as she played Connie James, the long-suffering wife of Jeremy Renner's Staff Sergeant William James. It's a minor role, but Lilly makes a big impact during her limited screentime, highlighting the difficulties that some military families face.

Lilly was "very uncomfortable" with the stardom that came with "Lost," and she "ended up deciding to retire," she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. It wasn't until she received a call from Peter Jackson (who got her number from "Lost" and "The Lord of the Rings" alumnus Dominic Monaghan) that she got excited about acting again. She was offered the role of Tauriel in "The Hobbit" films and couldn't turn it down. Before long, she was on Marvel's radar.

"I was finishing press for 'The Hobbit,' that's when I got the call from Marvel," Lilly recalled. She wasn't interested in playing Hope van Dyne (a.k.a The Wasp) in "Ant-Man" to begin with, but when she found out she'd be working with Paul Rudd, she changed her tune. "I was like, 'Oh s***. I love Paul Rudd, I really want to work with him!'" she told BuzzFeed in 2014. Committed to the role, she immediately began binge-watching Marvel movies and getting in shape for the part.

Hani Al Naimi was fated to appear in The Hurt Locker

Bethlehem-born actor Hani Al Naimi was so desperate to land a role in "The Hurt Locker" that he personally wrote to the casting director when his agent couldn't get him through the door. When he received no reply, he assumed it wasn't meant to be. "A couple of months later, I happened to be in Amman visiting my mother when a friend told me that they were holding auditions for the translator's role there," he told Egpyt Today in 2013. He managed to get into a room with Kathryn Bigelow, and the rest is history.

It was a dream come true for the actor (who took the screen name Michael Desante when he moved to Los Angeles, on the advice of his agent), but none of the cast was given the star treatment. "I have been acting for 20 years, but shooting 'The Hurt Locker' was the most difficult experience I've had," Al Naimi recalled. "It was a very low-budget film shot in very tough conditions. No real toilets or catering services as most of the shooting was across the Jordanian desert in temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius."

Al Naimi no doubt had a far more comfortable experience on Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." There he played Faisal Ahmed, a member of the Bahrain National Security Agency, in the Season 2 episode "Melinda." Much of the action takes place in Bahrain, where rogue Inhuman Eva Belyakov (Winter Ave Zoli) was at large.