As Marvel’s blockbuster franchise-starter Guardians of the Galaxy wins the Labor Day weekend box office to become the highest-grossing stateside release of 2014 – thereby strengthening the prospects for such risky non-sequels as the upcoming Ant-Man – yet another Marvel property with similarly dubious potential for success continues to search for a leading man. Last we heard, Doctor Strange could see Joaquin Phoenix (Her) sign on to play the surgeon-turned-sorceror in short order.
However, despite Phoenix’s supposedly imminent casting, Boardwalk Empire star Jack Huston was recently rumored to be in the running as well. This follows a slew of other high-profile names (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and Jared Leto) tossed around as possible candidates, but with the report of Phoenix in “final talks” for the role following the news of his name in the running coming out of this year’s Comic-Con, he very much seemed to be the safest bet to walk away with the part.
Now, however, reports are circulating that Phoenix is very reluctant to pull the trigger on the deal. While some outlets have claimed that Phoenix is as close as possible to taking the part, Badass Digest reports that despite Doctor Strange having a director (Scott Derrickson), a screenwriter (Jon Spaihts) and a production date, Marvel held off on announcing an official release date in San Diego because they weren’t able to lock down Phoenix as Strange.
According to Badass:
That weekend a Marvel Studios insider told me they had tried their hardest, that they had pushed as hard as they could, but they couldn’t close the deal in time.
Evidently, the delay in signing Phoenix goes a bit beyond the inability to hammer out a contract. The main problem has to do with the fact that “the Marvel Studios blockbuster machine is full of pre-viz and fight-viz and green screen and massive reshoots. It’s not a world that’s as comfortable for [Phoenix], and he’s just not certain he can do it.”
Phoenix made a name for himself as a kind of actor’s actor even before seemingly imploding onscreen in Casey Affleck’s 2010 faux-documentary I’m Still Here, and followed up that long-term experiment in performance art with critically-acclaimed performances in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (for which he was Oscar-nominated) and Spike Jonze’s Her.
Still, Phoenix’s first Oscar nomination was for his major breakout role as the villainous Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and during the aughts appeared in a series of studio films, from the good (his role as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line) to the forgettable (the firefighter drama Ladder 49). The notion of signing a multi-picture deal with a studio now famous for putting its franchises ahead of its actors, in a genre he really has no experience in (sci-fi-tinged Signs and Her don’t really count) all seem to add up to a deal which may not be worth the paycheck for an actor like Phoenix.
While we really don’t know much at all about the film’s story, the role of Dr. Stephen Strange seems to be somewhat less than specific when it comes to age, with Jack Huston more than a decade younger than Phoenix. The doctor’s age clearly isn’t important, but knowing Marvel Studios, locking down an actor for multiple pictures is. This aspect is likely the one hurdle keeping Phoenix from signing, not the special effects or reshoots or storyline.
Joaquin Phoenix is a brilliant actor, and his next role, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice, continues his string of quirky, non-mainstream roles. Marvel fans await an official confirmation – or denial – on who will be headlining Doctor Strange, which will presumably be followed by the film’s official release date, and after that we will have a better idea of what Marvel’s mystical future will look like.
Doctor Strange currently has no release date, but is set to begin production early in 2015.