As a studio built on relentless franchising, Marvel gets a lot of things right over its competitors, but the studio’s greatest claim to fame may be its knack for casting. Think all the way back to 2008, when Iron Man premiered and Robert Downey Jr. revealed himself as the living embodiment of Tony Stark in all his charming, narcissistic glory; alternately, take a rear view glance at Captain America: The First Avenger, which couldn’t have asked for a better lead than Chris Evans.
Today, Marvel is sending out casting calls for the first chapter of its 2016 big screen endeavor, Doctor Strange. So far, the studio’s efforts haven’t borne fruit; in recent months, Joaquin Phoenix was the studio’s pick to headline the film, though Phoenix’s self-aware reluctance over the role steered talks toward a disappointing conclusion – namely, the actor passing on the role. But Marvel won’t let a few bum negotiations deter their quest for the perfect Stephen Strange.
According to Variety, the House of Ideas has cobbled together an impressive shortlist of actors for the lead role in Doctor Strange: as of now, Oscar Isaac, Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Jared Leto, Ewan McGregor, and Jake Gyllenhaal are each in contention to play the Sorcerer Supreme, and there doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite leading the pack, either.
Put bluntly, that’s a hell of a shortlist. McConaughey and Leto are both still basking in their Academy wins for Dallas Buyers Club, while Hawke and Gyllenhaal have both been nominated in the course of their careers (the former admittedly for writing. Isaac and McGregor, by comparison, have yet to taste that kind of mainstream prestige for themselves, but they’ve both enjoyed enough critical accolades over the course of their careers to be taken seriously as performers.
Clearly, Marvel isn’t screwing around. They’re aiming high, and why wouldn’t it? The studio’s brand is as hot as it’s ever been, and its cultural cachet is going to keep expanding for years to come. Basically, Marvel’s in a place where it can not only seek an actor of McConaughey’s caliber, but may reasonably be able to persuade him to play a superhero painted with broad strokes of psychedelia and mysticism. (Strange does seem like a character who falls right in McConaughey’s wheelhouse as an actor and as a human being.)
That being said, no one should overlook the fact that this announcement comes on the heels of yesterday’s note about McGregor’s candidacy. On top of that, Leto’s name has already been bandied about; combined with his presence on the current wishlist, one might reasonably intuit that Marvel is keener on him than most of his competition.
Hawke isn’t to be counted out, given that he’s reportedly campaigned to play Strange in the past; also working to his advantage, Hawke has a pre-established working relationship with Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson (the pair collaborated on the low-budget horror hit Sinister). Elsewhere, Gyllenhaal has been on a recent tear in lofty dramatic films like Prisoners, Enemy, and this month’s Nightcrawler.
Only Isaac and McConaughey feel like long shots here. Isaac is embroiled in one tent pole already (Star Wars: Episode VII, in case you hadn’t heard), and may want to avoid taking on another, seeing how he seems to prefer working on indie features over mainstream films (his upcoming vehicles include J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year and William Monahan’s Mojave, for example).
Meanwhile, everyone wants a piece of McConaughey, one of the busiest people in Hollywood; he’s soon to appear in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, HBO wants him for a True Detective return, and he’s being sought after to portray the villain in The Stand. Seems as though he has his hands full, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make room for Marvel, of course.
Now that the list is out and about for everyone’s viewing pleasure, it may only be a matter of days before it’s narrowed down to priority picks. For now, though, we can only speculate. Who among these would make the best Stephen Vincent Strange? Let us know what you think in the comments.
NEXT: Kevin Feige on Doctor Strange and Magic in the MCU
Doctor Strange hits theaters on July 8th, 2016.