Director Reveals How Close Joaquin Phoenix Was to MCU Role

In 2014, Joaquin Phoenix was considered for the role of Doctor Strange in Marvel Studios’ film. However, negotiations fell through and Benedict Cumberbatch was cast in the role.

How close was Phoenix to signing a multi-movie deal that would have seen him headline not only 2016’s Doctor Strange, but also subsequent installments such as Avengers: Infinity War and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?

“I spent considerable time with Benedict Cumberbatch, and his character and thinking process deeply impressed me. He approached the role with an open mind and a willingness to explore its possibilities,” former “Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson stated to /Film.

“We offered the movie to Benedict, and he was my top choice. However, it was a summer release, and he had already committed to a theatrical production of ‘Hamlet’ in London.”

Derrickson acknowledged Benedict’s strong integrity. Despite the significance of the role and potential impact on his life, Benedict remained resolute. He emphasized his commitment to prior agreements and would not withdraw from his obligations to the theater and director. Understanding Benedict’s unwillingness to prioritize the role over his responsibilities, Derrickson accepted that they would not be casting him.

Reported contenders for the role included Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Tom Hardy, Justin Theroux, Keanu Reeves, and Ethan Hawke.

As I engaged with several actors, Joaquin Phoenix became the focus of our discussions. It became apparent that his unique approach as an actor and his specific goals did not align with the film’s trajectory and the MCU’s expectations. We mutually acknowledged that this collaboration might not be suitable.

Additionally, the absence of a fully developed script during discussions complicated our efforts to secure Phoenix, who typically hesitates to commit to franchise projects. The postponement of Doctor Strange’s release provided Benedict Cumberbatch with the flexibility to fulfill prior commitments and subsequently assume the role.

Derrickson expressed Phoenix’s initial hesitation to commit to multiple movies, a departure from his usual work style. He approached Kevin Feige, who consulted Disney executives Bob Iger and Alan Horn. Recognizing the importance of Phoenix’s portrayal, they agreed to adjust the release date to accommodate Benedict’s schedule, ultimately resulting in the movie’s release in the fall.

In 2018, Phoenix praised Marvel’s films, acknowledging his involvement in “Doctor Strange” and expressing satisfaction with the outcome. He later won an Oscar for his role in “Joker” in 2019.

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