Marvel's Doctor Strange Shortlist: Which Actor Will Be Cast?

Ben Bussey
·UK Movies Writer

Now that Marvel’s shortlist of potential ‘Doctor Strange’ actors has been revealed, we ponder the chances of each candidate.

When the long-tipped Joaquin Phoenix officially dropped out of the running for the role, all bets were off as to who Marvel might cast as the Sorcerer Supreme in his debut big screen appearance, scheduled to hit cinemas in July 2016 - in the wake of the eagerly anticipated ‘Captain America 3.’

With the existing Avengers actors - most notably Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man – drawing steadily nearer to the end of their contracts with Marvel, word around the campfire is that the comic label-turned-studio are banking heavily on Doctor Strange becoming the new figurehead in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As such, they obviously won’t take casting this role lightly. Indeed, it may prove the most vital casting decision since they gave Tony Stark to Downey; an inspired, but at the time extremely risky choice, given the actor’s chequered past.

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]Who, then, would seem the most likely candidate from the actors (that we know of) on Marvel’s shortlist? Let’s consider them one at a time:

Ewan McGregor

The most recently named candidate, McGregor is one of those actors who – not unlike Downey in some respects – started out strong, but seems to have struggled to maintain momentum in his career. The Scottish star broke through in a big way in 1996’s ‘Trainspotting,’ and not long thereafter landed the coveted role of Obi Wan-Kenobi in the ‘Star Wars’ prequels, yet high profile leading roles have been thin on the ground since.

Working with Marvel would no doubt give his career a boost – but I for one struggle to see him as Doctor Strange. Despite now being in his 40s, McGregor still has a somewhat boyish air about him, which I’m not sure would be a good fit for the master of the mystic arts and (possible) future leader of the Avengers. On top of which, McGregor’s American accent has never been that great.

Jared Leto

The actor-turned-rock star-turned-actor again, now with an Oscar to his name for ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ has been rumoured to be in contention for Strange for some time, and Variety state he’s “aggressively pursuing” the role.

I’d say his chances are pretty good. Like many of his Marvel movie forebears, he’s well known without being too closely associated with any particular role, and has an impressive body of work in more offbeat, sophisticated fare (‘Fight Club,’ ‘Requiem for a Dream’) yet hasn’t done much in the mainstream to date. He’s also notoriously handsome, which obviously doesn’t hurt – and, as the photo above demonstrates, he can rock the wizard look no problem.  

Oscar Isaac

Easily the least well-known of the contenders right now, Isaac is one of those actors whose star has been on the rise for a while, with roles in ‘Drive,’ ‘Sucker Punch,’ and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ - and his role in ‘Star Wars Episode VII’ will no doubt lift his profile further.

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As with McGregor, the leap from Jedi to Sorcerer Supreme seems logical enough, but does he really have that heroic leading man charisma the part demands? Plus, at 34 he’s one the youngest contenders for the role – and considering Downey was 43 when he landed ‘Iron Man,’ Marvel clearly aren’t averse to casting someone a little older.

Matthew McConnaughey

Speaking of someone a little older – at 45, McConnaughey is the oldest contender for ‘Doctor Strange,’ and in the aftermath of the celebrated ‘McConnaissance’ (awards aplenty for ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ and ‘True Detective,’ leading role in the upcoming ‘Interstellar’), he’s also by far the biggest star on the list right now.

For this reason alone, I have to consider him the least likely candidate for Doctor Strange. McConnaughey has worked hard to get his career to this point, and I have to question whether he’d be willing to sidestep that for a somewhat restrictive multi-film contract with Marvel. I also struggle to imagine Strange with that inescapable Southern drawl, but perhaps that’s just me. Still, stranger things (no pun intended) have happened.

Ethan Hawke

Hawke’s career is not unlike that of Robert Downey Jr. in many respects; starting out as an adolescent in the 1980s, he’s worked steadily since in plenty of high profile, well-regarded films (‘Dead Poet’s Society,’ ‘Training Day,’ the ‘Before Sunrise’ trilogy) without ever quite reaching superstardom.

However, Hawke’s more recent roles in the likes of ‘Daybreakers’ and ‘The Purge’ indicate that he’s getting more comfortable with action-oriented genre material; it was even rumoured he met with Zack Snyder about a potential role in ‘Batman V Superman.’ All this considered, ‘Doctor Strange’ seems a logical enough progression. Plus, I daresay Hawke looks the part more than any of his competitors – and it can’t hurt that he’s previously worked with ‘Doctor Strange’ director Scott Derrickson on ‘Sinister.’

Jake Gyllenhaal

The youngest contender of all (though Oscar Isaac only has nine months on him), Gyllenhaal is another of those guys who remains a big name without ever quite landing the coveted big roles. He’s made no secret of craving blockbuster success, which had very much been the plan with 2010’s ‘Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time’ – which, alas, didn’t quite work out. He also came close to playing a Marvel character once before, almost taking the lead in ‘Spider-Man 2’ when back problems threatened to keep Tobey Maguire from returning.

He’s a charismatic performer for sure, and has displayed somewhat chameleonic abilities as an actor (his upcoming movie ‘Nightcrawler’ promises to demonstrate this) – so who knows, he might very well prove an ideal choice for Doctor Strange, even if he seems just a little young for it when lined up with the other candidates.

So who among these is most likely to be cast as Doctor Strange? Well, in this writer’s considered opinion McConaughey’s too big-time, Isaac’s a little too small-time, and McGregor just isn’t quite right. Hawke strikes me as the most suitable candidate overall, but I can’t help thinking he lacks the star power Marvel will be after – so I’d say it’s between Leto and Gyllenhaal.

Still, I’m neither a Hollywood insider nor a master of the mystic arts, so obviously I can’t give a definitive answer. Don’t worry, we’ll surely be getting one from Marvel soon enough.

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Picture Credits: Marvel, WENN