Robert Downey Jr’s ineffable charm kickstarted the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, wih Hulk, Captain America, Thor and The Avengers all eventually following Iron Man’s example.
Marvel are praised for getting their casting so consistently spot-on, but for every actor who slotted perfectly into the MCU, there were a handful of other guys who came super-close to landing the super-roles. With this in mind, we’ve assembled The Alternate Avengers: the actors who almost wound up being cast.
Iron Man was almost played by… Sam Rockwell!
RDJ’s casting as Tony Stark not only saved his career but it put Marvel on the road to becoming the biggest studio success story of the 21st century. Could you imagine ‘Iron Man’ having quite so much impact with Sam Rockwell in the title role? “Sam was one of the actors I was looking at for Tony Stark,” said director Jon Favreau while doing press for ‘Iron Man 2’.
"There were some things he would bring to the role that would have been great. Sam is very charismatic and when I was looking at the character there was a list and he had a spot on it." We reckon Rockwell would have made for a great Iron Man – if anything, we could have expected more impromptu dance scenes in ‘The Avengers’.
Also almost cast: Tom Cruise was attached the role way back in 2004, as was Leonardo DiCaprio and – pause for laughter – Nicolas Cage.
The Hulk was almost played by… Joaquin Phoenix!
With Eric Bana’s Banner stricken from the record and Edward Norton’s Banner off ‘The Avengers’ due to those pesky ‘creative differences’, Marvel had a Hulk-shaped hole to fill. Mark Ruffalo has since made the role his own, but Joaquin Phoenix was in talks to play the Jade Giant in 2010 – right in the thick of his ‘rap period’, leading up the release of faux performance art piece ‘I’m Still Here’.
The Incredible Joaq would sadly never come to pass, but we might still get to see Phoenix rise to the challenge of a Marvel role – negotiations to play Dr Strange have been ongoing, seemingly since the beginning of time and space.
Also almost cast: Billly Crudup was considered for the role in Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’, with animators even mocking up a big green version of him.
Captain America was almost played by… John Krasinski!
Director Joe Johnston wanted to hire an unknown to play Steve Rogers in his Captain America movie. “I hope it’ll be somebody that we discover who’s probably been in something, but you won’t know who he is. You won’t recognise him.” Then he cast The Human Torch.
You can see his school of thought, however, when you learn that Marvel came very close to hiring John Krasinski as Cap. Best known for playing Jim in the American version of ‘The Office’, Krasinski got down to the final five, when he blew his audition by looking straight into the camera and making a disparaging face. (Probably).
Also almost cast: Ryan Phillippe, Scott Porter, Garrett Hedlund, Patrick Flueger and Michael Cassidy (Zack from The OC!) all came close to landing the role of Cap.
Thor was almost played by… Channing Tatum!
You can picture it now. “Ay yo, Loki! It’s hammer time, bro!” Though the Channing Tatum of 2014 is way more respected than the Channing Tatum of 2009 ever was, it was the latter who was briefly attached to the role of Thor, even meeting Kenneth Branagh. Thankfully the luvvie director saw sense and went with relative unknown Chris Hemsworth. “I think they were looking for someone more Nordic-looking,” Tatum told a relieved public. He’ll get his change to play a superhero yet if rumours he’ll star as Gambit in the next ‘X-Men’ movie are correct. Give us a sec, we’re just trying to imagine Channing’s Cajun accent.
Also almost cast: Fan-favourite Alexander Skarsgård was a front-runner for a long time, and Tom Hiddleston even went as far as filming a costumed screen-test.
Black Widow was almost played by… Emily Blunt!
It was scheduling conflicts – with ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, no less – that forced Emily Blunt to concede the role of Black Widow to Scarlett Johansson in ‘Iron Man 2’. Blunt was director Jon Favreau’s first choice for the role, but the actress was contractually bound to continue slogging through production of Jack Black’s family comedy so had to pass with a heavy heart.
Blunt also was sought after to play Peggy Carter in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, but straight-up turned it down, presumably still furious that Jack Black’s ‘hilarious’ antics cost her the coolest female superhero this side of Wonder Woman.
Also almost cast: Alice Eve has long been mooted for a high-profile Marvel role – she’s long been a favourite of Kevin Feige and his casting agents.
Loki was almost played by… Josh Hartnett!
Hartnett is surely due a career resurrection some time soon – it would have come a lot sooner if Kenneth Branagh had wound up casting him as villain Loki in ‘Thor’. There could be few more natural fits for the debonair-yet-evil Norseman than Tom Hiddleston, but Hartnett was allegedly a favourite of Branagh during casting.
After working with Hiddles on stage and on TV show ‘Wallander’, however, Ken had his head turned. Hartnett had planned to take a ‘Heath Ledger’ approach to the role, so heaven knows how different the Marvel universe would have been with him as the antagonist. Better? Worse? Who knows.
Also almost cast: Jim Carrey had previously played Loki, or something approximating him, in ‘The Mask’, and there were rumours he’d return to play the God of Mischief proper.
Nick Fury was almost played by… David Hasselhoff
Bit misleading this one as technically Hasselhoff – he of seminal 2006 pop classic ‘Jump In My Car’ – has already played S.H.I.E.L.D. head honcho Nick Fury in the 1990’s ‘Captain America’. By the time ‘Iron Man’ got the Marvel universe off to a flying start in 2008, however, Kevin Feige’s execs were looking to the future, not to the past, so Hasselhoff was never even considered to reprise his role – the character’s appearance was intended to elicit gasps of awe, not hoots of laughter.
Fun fact: in the Ultimates comic-book run, the character of Nick Fury was redesigned in Samuel L Jackson’s image, three years before he appeared in ‘Iron Man’. Meant to be.
Also almost cast: Nobody, because the first few drafts of the ‘Iron Man’ script never even featured the post-credits “Avengers Initiative” scene. It was added very late in the process.
Ant-Man was almost played by… Joseph Gordon-Levitt!
Back when ‘Ant-Man’ was still an Edgar Wright joint, every young actor with edge lined up to play petty thief-turned-superhero Scott Lang.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has long been a fan of Wright’s style and was thought to have been in the final two for the lead role (“It’s nothing but lies,” he claimed”), but Paul Rudd proved himself to have the comic timing required to go toe-to-toe with Tony Stark and co. Gordon-Levitt was also in the running to play Star-Lord in ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’, because apparently he’s desperate for ‘Robin’ to not be the only superhero on his CV.
Also almost cast: Simon Pegg, cheeky sod that he is, started a Twitterstorm when he posted a picture of himself pointing at a picture of Ant-Man. Was he ever in contention? Edgar Wright, now off the project, has stayed schtum.
Star-Lord was almost played by… Aaron Paul!
According to director James Gunn, Chris Pratt nailed his audition for Peter Quill aka Star-Lord within 30 seconds of walking through the door. Up to that point, Marvel had considered a multitude of young men, including Aaron Paul, fresh off ‘Breaking Bad’ and looking for a new challenge and, if possible, a less depressing job. Pratt quickly put paid to that idea and Paul was put back into a pile marked ‘Maybe later’.
Also almost cast: Only Joel Edgerton, Eddie Redmayne, Jensen Ackles, Lee Pace, Wes Bentley, Jack Huston, Cam Gigandet, Sullivan Stapleton, Logan Marshall-Green, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Lowell, James Marsden, Jim Sturgess, Michael Rosenbaum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Glenn Howerton and John Krasinski. So you know, not many.
Hawkeye was almost played by… No one!
Uniquely in the Marvel universe, absolutely no one other than Jeremy Renner was rumoured or considered to play Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, first appearing as a cameo in ‘Thor’ then going on to play a supporting role in ‘The Avengers’.
The character’s existence was only really confirmed when Renner’s name was circulated in connection to it pre-‘Thor’; in actual fact, the ‘Hurt Locker’ actor was originally called in by Marvel to talk about Captain America. Back in 2009, Renner said: “One of the writers, Zak Penn, we’ve become friends over time and he was thinking maybe Hawkeye could be interesting.”
And that was that – Renner was Hawkeye and Joseph Gordon-Levitt never even got a look-in.
Image credits: Marvel