Who Wants to Play Doctor? Fun with Rumors and the Doctor Strange Movie

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige set the nerdverse on fire recently by confirming a Doctor Strange film will be part of the studio’s Phase 3, alongside the Ant-Man movie and Iron Man 3.

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange is Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, a longtime mainstay of the “non-team” the Defenders, and a recent addition to the Avengers under Bendis. Originally he was pitched as a Vincent Price-type, slightly older, more cerebral and aloof than the classic, square-jawed adventurers of the Silver Age, but various creative teams over the years have moved him up and down the superhero spectrum.

His backstory parallels Iron Man’s as a parable of arrogance and redemption. A brilliant but callous surgeon who lost fine motor control in his hands after a car accident, the despondent Dr. Stephen Strange sought out the legendary Ancient One on a Himalayan mountaintop. Instead of healing Strange’s hands, he took him as a disciple; and, when the Ancient One died, Doctor Strange succeeded his master as Sorcerer Supreme, setting up shop in Greenwich Village.

Very little about the in-development film is known, of course, beyond a loose 2015 target date and the screenwriting team of Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, who together wrote 2011’s Conan the Barbarian reboot and the supernatural detective story Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. But while details are scant, rumors are aplenty and ripe for the picking. Since we had such fun fancasting Carol Danvers, let’s turn our queer gaze on the good Doctor himself. Who, possibly from this list of names rumored or hoped for, is going to have to sell the line, “By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!”?

Way back in 2011, Grey’s Anatomy heartthrob Patrick Dempsey was doing press for one of the Transformers movies and told anyone who’d listen that he’d love to play Doctor Strange, and if not him then Daniel Day-Lewis could do it, which is big of him. McDreamy has that glorious mane of hair, but that’s it, right? Do you want the teenage gigolo from Can’t Buy Me Love defending the Earth from demons and dark wizards? Ditto Jim Caviezel, another workaday actor whose name was once or twice mentioned as an early favorite. Again, handsome, but isn’t he super-dull? The less said about Scream's Skeet Ulrich as Doctor Strange, the better.

A second generation of rumors got maybe a little closer to the mark. Joseph Fiennes of American Horror Story: Asylum seems wizard-y to a number of bloggers and fans. Would he do an American accent or keep his own? Arguably Strange could be any nationality, but I think using an English accent to signal “magic, spooky stuff” is lazy and clichéd. Also, there’s way too much Droopy Dog about Fiennes, who excels at characters grappling not with power but with weakness. Why always with the sad face? Cheer up, man, it may never happen! Edward Norton is another very talented actor who’s played a magician convincingly onscreen already, and he’s got the body to work in as a reveal (“Wha? A hot wizard? OMG!”), and he’s already played a Marvel hero in 2008’s now out-of-continuity The Incredible Hulk, so there’s that.


More intriguing to me, though, was the fan chatter behind The Dark Knight Rises and Lost co-star Nestor Carbonell. While not an A-lister, Carbonell is a familiar (and dark and handsome) face and a good ensemble player. Of Cuban and Spanish descent, Carbonell could also add some needed diversity to Marvel’s onscreen heroes. I could see this guy in a gold-trimmed Cloak of Levitation—and he went to Harvard!

Do they need an A-list star for Doctor Strange? Part of Marvel’s winning strategy so far has been to seed forthcoming characters into established films before spinning them off—Nick Fury, Coulson finding Mjolnir in Iron Man 2, Hank Pym and the Wasp popping up at the end of Iron Man 3, etc. One of the more recent and plausible rumors has Strange appearing as a super-scientist colleague of Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in Thor: The Dark World, which has legs since the Thor movies successfully introduced magic into the onscreen universe and SHIELD’s shadowy presence across all of the movies makes such character introductions and combinations pretty easy. Sharp eyes watching the first Thor also picked out the Orb of Agomotto in Odin’s vault (with the Infinity Gauntlet and Surtur's Eternal Flame). That may just have been a geeked-out set dresser, but if the Gauntlet sets up a future Thanos storyline (and how can it not?), what a waste if the Orb doesn’t get us to Strange—who famously wears the Orb’s partner, the Eye of Agomotto, as Sorcerer Supreme. You’re welcome!


Two hot names in particular were attached to this story. Joel Edgerton’s star is most certainly on the rise after 2011’s The Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, and Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming The Great Gatsby. Edgerton is thought to have a development deal with Disney that put him in the running for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the role that’s just gone to Parks and Rec cutie and Edgerton’s Zero Dark Thirty costar Chris Pratt. Edgerton’s an Aussie who looks fantastic with a beard (works for Strange), has great arms (works for me), and has little narrow eyes that tell you he’s feeling feelings. Rumor has it that after Edgerton proved too busy, the favorite for Strange became Aragorn himself, Viggo Mortensen. While Viggo’s proven he can play the thoughtful hero and has the star power to bring in audiences, Marvel is eager to nurture a franchise and may look for a younger star, one more amenable—and affordable, hello—to signing a multi-film contract extending into the next decade. ScarJo signed on for at least five films as Black Widow, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Avengers sequel. Also, sadly, Marvel execs have officially denied having a deal with Mortensen to play Strange, but would love to work with him.


The age thing’s also an issue for Liam Neeson, who even ten years ago would surely top the list for Doctor Strange. While he’s one of the few able to bring both a spiritual gravity and brawn to the role, his characters in the Star Wars and Batman franchises suggest he’s moved solidly into wise-yet-spry mentor mode, more Ancient One than Strange. He’d be a great Mordo, though, or voice actor for one of the Vishanti!


Is Johnny Depp just too weird for Strange? Certainly it would take a strong director to curb the megastar’s indulgent tendencies. Then again, Robert Downey, Jr. mugs incessantly as Tony Stark and it totally works. Depp has already made Disney billions of dollars, certainly looks the part, and could bring a fun bad-boy element to the Sorceror Supreme. Don’t you bet he’d make up some pretty spectacular-sounding magical gibberish? But does Depp, a bona fide worldwide superstar with a fifth Pirates movie already announced for 2015, care to join another mega-franchise? Has he got the time? He certainly doesn’t need the money!


Nor does Benedict Cumberbatch. Newly attached to fervent fan gossip surrounding Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts is the man who voices Smaug and the Necromancer in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and might be Khan in this spring’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Playing Doctor Strange would net the Sherlock star geekdom’s Triple Crown. But is that a bridge too far for a relative newcomer who’s hot but in kind of a weird, alien way? Should we be bracing for the inevitable and nasty Cumberbacklash?


Now, let ME toss three names into the ring that I haven’t seen too many other places, just for fun.

Lee Pace was the guy on that kooky, candy-colored show Pushing Daisies, with Kristen Chenoweth, where he charmed as a sad-eyed man in love with a walking-around dead girl he could never touch—at least to the ten people who watched the show. He’s got a much bigger audience these days as Thranduil in The Hobbit, where he sells the hocus-pocus without looking like a jerk and proves he can deal with green screen. Search Tumblr for this guy and you’ll see why his name was on the list for Peter Quill in GotG. It may just be that he’s got the same kind of first-look deal at the Marvel slate that Joel Edgerton and Chuck’s Zachary Levi are said to have. Not just a pretty face, either, Pace also shines amid the many heavy-hitters in Lincoln.   

Richard Armitage makes the D in DILF “dwarf” as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit, and like his co-star Lee Pace projects leading-man strength and seriousness amid all the magic and special effects. Moreover, look at him! Now look at him with a beard. The tall, piercing-eyed Brit could ride a similar post-LOTR wave that carried Viggo Mortensen into some of the best leading roles of his career. Doctor Strange could be just the ticket.


Remember Deadwood and how the gruff, stoic Seth Bullock character was actually the same guy as the douchey director from First Wives Club who made Goldie Hawn Monique’s mother? That’s Timothy Olyphant and now he’s on on the noirish neo-Western Justified on Fx and he’s hot, too, with a little salt and pepper in his beard. The screenwriters for the Doctor Strange movie also wrote the Matthew McConaughey-Penelope Cruz desert caper Sahara, so they might be inclined to slide some humor in amongst the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak nonsense, and Olyphant is a deft hand with comedy—see his recent guest turn on Archer. While he’s in his mid-40s, Olyphant plays a lot younger and has a certain …bro-y quality that could keep Doctor Strange from sliding too far into fussy mustiness.

Who'd we miss? Who do you want to see as Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme, geeks? Make your thoughts known!  

on February 6, 2013