Sure, you know your Robert Downeys from your Chris Hemsworths, but do you know how MCU actors were chosen in the first place? The Marvel Cinematic Universe might be the biggest film franchise in the galaxy now, but it wasn't always that way, and the iconic actors who brought the comics to life haven't always been household names.
Did you know Chris Evans turned down Captain America multiple times? Did you know Chris Pratt initially didn't want anything to do with Star-Lord? Or that Scarlett Johansson was actually Marvel's second choice for Black Widow? There are a lot of fascinating tidbits about Marvel's casting process. Read on to find out how your favorite superheroes - and supervillains - got the job.
- Photo: Iron Man / Paramount Pictures
It's hard to even fathom now, but Marvel's casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was a huge gamble for the fledgling studio at the time. After becoming a young star in the 1980s, Downey had become a Hollywood malcontent, best known for his erratic behavior and years of substance problems. This didn't stop Iron Man director Jon Favreau from fighting tooth and nail to bring Downey aboard.
During a 2014 interview with Texas radio station 100.3 Jack FM, Favreau explained that he essentially forced the studio to accept Downey - who by that point had started rehabilitating his career but in largely small and arthouse fare like Zodiac and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - as Tony Stark: "It was my job as a director to show that it was the best choice creatively... and now the Marvel Universe is the biggest franchise in film history." Especially in retrospect, it's pretty much impossible to argue against that.
- Photo: Avengers: Age of Ultron / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Becoming the face of a major film franchise can be quite a daunting thing. Getting the role of one of the most enduring superheroes of all time is something that would functionally change your life; after all, you'd be recognized everywhere you go. That's exactly what crossed Chris Evans's mind when Marvel Studios came calling about him playing Captain America, a role he would've turned down for good if it weren't for his mom.
In 2020, Chris's mother, Lisa Evans, was interviewed by Esquire and explained how she convinced the future Steve Rogers to take the role. "I said to him, 'Look, you want to do acting work for the rest of your life? If you do this part, you will have the opportunity,'" she explained. "You'll never have to worry about paying the rent. If you take the part, you just have to decide, 'It's not going to affect my life negatively - it will enable it.'"
Given that the Cap role turned Evans into a bona fide star, it just goes to show: Always listen to your mother.
- Photo: Thor: The Dark World / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
After years of Chris Hemsworth playing Thor - with more to come in the future - it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the God of Thunder, let alone his own younger brother, Liam. Alas, Chris apparently blew his first audition with Thor director Kenneth Branagh while Liam ended up making it to the final round of callbacks for the hammer-wielding superhero.
Speaking to W Magazine in 2017, Chris explained how a last-ditch effort to beat his brother to the role ended up getting him back in the conversation. "So I did an audition in Vancouver in this hotel room with my mum reading Anthony Hopkins's part," he clarified. "She must have nailed it because it got me back in the room and that second audition was a lot different than my first one."
It feels safe to say, in hindsight, Marvel decided on the correct Hemsworth.
- Photo: Marvel's The Avengers / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
In a classic case of everybody wins, Scarlett Johansson only booked the role of Black Widow once Emily Blunt had to bow out due to a contractual obligation. That contractual obligation? Starring in the mostly forgotten 2010 Jack Black comedy Gulliver's Travels. In an interview with Parade in 2020, Johansson stated, "The best call you can receive is after you are rejected for something and then you get it. You appreciate it more. I’ve basically made a career out of being second choice."
Johansson has gone on to make the Marvel hero her own, with a solo movie in the offing, and Blunt has done just fine in the years since leaving the part on the table, starring in major action-adventure movies of her own like Edge of Tomorrow, The Huntsman: Winter's War, and the upcoming Jungle Cruise. Sometimes things just tend to work out for all involved.