Photo: Avengers: Endgame / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How MCU Actors Landed The Role

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: Avengers: Endgame / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

  • Robert Downey Jr. Was A Massive Risk, But Jon Favreau Fought Marvel To Cast Him As Iron Man
    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.

  • Chris Evans Repeatedly Turned Down Captain America - Until His Mom Changed His Mind
    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.

  • Chris Hemsworth Failed His Thor Audition, And Then His Brother Almost Got The Part
    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.

  • Scarlett Johansson Got Black Widow Because Emily Blunt Had To Do 'Gulliver's Travels'
    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 TomorrowThe Huntsman: Winter's War, and the upcoming Jungle Cruise. Sometimes things just tend to work out for all involved.

  • Marvel Reached Out To Chadwick Boseman While He Was Overseas Promoting Another Movie

    Marvel Reached Out To Chadwick Boseman While He Was Overseas Promoting Another Movie
    Photo: Avengers: Infinity War / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Sometimes you just get lucky enough to have immense opportunities fall right into your lap. This is what happened to Chadwick Boseman when he was offered the role that would make him a household name on a silver platter right out of the clear blue sky. 

    While promoting his 2014 James Brown biopic Get On Up, Boseman received a fortuitous phone call. He went into detail during a Black Panther press conference:

    I was coming off the red carpet for Get On Up and my agent was like, "You've gotta get on the phone." And the crazy thing is I didn't even have international calling on my phone until that morning. In an interview I heard someone say, "Get international on your phone and call your mom," [then] important stuff, literally, happened that night.

    That call was Marvel offering him the role of Black Panther straight up, with no audition or anything. Talk about good fortune.

  • 7,000 Actors Tried Out For Spidey, But Tom Holland Did Gymnastics In His Audition Tape
    Photo: Captain America: Civil War / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Going up against 7,000 actors for one of the most coveted roles in Hollywood doesn't leave you with great odds in the grand scheme of things. Tom Holland knew he was a long shot to get cast as the MCU's version of Peter Parker, but he did have an ace in his pocket that ended up making him stand out: gymnastics skills.

    Holland told the Associated Press that he wanted to showcase those abilities in his audition tape in order to make him stand out from the massive pack. "They gave me two scenes... and I basically did like a somersault into frame, and then a somersault out of frame, because I was basically like, 'They may never see this, but if they do, I need them to know that I've got some gymnastic abilities and stuff.'" Holland's physicality and agility helped give him the edge he was looking for, and the rest is history.