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Doctor Strange Director Dishes on How Close Joaquin Phoenix Came to Playing the Master of the Mystic Arts

Doctor Strange Director Dishes on How Close Joaquin Phoenix Came to Playing the Master of the Mystic Arts


  • Doctor Strange
    director Scott Derrickson makes it clear that he “wanted Benedict” and several other actors were in the mix for the part other than Joaquin Phoenix.
  • Phoenix and Derrickson spent time together, but ultimately the actor just wasn’t the right fit for the role.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ultimately became Stephen Strange, and Phoenix eventually donned the unmistakable make-up of the Joker.

Fans of Todd Phillips’ Joker are unquestionably happy that Joaquin Phoenix became the cackling Clown Prince of Crime in DC’s Elseworlds. However, there was a time when the Academy Award-winning actor was seemingly just an Infinity Gauntlet-snap away from becoming the Master of the Mystic Arts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And judging from what Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson revealed in a new interview, Phoenix was in the running to portray Stephen Strange when it seemed Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t appear in the 2016 film. Derrickson cleared up the casting confusion in an interview with Slash Film:

“What happened,
just to be clear, we offered the movie to Benedict.
I wanted Benedict. That was my choice for the role.
I flew all the way to London to try to talk him into doing it.
What it came down to was that it was a summer movie, and
Benedict had committed to doing Hamlet in London theater.”

doctor strange

Doctor Strange

Release Date
October 25, 2016


Open your mind. Change your reality.

Derrickson reveals that he “spent a couple of long afternoons” with Phoenix and was impressed by him. The director of the original Doctor Strange goes on and suggests that Phoenix was “opening his mind” to portraying Dr. Stephen Strange. However, Phoenix was also “nervous” about committing to multiple projects at the same time. Derrickson continued by detailing why Cumberbatch initially couldn’t commit:

“Benedict, he’s a guy with great integrity, and
he understood the significance of what the role was and how it could impact his life.
But he just said, ‘I’ve said yes to these people. I’ve committed to doing this. I can’t back out of it.’
He just personally wouldn’t do that to the theater and to the director of the show.
So, I came back from that trip, and I was like,
‘We’re not going to get Benedict.'”

Director Reveals: ‘Joaquin Didn’t Really Belong in That Movie’

Joker is unquestionably the best performance of Joaquin Phoenix’s illustrious career, and he has the Oscar (Best Actor in a Leading Role) to prove it. And, as it turns out, Phoenix wasn’t the only thespian who might have become Stephen Strange had Benedict Cumberbatch not been able to don the Cloak of Levitation. Scott Derrickson said in the same interview:

“I met with a bunch of actors,
Joaquin was the one that I spent the most time with.
As we continued to talk,
it became clear to me that Joaquin didn’t really belong in that movie
and probably never belonged in the MCU. He’s a very specific guy with very specific goals as an actor, and a very specific way of performing.
I think it became clear to both of us that this might not be a good fit,
really is what it came down to […]

I just went back to Kevin [Feige] and I just said,
‘We have to move the date because it’s got to be Benedict.’
Kevin went to [Disney CEO] Bob Iger and Alan Horn, and told them what I said.
To their credit, they moved the date, and it became a fall movie.”


Doctor Strange 3: Should Scott Derrickson Return as Director?

After stepping down from directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, should Scott Derrickson return for the next sequel?

Phoenix returns to theaters as the Clown Prince of Crime this October, and the trailer for Joker: Folie à Deux had the internet buzzing, particularly where that final shot between Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) and Harley Quinn (Lady Gaga) was concerned. As for Dr. Stephen Strange’s journey, it’s reasonable to expect more of Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange as the MCU moves forward.

Doctor Strange
is streaming on
at the time of this writing. And Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance in the
is available on Max and Netflix.

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