Joaquin Phoenix
Credit: Marvel; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Marvel Studios is trying to bring Joaquin Phoenix in-network as Doctor Strange, the surgeon turned wizard warrior, whose existence was teased in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The three-time Oscar nominee for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master has been mentioned before as one of the contenders for the role of Dr. Stephen Strange, but Collider reported today that Phoenix is in final talks and sources close to the film confirm to EW he is their top choice for the role.

Marvel did not immediately respond to request for official comment, but studio president Kevin Feige has long talked about wanting to bring Doctor Strange to the big screen — and he’s far from alone in that ambition. The character has been a favorite of filmmakers for decades, and directors such as Wes Craven and Guillermo del Toro have all made attempts at making a big-screen version of the psychedelic magic that artist Steve Ditko’s brought to his 1963 comic book creation.

But Feige has finally put it into action as part of Marvel’s post-Avengers: Age of Ultron movies, a.k.a. Phase Three, with horror filmmaker Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) on deck to direct.

Although Phoenix’s deal isn’t done yet, it’s a rare case of Marvel reaching out to a multi-Oscar nominee with one of their lead roles. Generally, they have been in the market for up-and-coming actors (Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth, Captain America‘s Chris Evans, and Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Chris Pratt) for its headliners, or in the case of now global-megastar Robert Downey Jr. … taking a chance on distressed goods. (He would be the first to acknowledge that.)

Marvel has reached out to bigger stars for supporting roles: Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster come to mind, among many others. But choosing a powerful (and opinionated) actor like Phoenix for the lead of a new franchise is a risk for the studio, which will have to cede some control — but it’s a risk comic-book fans would likely embrace.

Phoenix has an intensity that is unrivaled, and he has demonstrated an ability to bring realism to a broad array of offbeat and unusual characters, each one unique. If Feige and Co. can seal the deal, it will be one more surprising coup by a studio that seems to have the magic touch already.

One sticking point may be whether they can recruit Phoenix to turn up in other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that commitment may not be very large after all. Here’s what Feige told EW about the character last year:

“I would love Strange to be a part of [the Marvel Cinematic Universe] only because he’s a great character. He’s a great standalone character,” Feige emphasizes. “He’s got a great origin story, for the most part. And that world of pure magic, we haven’t done yet. There’s a whole supernatural/magic alternate dimension going on in the Marvel comics that we haven’t ever touched on. So I think that’s exciting.”

The key word there is “standalone.” Phoenix may not have to worry all that much about turning up in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Thor 3.

The character was already teased, however, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when one covert agent of HYDRA confesses that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s aggressive new defense strategy means striking down anyone who is considered a potential threat. In panic, he rattles off a list of names — and one of them is Stephen Strange.

Before too long, we may find out Phoenix is the man with the otherworldly superpowers.

Doctor Strange
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