Nowadays, it’s laughable when an actor or director says “Oh, I’d love to work with Marvel!” Yeah, no kidding. Who wouldn’t? But back in the day, it seems 20th Century Fox’s gambit (no pun intended), the original ‘X-Men’ movie was also a hot ticket and some pretty big names wanted in! Names like… Shaquille O’Neal, Mariah Carey, and even the King of Pop, Michael Jackson approached producers to score roles!
In honor of the 20th anniversary of ‘X-Men’, producer Ralph Winter participated in an interview with the Observer, and recalled:
“I have lots of warm memories of people that came in wanting to be in the movie. Michael Jackson was a big comic fan and wanted to play Charles Xavier. Shaquille O’Neal showed up at the offices and wanted to play Forge, who wasn’t in the movie… Every day I was surprised by the faces coming in. Like, I’d find Mariah Carey sitting in my office wanting to go talk to Bryan about being Storm or something. So that’s always shocking.”
Hoo boy. Can you imagine? O’Neal seems to have a thing for techie heroes. In 1997, he starred in the box office disaster ‘Steel’, based on the armored DC superhero of the same name. He has since continued to pop up in movies, but usually as himself.
Jackson desperately wanted a film career. (Possibly because peers Prince and Madonna were moving in that direction.) In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he lobbied for the role of Robin in the first ‘Batman’ in 1989 (the character wound up not being in the movie) and Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Hook’ (the movie focused on an older Pan who’d outgrown and forgotten his past life, and MJ was not interested in that). While he’d starred in ‘The Wiz’ and the musical direct-to-video movie ‘Moonwalker’ (and the Disney attraction ‘Captain Eo’), he never managed to transition to a significant acting career.
Carey eventually starred in her own movie, ‘Glitter’, which was a massive flop, but she then stripped away her glamorous pop star image for very unglamorous roles in ‘Precious’ and ‘The Butler’, which earned her acclaim and even awards nominations. She eventually made a superhero movie, as the voice of the mayor in ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’.
Winter also mentioned that Russell Crowe and Viggo Mortenson were both offered the role of Wolverine. That role eventually went to… Dougray Scott, who had to drop out at the last minute due to the filming of ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ running over. The role went to an unknown Hugh Jackman, and the rest is history.
“The studio wanted the widest possible audience, the biggest bang for their buck, as they deserve and require. There was pushback to being faithful to the comic. Kevin Feige was right there in the midst of all of that. He didn’t have as big of a voice back then, but he was careful and faithful about the characters and reminding us, ‘Hey, you can do that, but here’s where the character came from. Here’s where their powers started. So keep that in mind as you go do that.’”
That brings up the touchy subject of racial interpretations of comic book characters. Nowadays it’s common to cast actors of various ethnicities to play characters that have traditionally been depicted as another race, usually white. But some of these castings would have been major deviations in the opposite direction.
Forge is Native American. Storm is Black and from Kenya. Shaq and Mariah are… not those things. (Fans have actually reacted negatively to both Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp for being too light-skinned to play Storm who is usually shown to have a darker complexion.)
Keep in mind, ‘X-Men’ was made just a few years after ‘Batman & Robin’ and this motley collection of potential “actors” sounds a bit like the kitchen sink collection in that movie.
Are there any other actors that you think could have made decent X-Men, who never appeared in the films?