Joaquin Phoenix was supposed to walk out on stage at Comic-Con to be announced as the actor playing Doctor Strange. It was to be a repeat of what happened with Mark Ruffalo, who made his deal at the last minute and walked from signing his contract to a car that took him right to the San Diego Convention Center. It was going to be a triumph. That weekend a Marvel Studios insider told me they had tried their hardest, that they had pushed as hard as they could, but they couldn't close the deal in time.
Today Collider reports that Phoenix is still in talks for the role, and that he's at the "1 yard line." I can back this up - he met with Marvel this week. But the problems that have kept the deal from closing remain, and they go beyond the basic fact that Phoenix is balking at the heavy multi-picture contract: Joaquin Phoenix literally doesn't know if he can work on this kind of movie.
He's a great actor, and he can play the role. But the Marvel Studios blockbuster machine is full of pre-viz and fight-viz and green screen and massive reshoots. It's not a world that's as comfortable for him, and he's just not certain he can do it. And I kind of think this is a terrific piece of self-awareness, and a piece of self-awareness that might keep the deal from closing. If Marvel can get past any issues Phoenix has with the larger contract they still have to get over the doubt this terrific actor has about working in this larger environment.
I would love to be in the room as they hammer this all out. Phoenix would be a major get for the project and for Marvel in general, moving away from their habit of casting up-and-comers (nobody saw Chris Pratt as an action star) and semi-has-beens (remember that Robert Downey Jr couldn't get work just a few years before Iron Man) and going after major talents who are in their absolute prime. It's a big statement, especially as they start making movies out of their very, very untested properties - books that have a hard time staying in print, let alone being household names.