And Marvel almost ended up in Pop hands.
It’s fascinating sometimes going behind the scenes of blockbuster movies, learning about the “what-ifs” and the “who didn’t” and the “are you kidding me’s”. Case in point: the 2000 Bryan Singer big hit X-Men movie.
Yes, it has been twenty-years since Bryan Singer gave the world X-Men. Before that, the X-Men property was in the development stages for years; one of the first scripts written as an X-Men vehicle was back in 1984, the rights belonging to Orion Pictures. Not long after that, Marvel kingpin Stan Lee, along with Marvel writer Chris Claremont, tried to get their version of X-Men off the ground with Kathryn Bigelow directing and James Cameron producing. Even those heavy hitters couldn’t get X-Men to take flight.
It would eventually take the efforts of executive producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter to champion X-Men and bringing fans what they long waited for. What is more interesting than the story of how the movie got made is perhaps the who, as in, who didn’t accept roles in the movie and who wanted to be in the movie but eventually weren’t chosen. It’s a virtual who’s who.
THE KING OF POP
One of the more shocking revelations that has come out from a casting standpoint is the fact that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, was a huge X-Men fan. So big, that executive producer Winter recalled just what part the King of Pop wanted to play in the X-Men movie.
He told the Observer, “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.”
Wait, what? Michael Jackson as Charles Xavier? Seriously? According to Winter, very serious. How that could have played out, we can’t even guess. But Michael Jackson not only wanted to play Charles Xavier, at one time he was very interested in purchasing Marvel outright.
AS rumor has it, Michael Jackson was also a huge Spider-Man fan and before the Tobey Maguire-led films came to pass, Jackson was wanting to make his own Spider-Man film casting himself as the lead. But according to Jackson’s nephew Taj, the pop singer wanted Marvel.
He told Popcorned Planet, “It was Marvel and I remember that. I remember being with my brothers and him talking about purchasing Marvel. He wanted to do that with Stan Lee. They had been talking and discussing that. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, I think they were shut down from doing that. I don’t know the reasons why, but they were adamantly in the process of doing that.”
Michael Jackson was not the only BIG name to circle the X-Men property. “Shaquille O’Neal showed up at the offices and wanted to play Forge, who wasn’t in the movie,” Winter said to the Observer.
While Jackson’s involvement as Xavier is a little more difficult to fathom, Shaq as Forge is something that can be visualized. Even though Forge’s makeup is Native American and one would hope if Forge were to be a part of any future X-Men movies he’d be played by a Native American actor, seeing Shaq take on that role wouldn’t have been out of the question.
As previously mentioned, the first X-Men movie’s casting call was a who’s who in Hollywood. The most famous “turn down” was Russell Crowe saying no to Wolverine. Viggo Mortensen also declined the part. Wolverine was given to Dougray Scott, but he eventually walked away from it due to his commitments with the Tom Cruise action-flick Mission: Impossible II.
It wasn’t only the role of Wolverine that garnered a lot of attention, though Keanu Reeves, Gary Sinise, Mel Gibson, Aaron Eckhart, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Edward Norton, and Bob Hoskins were supposedly up for the role. Uhhhh, Bob Hoskins?
Jeri Ryan was up for Mystique. Jim Caviezel was asked to play Cyclops and was cast for the role but backed out because of another movie commitment. Angela Bassett was the first choice to play Storm, but she was asking for too much cash. Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey were also considered.
For the role of Rogue, the part that Anna Paquin eventually got, Drew Barrymore, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Katie Holmes, Christina Ricci, Alicia Silverstone, and Katharine Isabelle were considered. And then there was Jean Grey, the part played famously by Famke Jensen. Selma Blair, Renee O’Connor, Lucy Lawless, and Maria Bello were considered as was Peta Wilson and Helen Hunt, who turned down the role.
Like we said, a who’s who. You can debate the final selections, though they seem to fit quite well in the final product.