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Benedict Cumberbatch’s time as Doctor Strange might be nearing an end. The actor’s upcoming appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be his fifth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and sources claim that the studio already has an exit plan for him in the works. Here’s how Marvel might replace Cumberbatch after Doctor Strange 2 hits theaters in 2021.

Doctor Strange Benedict Cumberbatch
Doctor Strange himself, Benedict Cumberbatch | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Inside Cumberbatch’s original casting

It is hard to think about someone other than Cumberbatch playing Doctor Strange in the MCU, but the actor almost missed out on the part in 2014. According to Digital Spy, Cumberbatch told reporters that prior commitments would likely make it impossible for him to star in the film.

“I’m doing a little play called Hamlet in London,” Cumberbatch revealed in July of 2014. “So I don’t think I could even if that was in the cards. It sounds like a fantastic project. It’s a shame if I miss out, but who knows?”

Luckily, Marvel and Cumberbatch worked out the scheduling conflicts. Over the years, Cumberbatch has appeared in four Marvel films as the Strange, including Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.

Last summer, Marvel confirmed that Cumberbatch will appear in a second stand-alone film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. After that, it is unclear if Cumberbatch will extend his contract with Marvel for additional cameos.

While fans will get to see Cumberbatch reprise the role at least one more time, the studio had other actors lined up for the part back in 2014.

This actor was almost cast to lead ‘Doctor Strange’

With Cumberbatch tied up, Marvel turned to other actors to play the lead in Doctor Strange. Some of Hollywood’s brightest stars were linked to the project, including the likes of Tom Hardy and Jared Leto. But Joaquin Phoenix reportedly got the closest to inking a deal with Marvel.

In 2015, Phoenix opened up about meeting with Marvel and revealed that he got close to landing the part. The only reason he did not agree to join the MCU was that he wanted the movie to be more character-driven.

“I’ve flirted with several of those films, having meetings and getting close, but ultimately it never felt like they’d really be fulfilling. There were too many requirements that went against my instincts for the character,” he explained.

Phoenix went on to say that he has not met any directors who wanted to focus more on the characters than the sets. The actor, of course, would go on to star in Joker, a film that was all about character development.

Other actors that were in the running to star in Doctor Strange include Matthew McConaughey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Ethan Hawke, and Ryan Gosling.

Marvel delays ‘Doctor Strange 2’

In order to get Cumberbatch to play Strange, Marvel delayed the start of production by several months. This freed up the actor’s schedule and allowed director Scott Derrickson to iron out the script and work on visual effects.

Taking to Twitter, Derrickson revealed that the movie would have been much different if they had started on time. The comments come after the director confirmed that Cumberbatch was the only person that was in serious contention for the part (which is why they delayed it for him).

“Additionally, we pushed the release date for Doctor Strange five months in order to get Benedict Cumberbatch. Had we not done that, we would not have had time to get the script right or figure out how to achieve a lot of the visuals,” he shared.

Marvel, of course, has also delayed the start of Doctor Strange 2, though for entirely different reasons. The studio has pushed back the premiere of all of its upcoming projects due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was first scheduled to open in theaters in May of 2021. Marvel has now scheduled the movie to premiere in November of 2021.

Will Cumberbatch leave the MCU after ‘Multiverse of Madness’?

The departure of several characters following Endgame has sparked speculation about Cumberbatch’s future in the MCU. If the actor does not sign an extension beyond Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness, a source told We Got This Covered that Marvel already has a backup plan in mind.

The insider claims that the studio wants Clea to replace Strange as the main sorcerer in the MCU. Marvel has not introduced fans to the character, but she will likely make an appearance in Multiverse of Madness.

In the comics, Clea is romantically linked to Doctor Strange and has powers that are very similar to the Sorcerer Supreme. The source does not believe Marvel will call Clea the new Sorcerer Supreme but will have her fill that role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Cumberbatch is gone.