The Big Picture
- Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o initially auditioned for different roles in the MCU, but their performances impressed casting director Sarah Halley Finn, who chose them to lead the kingdom of Wakanda in Black Panther.
- Finn often earmarked actors who auditioned for other roles before finding the right parts for them, such as Tom Hiddleston, who auditioned for Thor but ended up playing Loki.
- Finn had to persuade director James Gunn to give Chris Pratt a chance as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, even though Gunn initially thought Pratt was “totally wrong.” Pratt’s screen test proved to be magical and convinced Gunn that he was the perfect choice.
It’s fair to say that Black Panther may have the most powerful legacy and lasting impact in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, largely thanks to the stoicism and presence brought to the lead role of King T’Challa by its star, the late Chadwick Boseman. But if fate had gone another way, he and co-star Lupita Nyong’o may have been turning out in another film—James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy.
The pair, who starred as Black Panther and Nakia in the 2018 Ryan Coogler movie, originally auditioned for the roles of Drax the Destroyer and Gamora, two key characters in the MCU, according to casting director Sarah Halley Finn, who revealed the insight in a Vanity Fair-published excerpt for the new book, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios.
While the pair would ultimately be unsuccessful in their auditions, their roles going to Dave Bautista and Zoe Saldaña, respectively, both made quite the impression on Finn, who often would earmark actors who auditioned for other roles within the franchise before finding the right parts for them, ultimately choosing the duo to lead the kingdom of Wakanda on-screen.
Choosing the Right People
Key examples within the MCU include Tom Hiddleston, who had auditioned for Thor before Finn realised he would be ideal to play the conniving younger brother Loki instead, as well as other Guardians stars Karen Gillan, who had auditioned for the role of Sharon Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, who ended up playing Nebula, as well as Chris Pratt, who auditioned for the role of Captain America. Finn had previously approached Gunn with the idea of Pratt, having seen his audition for Captain America and seen his charm while on Parks and Recreation as the goofy, lovable Andy Dwyer. Gunn disagreed.
“I was so excited, and I went to James [Gunn], and he said, ‘Chris Pratt, no way, he’s totally wrong.'”. Finn secretly kept Pratt on the short list for Star-Lord while casting the rest of the Guardians ensemble. Finn managed to persuade Gunn to give Pratt a chance by suggesting he do a screen test for the role, drawing from the successful example of how it had showcased Robert Downey Jr. as a suitable Tony Stark. Pratt was curious but somewhat doubtful about whether he was truly the best choice. However, his screen test turned out to be the kind of moment that casting directors aspire to find.
“Chris walked in the room, and we have this audition, and it’s really magical. Within ten seconds, James turned around and looked at me and said, ‘He’s the guy.’ ”
Boseman and Nyong’o would go on to share the screen with the Guardians of the Galaxy in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Nyong’o reprised her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the film which served both as a sequel and a tribute to Boseman, who passed away following a secret battle with cancer in 2020.