How to Get Cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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Photo Source: Jessica Miglio

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is in a period of rapid growth and evolution. With an influx of diverse new characters, actors, and creators in both movies and on TV, the sprawling superhero franchise is beginning a fresh chapter. Given the vast slate of upcoming projects, this is the perfect time to get in on the superhero action you’ve been geeking out over since Tony Stark first donned the Iron Man suit.

If you’re ready to use your acting superpowers for the greater good, check out this in-depth guide for getting cast in the MCU. We’ll walk you through the process, let you know which projects are currently casting, and share audition tips from Marvel casting professionals and stars alike. Actors, assemble.

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Who are the top Marvel casting directors?

Sarah Finn has been the MCU’s go-to talent seeker ever since Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” kicked off the franchise in 2008. Her keen casting sense can be seen in every film entry in the MCU; on the ABC series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter”; and Disney+’s “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki,” “What If…?” “Hawkeye,” and “Moon Knight.” 

While the idea of setting foot into such a gigantic, star-studded world is daunting, Finn told us that unknown actors actually have a better chance of getting cast than you might think. “The landscape has changed, for sure. I think that with the proliferation of all these outlets, there are so many opportunities for people,” she says. 

The CD has brought in countless huge names, including Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), and the late Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), to name just a few. 

She has also helped launch the careers of newcomers like Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri in “Black Panther”; Tom Holland, aka Peter Parker in the “Spider-Man” films; Lexi Rabe, who plays Tony Stark’s daughter Morgan in “Avengers: Endgame”; and Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky Barnes. And coming up, keep an eye out for Iman Vellani, leading Disney+’s “Ms. Marvel” in her screen debut.

But Finn says her main priority is simply finding the best actor for the part in order to bring the director’s vision to life. “We were so lucky to have Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer; so many incredible, legendary actors joined these films,” she says. “But there were also times when we engaged in a huge search, sometimes lasting a year or more, sometimes covering thousands of actors, to find the perfect person.”

Other Marvel CDs include Laray Mayfield (Netflix’s “Daredevil,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” “Jessica Jones,” and “The Punisher”), Randi Hiller (“Iron Man” and “The Avengers”), Patrick Rush (Hulu’s “Runaways”), and Krista Husar (Disney+’s “Loki,” “Moon Knight,” “Hawkeye,” and “Ms. Marvel”).

Ms. Marvel

 

Which Marvel projects are currently casting?

With Phase 5 officially underway and Phase 6 just around the corner, there won’t be any shortage of Marvel roles in the coming months and years. According to rumors, “Captain America: New World Order” might be getting a new name. Filming began in March, so keep an eye out for potential opportunities to work alongside MCU veteran Anthony Mackie and “Star Wars” legend Harrison Ford.

As for current casting opportunities, Marvel is seeking actors for two speaking roles for an unnamed project. Production is looking for talent of any gender, aged 20–50, to play a high-level employee at a successful company; as well as talent of any gender, aged 20–50, to play a Japanese pilot. Filming will take place in Atlanta from March to July.

In previous years, we’ve also posted casting calls for MCU films such as “Madame Web,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and “Avengers: Infinity War.Bookmark this roundup of superhero gigs so you’ll be the first to know about future opportunities.  

While landing a principal part in an MCU project isn’t exactly a Thanos snap away, background gigs are easier to get. As recently as 2013, Simu Liu was an extra in Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim.” Now, he’s the face of “Shang-Chi”—Marvel’s first major film series featuring primarily Asian talent—which will add its second installment in Phase 6.

How does the Marvel casting process work?

When it comes to being seen by a CD like Finn for prominent speaking roles in the MCU—be they lead, supporting, or recurring—it’s best to go through an agent or talent agency. While there may be exceptions—such as if a particular project is seeking a fresh face and is aiming to find talent in a different way—it’s unlikely that Marvel will rely on public casting calls or random submissions. Instead, an actor’s representation may be able to get them in the door. 

That said, keep in mind how difficult and competitive Marvel’s casting stage is. Most chosen actors are those who have proven themselves with years of steady work, busy résumés, and the demo reels to show for it. (If you need help finding an agent, here’s how to get one.)

Even Drax the Destroyer needed an agent’s help. Before Dave Bautista landed his career-making role in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he was a struggling pro wrestler–turned-actor. “I had lost all my money from wrestling, and I was desperate to get a job,” he said at Denver Pop Culture Con. “I finally got an agent, like, two weeks before I got the audition for ‘Guardians.’ My agent says, ‘You know, I really had to fight to get you this audition…. It was really hard to get. They didn’t really want to audition you.’ ” Luckily for Bautista (and fans), it went well.

Among the many actors whom he beat out for the role was Boseman, who would become a Marvel legend a few years later in “Black Panther.” In an interview with Jimmy Fallon in 2019, Boseman said that “sometimes, that’s the way it works as an actor: You go in knowing you’re not gonna get the part, but you’re meeting the people that might be like, ‘It’s not this, but we’ll put him in this other thing.’ ” 

Finn echoed this sentiment: “In the Marvel world, there were many actors who auditioned for one part in a Marvel film or another project and got cast years later in something else. When you do good work and show up every day, we take note. We remember that, and hopefully it turns into something down the line.”

Jacob Batalon, who stole the show as Peter Parker’s best pal Ned in the “Spider-Man” films, had recently moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles when he found a manager who encouraged him to hone his craft at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. While in the midst of the school’s two-year acting program, he went on the first real audition of his life: a vague call for an untitled Marvel project that his manager came across, which was seeking someone of any ethnicity or body type who could believably play a teenager. 

“The specs were so general. It was like, ‘Any body type, any age—as long as you look like you’re 17,’ or something crazy,” Batalon told ComicBook.com. “You could’ve been anything. And then you [get] these fake sides for a self-tape, and then I got a callback self-tape, and they gave me the actual script. When they gave that to me, they were like, ‘You know what? Scratch that; just do a screen test instead.’ So I did a screen test with Tom [Holland] and Sarah Finn, the casting director who I love with all my heart. She was the person who said, ‘Oh, yeah, just wait two weeks, and then we’ll let you know either way….’ Two and a half months go by, and I’m like, Wow, this is the most depressing…period of my life.”

Naturally, the process is different for established names like Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), and Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanov). but Teyonah Parris—who was a standout on “WandaVision” as Monica Rambeau and will star in 2023’s “The Marvels”—caught the attention of Finn by steadily working in the industry. Not only that, but Parris had, as she told Collider, “put many Marvel [auditions] on tape over the last decade” by the time she tried out for the Disney+ original. Due to the secretive nature of the project, she didn’t know what the part was when she auditioned with random sides. 

“With Teyonah, she is an actress that I’ve known for a long, long time and admired all her work and had been discussed for Marvel projects before, as is often the case as we’re looking to see what the right role might be,” Finn told us.

Liu wasn’t bitten by the acting bug until 2012, while working as a background actor making minimum wage. He subsequently appeared in short films and music videos, and even dressed up as Spider-Man for kids’ birthday parties before landing an agent. 

Liu starred on the Canadian sitcom “Kim’s Convenience” for five seasons, but he always had an eye on Shang-Chi. Amazingly, back in 2014, he tweeted: “Hey @Marvel, great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?” Then, in 2018, he tweeted: “OK, @Marvel, are we gonna talk or what #ShangChi.” 

But those at Marvel claim to have not seen these messages until after he was cast. Liu had to go through an arduous series of auditions and screen tests, as well as intense physical training, beating out hundreds of other actors before ultimately proving to be the right man for the job.

Black Panther

How can actors audition for a role in the MCU?

Similar to roles with Netflix, Disney, and the DC Universe, landing a part in the MCU is a long and difficult road that requires hard work, charisma, physical fitness (depending on the part), and credits to your name. Just as Batalon, Liu, and the other Marvel megastars have done, you should:

  • Focus on your craft.
  • Have a website and/or social media accounts where you can show off your talents to agents and CDs. Your online presence should include updated headshots, a résumé, and demo reels.
  • Find representation, as having an agent not only gives you legitimacy, but will open the floodgates when it comes to auditioning opportunities.

When it comes to the audition itself, Lyrica Okano, who played Nico Minoru on “Runaways,” says that when you audition for Marvel, you probably won’t know which role you’re reading for ahead of time. So Okano pushed ahead and treated it like any other audition. “I read the sides, and if I get a full script, I read the full script and I do as much as I can to imagine my life as the character,” she says, “like what she’s gone through and what’s made her get to the place where she’s at—and I ask myself a lot of questions.”

Finn says that, in the audition room, “a question we ask a lot is, ‘Did you accomplish what you came in here wanting to do today? Do you feel like you did the work that you prepared?’ Hopefully, we can honor that. I understand and have an amazing amount of compassion for what actors go through and how hard they work—what it means to them every time they come in for an audition. We want to honor that and let people know that when you’re doing your best work, you never know where that’s going to land you.”

What are the best audition tips for landing a role in the MCU?

If you need a little pep talk from the team before the big battle in the audition room, check out these pieces of wisdom from Marvel’s biggest superheroes, both on and off the screen:

Do your homework

“Be prepared,” says Finn, who’s seen thousands upon thousands of hopeful actors for more than 10 years. “And also, make it your own. There is never a right way to do things. Of course, you want to pay attention to the scene, the character, and whatever notes you have; but beyond that, what takes flight in a room is when actors allow their own inspiration to come into their reading.”

Be ready for anything

When Jeff Ward, who played Deke Shaw on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” was preparing for his audition, he was “super excited, because the character description said: ‘Think: Han Solo.’ And I was like, Cool—that’s my childhood dream,” he said. “So I went in and I read for it. And while I was in there, they were like, ‘Can you actually read for this other part?’ And I read for the other part, and I got the other part; but it was much smaller. I was going to shoot two days and just be in two scenes, and I went to the table read.

“And as I sat down, I was immediately scared, because all these people from Marvel and ABC and the show were there,” he continued. “I [later] got a call on the way to my car that said, ‘Hey, could you come back and read for that original part one more time?’ One of the showrunners called me. And I did—I went back. At 11:30 that night, I found out that I was going to do the bigger part. It was supposed to be eight episodes, but now it’s turned into the whole season and past that. It was crazy. I was supposed to do two scenes and die, and now I’m doing a lot more.”

Secret Invasion

Don’t dwell on your audition afterward

As daunting and exhausting as auditioning can be for anyone at any experience level, Parris told Collider, “Part of my process is: Once you do an audition, once I do one, it’s done. It is what it is. I have to let it go spiritually and for my mental health…. I try not to operate in the space of fear.”

You’ve done the prep work; now relax

Emily VanCamp, aka Sharon Carter in “Captain America: Civil War” and on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” stressed the importance of preparing for an audition. But she also emphasized “letting it go so that you’re free to play…. You have to almost abandon your preparation to be able to really feel free as an actor to do what you do,” she said. “I missed that step for many years. I was over-prepared and focused so much, because I would be so terrified of not remembering lines or not being prepared. Then that became my main focus, rather than letting go and being free in the moment.”

A little Spidey sense goes a long way

Holland used a cheat in the audition room when he was starting out: “I would get something really wrong in the first take in the room, so that the casting director would be like, ‘You should try and do it a little bit more like this.’ And then I would do it how I’d actually planned on doing it, and it would show them that I was really good at taking direction. That’s a little trick that I used to do, just to kind of show people that I was malleable and able to work with others,” he said.

Let CDs see you in your performance

Finn said that being memorable in the room is all about actors honoring “their own authentic voice.” She added, “An actor should always follow their instincts and follow their impulses, because as long as an actor is drawing on their own life experience and connecting with what’s real in them and bringing that to what’s real in the character, it’s going to be unique. It’s going to stand out. I think the most important thing is to bring their own original inspiration and creativity to anything they’re doing and to the role…. There’s really no way to try to guess what someone’s looking for or to try to figure out how to do it right. There’s no right. There’s only making it your own and bringing it to life.”

For Marvel casting news and more, click here!

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