It's a strange world we live in when Henry Cavill, a 6-foot tall Brit known for sexing it up on The Tudors, can replace Tom Cruise in a movie. And yet, that's exactly what happened on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In fact, Cruise wasn't even the first star committed to playing the part of American spy Napoleon Solo in the feature film adaptation of the classic '60s television show. What other actors were almost cast in Man From U.N.C.L.E. ?
Rumors first began buzzing about a possible adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 2010, but back then the project wasn't being helmed by Guy Ritchie, but by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's 11, Contagion). And British hunk Cavill was nowhere close to being on the shortlist to star — hell, he was barely on Hollywood's radar at all (this was before Man of Steel, don't forget). Instead, Soderbergh's frequent collaborator, George Clooney, was in talks for the role. Clooney's charismatic style and devilish grin would most certainly have served him well in the role of an American spy, but, unfortunately, the actor was forced to drop out after health concerns made it difficult for him to do the stunts required for the part.
After Clooney left the project, Soderbergh reportedly approached both Matt Damon and Johnny Depp for the role, before turning to Bradley Cooper, who had only recently become respectable in the eyes of the Hollywood elite thanks to roles in Limitless and The Hangover. And, after Cooper failed to sign on, rumor had it that Soderbergh was hoping his newest star, Channing Tatum, who worked with the director on Haywire and Magic Mike, would take over the role instead. Yet development went on without any real progress, and Soderbergh eventually grew tired of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He left the project in 2011.
Ritchie then picked it up, bringing on producing partner and co-writer Lionel Wigram, and transforming The Man From U.N.C.L.E. into a sexy spy thriller. With the Sherlock Holmes director on board, the project attracted action superstar Tom Cruise to play the lead role, but the star had to exit the film to work on Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the summer blockbuster currently dominating at the box office. It goes without saying that a Tom Cruise-starring Man From U.N.C.L.E. would have been drastically different than the film being released on Friday. Don't get me wrong, Cruise is a movie star, but unlike Cavill, he's no Superman.
The parade of actors rumored to be considering playing Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. finally ended with the casting of Cavill, who was fresh off filming Man of Steel. Meanwhile, before Cavill was cast, the studio had settled on who would play Illya, the KGB equivalent of Solo in the film, placing budding star Armie Hammer in the role. In the end, Ritchie found himself with a younger, fresher cast — a definite win for the younger demographic. And having two men of roughly the same age (and height) also allows the characters of Illya and Solo to be on equal footing. According to producer Wigram, he and Ritchie had always intended to have two young leads, but they cast Cruise because the studio wanted a bankable star in the film. After Cavill booked Man of Steel, he became that bankable star, so everything worked out.
" Man of Steel was about to come out, and the tracking showed that it was gonna be a big hit," Wigram told Collider. "We suddenly went, 'You know what? We talked about Henry at the beginning for Solo, why don't we go back to that idea?'"
Having two younger leads also allows for the casting of young actress Alicia Vikander, 26, to be, frankly, less creepy. As evidenced by the careers of 'it' girls Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence, male protagonists in Hollywood keep getting older as the women remain the same age, creating an age gap trend. Cavill, 32, Hammer, 28, and Vikander are all around the same age — a rarity in Hollywood, and a near impossibility in the spy genre. I'd say The Man From U.N.C.L.E. couldn't have asked for a better cast.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures, Giphy.com (2)