After months (or years) of speculation about when exactly Marvel Studios would introduce Doctor Strange into their shared cinematic universe, rumors surrounding the project have been picking up steam lately. A solo film featuring the Sorcerer Supreme has yet to be officially unveiled by Marvel but, in the last week alone, we’ve received reports that the studio has compiled a short list of directors that could be in the running to helm the film along with rumors of who might star as titular Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange.

Of course, anyone who follows comic book movie development knows that rumors this early in the process rarely lead to official confirmation. However, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire – and while the aforementioned director and potential actor picks may never join Doctor Strange, studio head Kevin Feige has confirmed that certain aspects of the rumors are true – Marvel is currently meeting with a lot of people for the project.

Speaking with IGN, in connection to the release of Thor: The Dark World on Blu-ray (and the All Hail the King short film), Feige commented on recent reports suggesting that directors Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) and Mark Andrews (Brave), among others might helm the Doctor Strange solo film:

“Well, that article [from The Hollywood Reporter] was true that we’re meeting a lot of people now. That article was not true about who we’re meeting or what level anybody is. But we’re actively looking.”

Prior comments from Feige indicated that Doctor Strange was a priority for the studio, and would appear in Phase 3, but this latest confirmation lends further credence to speculation that the film is still on track for one of the studio’s planned summer 2016 release slots (May 6, 2016 or July 8, 2016). At this point, there’s no way to know for sure – especially since Marvel has yet to decide whether they’re even going to keep the May 6, 2016 date (which now belongs to Batman vs. Superman as well). If in fact that May 6th date is the planned launch for Doctor Strange, a character that is well-loved among comic fans but less familiar to mainstream moviegoers, expect Marvel to abandon that release window in favor of one that is less competitive.

Before we get into what Feige and his team are looking for in their Doctor Strange star and director, the producer also debunked an especially controversial casting rumor – stating that Johnny Depp is not in the running for the lead role:

“No, no. When you have a project that’s been around as long as Doctor Strange, there is sometimes, ‘Oh, I’ve met with Stan about this! Or I did that!’ So Strange is one of those projects that predates me by a long shot. Obviously, the character does, but even in its cinematic brewing. So there’s a lot of things that have happened before me, and I’ve been here 14 years. So that’s a long time ago. I don’t know if that happened then.”

Maybe Depp was, at one point, in talks for the role but it doesn’t sound like he’s in the running for the current iteration. Feige has mislead reporters before about casting choices but his comments this time appear pretty candid – especially in connection with his assertion that the studio is not necessarily looking for a movie star to play Doctor Strange:

“You know, I would say that we’re pretty transparent, right? Doctor Strange would be our — well, depending on when we make it, it could be our 13th, 14th, 15th movie, right? I think if you’re looking to track our decision-making and how we’ve done things, we have a pretty wide track record now where you can sort of see. So, no, a movie star is not required, but that doesn’t mean a movie star wouldn’t be great. It just depends.”

Calling Marvel “transparent” might be a bit of a stretch, since (as mentioned) Feige has thrown uncertainty toward reports that later turned out to be true, but the studio doesn’t have a set pattern for how they approach casting. Recently, well-known stars Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas joined Ant-Man whereas, months earlier, up and comers Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were cast in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not to mention, while a fan-favorite actor could help sell Doctor Strange to casual moviegoers, a-list stars tend to be more reluctant to sign lengthy multi-picture contracts (and, in general, are harder for the studio to control).

In the interview Feige asserted there’s one condition that will determine who directs – a requirement that could likely be extended to who will star in the film as well:

“We always look at a wide range of people with a wide range of backgrounds. There’s only one criteria: do something that we think is really cool. [Laughs] That’s about it.”

Since, the producer didn’t comment specifically on the recent report suggesting that Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) is a frontrunner to star as the Sorcerer Supreme, it’ll be interesting to see what he does (or does not) say when asked directly. Mikkelsen could be a strong choice for the part and fits within Marvel’s “wide track record” (he’s neither a movie star nor a complete unknown) – though we have nothing but hearsay to go on at this point.

That said, considering the actor took one of the most iconic movie villains in history and did something “cool” (and downright haunting) with him on NBC’s Hannibal, there’s plenty of reason for Marvel and fans to give Mikkelsen a shot.

More: 5 Actors Who Could Play Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6, 2016, July 8, 2016 and May 5, 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for updates on Doctor Strange as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.

Source: IGN