With Iron Man 3 wrapped, Thor: The Dark World more than halfway through production and Captain America: The Winter Soldier beginning in the spring, we expect the spacefaring Guardians of the Galaxy to begin shooting in the summer for its August 2014 release date, meaning early casting and planning is expected at this point – especially if there are grander plans at work to introduce any of the otherworldly characters earlier via cameo appearances.

So let’s take a break from speculating on which Marvel Comics characters will appear in Guardians of the Galaxy and focus on which actors they may sign to bring at least one of the characters to life on the big screen.

According to Deadline, Marvel has already begun the search for the lead for the James Gunn written and directed project – their only non-sequel coming in the next two years.

So, who is Marvel Studios and James Gunn looking at?

  • Joel Edgerton
  • Jack Huston
  • Jim Sturgess
  • Lee Pace
  • Eddie Redmayne

The five names have reportedly signed testing deals with Marvel Studios for the role of Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, but other names that have popped up include Garrett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy), James Marsden (X-Men trilogy), and Sullivan Stapleton (Gangster Squad).

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The Marvel brand now speaks for itself, but Guardians still represents their riskiest project to date, meaning they’re going to have to be very smart in how the position the film in the wake of Green Lantern. It may rely upon established star power more than the Phase One films – all of which successfully created stars themselves.

By that logic, Edgerton might be the likeliest of the candidates, considering we heard his name previously as someone they really wanted to work with, potentially for the role of Dr. Strange. Lee Pace is coming off a scene-stealing role in the final Twilight film and plays King Thranduil in all three of the Hobbit films and oddly enough, was one of the actors I personally listed as a suggestion for Ant-Man. On the British side, Jim Sturgess made his mark in recent years with a large variety of roles in often under-the-radar flicks, Jack Huston is an up-and-comer who regulars on Boardwalk Empire , and Eddie Redmayne is set to breakout next month with his role in Les Misérables.

The logline for Guardians of the Galaxy offers a very basic plot synopsis for the film revolving around the character of Peter Quill:

About a U.S. pilot who ends up in space in the middle of a universal conflict and goes on the run with futuristic ex-cons who have something everyone wants.

Keep in mind, that if Marvel is interested in these talents, they’re interested in these talents, period. Meaning, even if one (or none) of these 5-8 names land the role of Star-Lord they very well could be unknowingly testing for other roles, whether that be another part in Guardians of the Galaxy or perhaps, even Ant-Man or another unannounced role in another unannounced film. Renner talked about Captain America before landing the Hawkeye gig, and Tom Hiddleston was testing for the role of Thor before becoming a worldwide sensation as his villainous half-brother Loki.

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Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015 and Ant-Man on November 6, 2015.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Source: Deadline