The unexpected withdrawal of Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro as the antagonist in director J.J. Abrams’ untitled Star Trek sequel (a.k.a. Star Trek 2) has left the filmmaker scrambling to find a fitting replacement, seeing how production on the slow-moving project is slated to finally begin by January 2012.

Reports that Khan Noonien Singh will be the villain in the latest Trek movie began circulating just before Del Toro’s departure and since then, additional inside sources have confirmed the rumor, though an official statement on the matter has yet to be released. Today’s batch of actors said to be front-runners to replace Del Toro, however, will probably only add fuel to the fire (re: Khan’s appearance in the film).

Variety says the primary front-runner to play the central baddie of the Star Trek reboot followup is Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez, whose resume includes a lead turn in the Carlos TV mini-series/movie, along with supporting parts in The Bourne Ultimatum, the Del Toro-starring Che: Part One, Domino, and the role of Ares in the upcoming Wrath of the Titans.

Another actor said to be “in the mix” for the Trek sequel villain role is Spanish thespian Jordi Mollà, a fellow who has appeared in films like (semi-coincidentally enough) the Del Toro-starring Che: Part Two, Bad Boys II, Knight and Day, and, most recently, Colombiana.

While the Khan character was originally intended to be of Asian Indian descent, Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban’s performance as the genetically-engineered “superman” became so iconic that the villain has long been known as someone of Latino/Hispanic descent. That’s all to say: the news that Abrams continues to look solely at actors with similar ancestry does nothing to rebuke suggestions that we will get to see an alternate-timeline Khan in the new Star Trek movie.

Many fans have been heatedly debating whether or not Khan is a good choice for the antagonist in the Trek sequel; however, the bigger concern right now has to do with Abrams’ not only managing to find a sufficient star to portray the film’s villain (be it Khan or not), but also bringing them onboard in time so that they can properly prep for the role, before the six-month shoot on the 3D production gets fully underway.

Del Toro was an excellent choice to play a formidable opponent for Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk and his loyal Enterprise crew; all the same, someone like Ramírez also has the screen presence to make the villain role (whatever it is) his own too. Mollà may not be as well-known as either of those other two actors, but he too has enough potential to deliver a breakout performance and make the Trek sequel role his own.

Star Trek 2 remains scheduled for theatrical release in the U.S. on May 17th, 2013.

Source: Variety