Whoa: The first X-Men movie could have starred Michael Jackson, Shaq, and Viggo Mortensen

You’ve probably heard the story about how Dougray Scott was originally cast as Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men movie before being replaced by Hugh Jackman, but did you know that Viggo Mortensen also came close to playing that part? Or that Michael Jackson met with producers to play Professor Xavier?

Logan, Hugh Jackman’s last film playing Wolverine, is in theaters now, and since it’s been seventeen years since Jackman first played the part, The Hollywood Reporter reached out to original X-Men screenwriter David Hayter (yep, Solid Snake himself) to talk about what it was like in the casting sessions for that first movie back in the late ‘90s. In the interview, Hayter revealed some totally bonkers meetings that happened before the cast was finalized:

“I was brought on as they were casting, so I was lucky enough to be there for some of the people who came in like Terence Stamp for Xavier and Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey for Storm,” Hayter explained. “Michael Jackson came in because he wanted to play Professor X. It was amazing. Shaq came in [for Bishop]. Viggo Mortensen came in. I really liked Viggo for Wolverine, but it didn't come together for whatever reason. Angela Bassett was our first choice for Storm, but her agents wanted more money than we had at the time. Same with Rachael Leigh Cook for Rogue.”

Terence Stamp playing Xavier would have sent movie nerds into a frenzy back then because Stamp memorably played General Zod in the Superman films, but at least that makes a certain amount of sense. But Michael Jackson playing Professor X? Or Shaq as Bishop? That would completely change the entire feeling of the movie. Can you imagine what kind of effect that might have had on the nascent comic book movie genre at the time? I’m guessing it would not have been a positive one.

I actually think Rachael Leigh Cook would have made a terrific Rogue coming off the success of She’s All That. But the most agreeable of Hayter’s ‘what could have been’ moments for me is Viggo Mortensen as Wolverine. Jackman has obviously done a tremendous job with the character over nearly two decades, but if Mortensen had chosen to stick with franchise filmmaking after The Lord of the Rings, he could have been the lead in two absolutely massive geek-friendly film series. It’s fun to think about some of these missed connections, but I think for the most part, fans are probably pretty happy with the way the casting decisions ultimately played out and set the tone for the next twenty years of comic book movies to come.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Ben Pearson
Ben is an entertainment journalist who has written about movies online for nearly a decade. He loves the Fast & Furious franchise, prefers Indiana Jones to Star Wars, and will defend the ending of Lost until his dying day. He shook Bill Murray's hand once (so he's got that going for him, which is nice). Ben lives in Los Angeles with his wife.