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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ tests male leads

Zachary Levi, Jim Sturgess vie for Marvel role

Just before Hollywood shuts down for the holidays, Marvel Studios has narrowed its shortlist of actors to star in James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” with Zachary Levi and Jim Sturgess still in contention to play team leader Peter Quill.

Better known as Star-Lord, Quill is the son of a human mother and alien father. A charming troublemaker who serves as an interplanetary policeman, Quill leads a rag-tag group of superheroes (Drax the Destroyer, a raccoon named Rocket and a sword-wielding woman named Gamora) in an effort to protect the solar system from an evil alien race. The character isn’t as well known as other Marvel superheroes such as Iron Man, Captain America or Thor, but Quill is still a plum role for thesps looking to boost their international profile.

Marvel reportedly made test deals with five potential leading men several weeks ago, though “Cloud Atlas” star Sturgess is the only one from that list to remain in contention. Levi was not featured on the initial group, though sources tell Variety that Marvel has a lot of faith in the “Chuck” star, who plays a supporting role in “Thor: The Dark World.”

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Levi stepped in to replace Joshua Dallas as Fandral, one of the Warriors Three, in the comicbook sequel, and Marvel is said to be impressed with his “Guardians” test and open to continuing their relationship. Marvel has had its eye on Levi for a while, as he had been in talks to play Fandral in the original “Thor” before NBC decided to order more episodes of “Chuck.”

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is among the more humorous properties in Marvel’s stable, and Levi has proved his comedy chops over the course of five seasons as the star of NBC’s “Chuck.”

Sturgess has much more experience as a leading man on the bigscreen with starring turns in Robert Luketic’s “21,” Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” and in Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe.” He also showed off his range playing multiple characters in WB’s “Cloud Atlas” and has also already led a team of guardians, having voiced the lead role in Zack Snyder’s animated pic “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

While Levi and Sturgess remain frontrunners to play Star-Lord, sources caution that an unnamed third actor may be tested after the holidays. As for the other actors who reportedly inked test deals, none are hurting for work: Eddie Redmaybe is in negotiations to join Wachowski Starship’s big-budget sci-fi pic “Jupiter Ascending,” while Joel Edgerton recently signed on to play the villain opposite Natalie Portman and Michael Fassbender in Lynne Ramsay’s “Jane Got a Gun.”

Should either Levi or Sturgess come away with the coveted role, CAA will have bragging rights, as it represents both actors.

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