The Doctor Strange Cast Talks

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The Beverly Hills Montage Hotel welcomed most of the cast of Doctor Strange for a press conference on October 20. Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Wong, along with Producer Kevin Feige and Director Scott Derrickson answered questions from the audience and moderator Scott Mantz of Access Hollywood, talking about Marvel’s 14th movie, the second installment of “Phase 3.”

Scott Mantz: The character of Doctor Strange made its first appearance in Strange Tales, Issue 110, July 1963. So for a character that has been part of the Marvel universe for so long, why Kevin and Scott, was now the right time to bring it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

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Kevin Feige: Well, it’s something we’ve been talking about for many, many, many, many years, and sometimes things just work out, you know, timing often, particularly in the cinematic universe, works out well for us, and it’ll be our 14th film within the MCU and we always say we have to push the boundaries, we have to keep surprising people, we have to keep making them unique and different, and certainly this movie and this character fits all of that. And also tapping into other dimensions and tapping into sort of that supernatural realm of the Marvel Comic Universe is going to come in handy, you know, as we move forward throughout the Cinematic Universe, so the timing was perfect.

Scott Derrickson: I mean, you know, Kevin’s the one who greenlights the movie so he’s the official answer. I mean, I think that the comics, as a fan of the comics, growing up with the comics, Doctor Strange was a, you know, product of the Sixties and was big breath of fresh air into the world of comics at that time, and as a fan watching movies I felt ready for some new, daring, weird left turns, you know, in the world of comic books and the MCU. I think Guardians of the Galaxy was that and, you know, I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw how bold that movie was. So when I came in to meet on Doctor Strange, you know, my approach was let’s make this as weird in the MCU as the comic was in the comic book world in the Sixties, and that’s what we tried to do.

Mantz: What sort of changes did you make to make sure that you can make this movie with Benedict?

Derrickson: Well, what happened was Kevin and I talked about, you know, who we wanted in the role and we landed on Benedict pretty quickly and just felt he was right. I flew to London, met with him, explained the movie. I think I had some of my concept art at that point and Benedict really wanted to do it, but he was doing Hamlet in theatre in London. So we were a summer release movie, so it wasn’t going to work, you know, and I came back and I met with a bunch of other actors, good actors, but I just felt like it had to be Benedict, and Kevin, to his credit, agreed, and so we pushed the schedule for him.

Benedict Cumberbatch: Very glad they did.

No, it’s incredibly flattering. It’s a weight of responsibility as well obviously. It’s a great motivator to try and do a good job and fulfill, you know, the promise they’ve shown you, or that they’ve given to you. I always get that phrase wrong but you know what I mean. It’s a good thing. It’s a very good place to start from.

Mantz: So, for everyone who’s new to the MCU here, what’s it really like to be part of this thing?

Rachel McAdams: Well, I mean, I was just thrilled, because of this incredible track record, because of that you know so much care and attention and consideration is going to go into the film before you’ve even begun. And that you’re going to get to work with the best of the best in the world, what they do, so it’s just this like treasure trove of talent, and you know, so I just couldn’t wait to dive into that.

The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) begins training Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the mystic arts. Image © Disney
The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) begins training Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the mystic arts.
Image © Disney

Tilda Swinton: What do you think? I keep saying that it’s a bit like being invited to join the circus, you know? You get invited to be the bearded lady or the painted gentleman or something and you may have a chance in the future to play with a clown or learn a bit of trapeze or work with the ponies with the plumes. The reason that feels like a correct way to describe it is that everybody’s so psyched. I mean, even the Sorcerer Supreme, Kevin Feige’s just the super fan of all super fans and he’s the master of the big top and it just feels such a lucky break for everybody who’s working in that circus top, don’t you think?

Benedict Wong: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m so thrilled to be a part of this. I mean, growing up a kid I was always collecting Marvel comics and especially Spider-Man comics, and it’s just lovely to see my investment as a child has the fruition in my adult life and…

Swinton: Education.

Wong: Yeah. [LAUGHS]. Yeah, so just a wonderful, wonderful time.

Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) searches for the secrets of the universe. Image © Disney
Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) searches for the secrets of the universe.
Image © Disney

Mads Mikkelsen: Yeah, I mean, can only join these guys. I mean, for someone who grew up with the comic books, basically half of my life I was reading comic books and the other half I was watching Bruce Lee. So when Scott was pitching this story for me, I think 10 minutes within the pitch he said, and there’s a lot of kung fu and flying stuff. I said, whoa, hold on, rewind. Look, babe, the kung fu, babe, I’m on. Let’s go. It’s a childhood dream coming true. It’s just amazing that at the age of 108 I get the chance to fly around in orange clothes…

Cumberbatch: He doesn’t move like 108 year old, I can tell you that.

Mikkelsen: In the evening I do, yes. So no, it was a dream coming true. I mean, something as a kid you were looking at, it’s like obviously you would never dream about being up there but you identified with the characters, right? And so yeah, it’s a big honor to be here.

PRESS: Rachel, I know, you know, everyone got to kind of do some fun stuff. Did you kind of want to say, hey, let me just do it for a second, let me just do the whole hand thing. How is it, you know, trying to fit into the whole deal?

McAdams: [LAUGHS] I mean, sure, hearing Tilda talking about it now, I’m like yeah, I could dig that. But my mom’s a nurse and I did not inherit that gene. It’s just why I’m up here right now. But I was always fascinated by what she did because it was so far from anything I really understood. So to get to delve into the medical side of things and shadow these incredible — I met this incredible female neurosurgeon in Toronto — and we had a great neurosurgeon on set and I was given the offer to go in an evac helicopter and do a weekend, which I am so sad I
had to turn down because I’m a terrible flyer and I am really queasy about blood, so I thought I would be more of a hindrance to that operation than a help. So I declined that. But everything else was super-­fascinating and in a pinch I could probably suture someone up now. And it was so nice to wear scrubs all the time. [LAUGHTER] When he was putting that cloak on and sweating buckets, I was —

Cumberbatch: You were doing your nails.

McAdams: I was doing my nails. [LAUGHS]

Cumberbatch: Still waiting.

McAdams: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I learned a lot on this in a different way.

PRESS: My question is for Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch, and in the movie Doctor Strange says to The Ancient One, “how do I get from here to there?” So who is that one person for you that you’re always striving to get to their level of expertise?

Cumberbatch: Wow, I wish there was one. That would simplify my answer. But the truth is, I get to work with a whole cast of them almost every job, but this job in particular was extraordinary, and everyone on it was helping me raise my game, and in every level. I mean, you know, Rachel’s just talked about scrub-land. I mean, that was a very detailed world, and to watch her craft, to watch her scalpel-like precision — pun intended — with just delineating exactly what was going on where Christine was in that moment and just it helped map out an entire world that I knew my character was shifting away from but had to be completely invested with, hopefully like the audience is at the beginning, and through the duration of the film when he crashes back into it. From Tilda, treading this incredible line between being ancient and wise and yet ever-youthful as she is, and just incredibly now and present and not something old and fussy, fusty — and just doing it with grace and charm and good nature that all of the cast of this had. Chiwetel, who I’ve worked with before, again to watch him construct Mordo and see the complexity of his journey as well come to fruition, I mean, all of that. And Mads, this man over here, who complains about being 100 but moves like a 20 year old dreams of moving sometimes. I mean, he just is the most absurd athlete but also the most understated and supreme gentlemen who is always trying to make sure that you’re all right and that your craft is all right and that you’re not getting hit in the face or hurt, you know. And that’s not always the case in fight scenes. To Benny, who I’ve known for a while, we’re old muckers, but to get to play with him and see — and you know, I adore Wong, I think the world’s going to absolutely love that character, and it was a master stroke on his part. And yeah, they’re the people who I get to work with every day on a job like this, and then headed by a director and a mastermind who both know their craft inside out and you feel safe in the hands of. Parents — I mean, this could go on for a long time. I haven’t touched on school days yet. [LAUGHTER] You know, I’m very lucky, I’m very lucky. I’ve worked with some truly inspiring people and a lot of them on this huge sofa with me.

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PRESS: In the Sixties, when Doctor Strange was created, the idea of alternative universes was very popular, groups like the Beatles were urging people to “open your mind”; what relation do you see to the themes of the Sixties in today’s world?

Swinton: Well, I wouldn’t say that the Sixties had it all. I would say if anything maybe more than ever we need to concentrate on opening our minds, and in particular to knowing that our minds are ours to have some kind of perspective on. There’s something really radical that’s said in this film which is that ego and fear are things to be lived beyond, and let’s face it, this is a hot topic. We really, really need people to remind us right now that ego and fear are not necessarily the only option we can live through. So I would say, yeah, if the Sixties comes around again, but more, and stronger, and this is such a modern film for that reason, and I would say that’s the reason why it’s perfect that it’s made now, because the time is really right for it.

Cumberbatch: You know, it’s about mindfulness in a sense, I think that’s the common derivative which has carried through. Culturally we’re still referencing that era, we always will. It was a very strong moment in all culture, in all popular music. But I think you have to reinvent the wheel slightly, you can’t just replicate it. This is a film for now. But I think like Tilda was saying, the strongest message is the idea that you, with your mind, have the power to change your reality, and that’s a great, wonderful, freeing, egoless message. And also you do that with the idea of doing it for the good of others and you’re onto a very, very good thing, as Doctor Strange gets to by the end of the film.

Mantz: How long do you see yourself wanting to play Stephen Strange?

Cumberbatch: Oh, well, you know, let’s get this film out first. [LAUGHS] I love these, yeah. One of the things in mindfulness is being present now, you know, and I just want to enjoy today. I really, really do. We’re bringing this film to the world properly for the first time, this is the world premiere, in its rightful hometown and I’m so excited about it. I haven’t seen the film yet, and if I don’t have too many of these, will get a proper nap. I will be just glued to my seat. I can’t wait, can’t wait to share this moment.

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Jim MacQuarrie is a comics and animation geek, a professional cartoonist and graphic designer, professional balloon animal twister, a certified archery instructor (and yes, his arrows are green), former homeless person and occasional gadfly. He has three children who are all grown up, and an incredibly patient wife who is waiting for him to do likewise. Together they co-write the lifestyle blog Blue Collar, Black Tie.