‘Doctor Strange’: Benedict Cumberbatch on Pushing the Boundaries of the Superhero Genre

     October 25, 2016

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Doctor Strange is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, telling the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is as arrogant as he is gifted in an operating room. After a horrific car accident robs him of the use of his hands, changing his life forever, he is forced to look for hope in a mysterious enclave in Nepal, where he discovers a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality and must learn to use his newly acquired magical powers to defend the world.

During a conference at the film’s Beverly Hills press junket, co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen (“Kaecilius”), along with director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, talked about why now is the right time to bring Doctor Strange into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having to push the start of filming back, in order to get Benedict Cumberbatch for the role, the challenges of making these films feel fresh, feeling like a giddy child in the full costume, why this villain is the hero of his own story, the similarities and differences between Stephen Strange and Sherlock Holmes, designing so many trippy sequences, and when Doctor Strange will return to the MCU.

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Image via Jesse Grant/Getty for Disney

Question: Doctor Strange made his first appearance in “Strange Tales” in July of 1963, Issue 110. Kevin and Scott, for a character that has been part of the Marvel Universe for so long, why was now the right time to bring him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

KEVIN FEIGE: Well, we’ve been talking about it for many, many, many, many years, and sometimes things just work out. Timing often, particularly in the cinematic universe, works out well for us. It will be our 14th film within the MCU, and we always say we have to push the boundaries, we have to keep surprising people, and 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 that supernatural realm of the Marvel Comic Universe is going to come in handy, as we move forward throughout the Cinematic Universe. So, the timing was perfect.

SCOTT DERRICKSON: Kevin is the one who green lights the movie, so he’s the official answer. As a fan of the comics, and growing up with the comics, Doctor Strange was a product of the 60s and was a 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 in the world of comic books and the MCU. I think Guardians of the Galaxy was that. I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw how bold that movie was. So, when I came in to meet on Doctor Strange, my approach was, “Let’s make this as weird in the MCU as the comic book was in the comic book world in the 60s,” and that’s what we tried to do.

In order to get Benedict Cumberbatch in this role, you had to push the start date for filming with this film. Why was that important for you to do?

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Image via Marvel

DERRICKSON: When Kevin and I talked about who we wanted in the role, we landed on Benedict pretty quickly and just felt like he was right. I flew to London, met with him and 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 the theater in London. We were a summer release movie, so it wasn’t going to work. And I came back and met with a bunch of other actors, who were good actors, but I just felt like it had to be Benedict. And Kevin, to his credit, agreed, so we pushed the schedule for him.

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: I’m very glad they did. It’s incredibly flattering. It’s a weight of responsibility, as well, but it’s a great motivator to try to do a good job and fulfill the promise they’ve given to you. It’s a good thing. It’s a very good place to start from.

We’re eight years into the MCU now, which started with Iron Man in 2008. What are the challenges in making these films film fresh, so that they don’t feel conventional?

DERRICKSON: The challenge was to try to make a movie that is as visually progressive by movie standards, as the Ditko art was in the 60s. Our primary source of inspiration was the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics, and that artwork is still progressive. If you look a lot of the panels in the comics, that was our primary source of inspiration, and visual effects had just caught up to where we could do some of the things that we did in this movie. The trick of it was to not hold back and to push ourselves as far as possible to do original things with the set pieces. I remember, in some of my early meetings, saying that my goal was for every set piece in the movie to be the weirdest set piece in any other movie, but each one of them would be uniquely odd and unusual and refreshing. And that comes out of movie fandom, more than anything else, because that’s what I want to see. I want to see event movies that use visual effects and visual effect sequences for more than just mass destruction. I wanted to get more creative with them and find new ways to do them, and give me, as an audience member, some kind of visceral experience that’s unique. The movies that do that are memorable and change the way that you feel about cinema, in general. I don’t know if we achieved that, but it was certainly the goal to push ourselves into something new and something fresh, so that the audience would be genuinely surprised in moments and get their money’s worth.

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