HONG KONG – There’s a scene in Doctor Strange where the famous, ultra-successful neurosurgeon extracts a bullet from a man’s head, as the folks in the operating room look on. He pulls it off quickly and cleanly – with flair.
The superhero Doctor Strange, who harnesses the mystic arts to do noble deeds, is much the same. There are those sweeping hand movements, that level gaze as he summons his powers. When he’s still learning, it takes a lot of tries before he can summon a spark. The eventual result is his trippy journey across dimensions, of which most people will remain unaware.
In both the superhero and neurosurgeon, concentration, focus, and discipline are key.
Stephen Strange evolves into the superhero fated to be called Sorcerer Supreme. Doctor Strange is his origin story, and the sleeping hero within reluctantly awakens in the character that, fans say, suits the star Benedict Cumberbatch to a T.
“There’s a quality about him as an actor that just isn’t like anyone else. He has a ferocity of intelligence combined with tremendous depth of feeling, and that’s not something you encounter very often,” said director Scott Derrickson, echoing many fans who have for months said that Benedict would make a “perfect” Strange.
Like the good doctor, Benedict’s approach to the role is studied and careful, with much respect for the source material, without forgetting the joy and whimsy that comes with playing a superhero.
The process was incredibly detailed. Take, for instance, just a few tidbits on the production:
He told me in a Hong Kong media interview that he “tried on” several tones of voice before landing on Doctor Strange’s deeper delivery. There was no way he wasn’t going to be American, true to the original comic book character, and so fans do get to hear Benedict’s American accent.
“I did experiment with tone, just literally with register of tone, the darkness, the richness of his voice, and I thought it should be lower, because he’s got dark hair, and there’s something quite suave about him, and he’s very comfortable and relaxed in who he is, for the most part,” he said.
Relishing the chance to play with his character, Benedict did a lot of improvisation with his famous Cloak of Levitation, the heavy red garment that appears sentient and helps Strange fly. A lot of the movements, he said, he developed throughout filming.
“The Cloak became a much more integral character after a couple of scenes early on where I improvised some interactions with it – I don’t know whether it’s a he or a she…it’s just a wonderful character in the film,” he said, noting other scenes where he improvised with the rest of the cast.
“What’s your routine?” and “how did you get fit?” are popular questions often asked of action stars playing superheroes. But because Doctor Strange’s considerable powers are more steeped in magic as they are in martial arts, it feels incomplete to focus only on the hero’s physicality.
To study the role, the Doctor Strange team looked into neurosurgery, quantum theory, the idea of multiple realities, and more. He gamely lists them in a fun Jenga Q&A game with co-star Tilda Swinton.
Watch below at the 1:51 mark.
The look of the film, with its over-the-top, fluid visuals, is most definitely inspired by the work of Strange creator Steve Ditko.
As the movies change, so must the heroes evolve. And Stephen Strange, as wily as he is powerful, is a different kind of hero, more spiritual, more comfortable crossing worlds and realities, tapping into the mystic arts.
His movie is part of Marvel’s phase 3, an introduction to a whole new dimension involving mind-bending, multi-dimensional plot points and possibly impacting the rest of the movies in the lineup – including the much buzzed about Infinity War movies.
In Benedict, Marvel has found a leading man they can bet on to sustain another installment in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe.
By now, Benedict should be well aware of his appeal to an entire fan base admiring him and his various roles across a variety of genres.
As the self-proclaimed “high-functioning sociopath” on Sherlock, he oozed unfeeling, steely competence with a sprightly offbeat energy – and just a touch of vulnerability. That role showed off an uncanny ability to convey a character’s gray areas – all the redemptive qualities along with all the faults, warts and all.
The subject of endless memes, gifs, fan fiction, and the highest levels of “shipping,” Benedict is also known to draw large crowds of adoring fans, as he did even when shooting Strange scenes in Nepal.
According to the film’s production notes:
“By the time production reached the fourth day of shooting, they had a large crowd of Benedict Cumberbatch fans who had followed them to Patan Durbar Square, the site of the day’s shoot. Patan Durbar Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was sadly badly damaged in the 2015 earthquakes. There was a crowd of hundreds shouting Cumberbatch’s name, so he decided to go to a window upstairs in a building overlooking the square to wave at the crowd. That was an instant success, as the crowd went wild for him.”
Crossing fandoms, Benedict is now also part of the Hobbit movie franchise, having lent his moves and his distinct, rumbling voice to the evil Smaug.
And crossing over once more into a new role to introduce him to a different group of fans, Benedict has taken on the mantle of superhero, playing Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
These are only a number of roles in a long career of interesting dramatic choices, including an Oscar-nominated turn as the mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, one as Stephen Hawking in 2004’s Hawking, and one as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, plus roles in critically acclaimed August: Osage County and Twelve Years A Slave.
Marvel wanted Benedict so much that they switched up the production schedule in order to accommodate him. Even before he was cast, people told him he would make an excellent Dr Strange.
“The truth is, for many years, Benedict was our number one choice, without question. And in fact, we moved the schedule of the movie around, the release of the movie around, specifically for Benedict…but he’s clearly perfect for Doctor Strange,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige at the press conference for the film.
And yet, he keeps it real.
At the red carpet event kicking off their press tour, Benedict was asked if this role was a “dream” for him.
“No, it’s not,” he said earnestly.
“It’s the truth, I haven’t,” he explained. “It’s not something I’ve harbored an ambition for. I’ve enjoyed being in the audience, I’ve enjoyed for a long time I think since – the first superhero film I saw, I think, was Tim Burton’s Batman, and I was hooked from that point in, and Marvel has taken it all to another level.
“And you know, I turn up, I pay for my ticket, and I buy my popcorn, and I sit there and have a couple of hours of mind-blowing entertainment, so it’s not something I ever thought I needed to realize, but having done it now, I can completely say I’m very, very glad I did.”
Many actors, in similar positions, have talked about these types of roles as dream projects. Actors starring as superheroes in other Marvel films like Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Anthony Mackie (the Falcon in the Captain America and Avengers movies), and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), have all said as much. But Benedict freely admits he didn’t know much about Dr Stephen Strange at all way before he was cast.
“What I remember about it as well, going away, going, ‘I have no idea who Dr Strange is.’ That’s not a revelation, that’s me being completely honest. I’m the first person to hold my hand up and humbly admit that I’m not, I never was, an obsessive, I’ve no in-depth knowledge about anything really, sadly, but certainly not comics,” he told Collider back in July.
Still, he said, he remains grateful for what has come to pass. He’s approached the role the same way he would any other. The result is that Stephen Strange, like the rest of the characters in his body of work, is fully formed, very much a flawed hero who must be broken before he can be redeemed.
Watch the film and you’ll see many versions of the Strange character. Even as pre-Sorcerer strange, there are multiple layers for audiences to absorb. There’s the cocky surgeon who yanks a bullet out of someone’s head in one smooth move, yet will only awkwardly pat a patient’s weeping relative. His Strange likes Jaeger–LeCoultre watches and drives a Lamborghini; he talks to his assistant the way Iron Man might talk to Jarvis. He likes the more “interesting” medical cases, ala another superior yet arrogant doctor, Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House. And when he gets in and out of that car crash, you’ll see even more of Strange’s personality emerge.
In the few minutes of it we were shown in Hong Kong, I could see that Benedict, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen would not allow the visuals to swallow the film. Their characters pop – in fact, despite the spectacle, director Scott Derrickson said his favorite scene was simple dialogue between Strange and The Ancient One, their last scene in the film. And watch for those exchanges between Mads and Benedict – the jokes land.
And so old and new fans alike waiting to see Doctor Strange in theaters (it starts showing October 26 in Manila) are in very good hands, indeed – as peachy as a patient in the skilled hands of Doctor Stephen Strange. – Rappler.com
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