Film: Benedict Cumberbatch on Doctor Strange: ‘The only thing that didn't get rewritten was the title'

As Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness arrives in cinemas, Danielle de Wolfe hears more about the MCU crossover from its cast...

Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
By Danielle de Wolfe, PA

THE Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most complexly woven story tapestries in existence. Now though, with Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness poised for release, those threads are set to become even more tangled.

It's a world MCU star Elizabeth Olsen, best known for playing Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch in hit Disney+ series WandaVision, finds confusing at times.

“I definitely don't always understand what's going on,” laughs Olsen (33). “I have to ask lots of questions. I basically just want as little, informative information as possible so that I can do my job.”

Set five months after Dr Stephen Strange, played by two-time Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, cast a spell in Spider-Man: No Way Home, a sense of impending doom sees him call on former Avenger Wanda for help in repairing the damage.

With his initial actions creating fissures in the multiverse that allowed otherworldly beings to enter and corrupt our own reality, the doctor and Wanda set the scene for a brand new character-driven crossover.

Describing the forthcoming Doctor Strange release as an MCU franchise addition with a “very different flavour”, Cumberbatch – known for his roles in Sherlock and The Imitation Game – emphasises the need for his character to remain “earthbound”.

“That was his appeal in the first story,” says the 45-year-old actor, referring to the 2016 Doctor Strange origin story in which the eponymous Master of the Mystic Arts made an early appearance.

“You can feed in as much fantasy as you like, if you have a human care for a character; if you can empathise with someone's brokenness, their eccentricities, their humour, their three dimensionality, their real world problems. And then it's fine for them to be waving their hands and creating magic, you buy it, you go along with the ride.”

It's an approach Cumberbatch has adopted throughout his MCU journey, describing his attempts to infuse a “lightness of touch” and an “improvisational playfulness” across both the Avengers and origin films.

“I don't believe in sort of rounding the corners,” says Cumberbatch, referring to his character's ongoing story arc. “I like it when there are overlaps and when there aren't neat setups. I believe it's closer and more relatable to real life.”

The actor describes the way in which Anthony and Joe Russo, aka the Russo brothers, achieved this “spectacularly” during their collaborative effort on both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Reflecting further on his Marvel journey, Cumberbatch says the directorial effort of Sam Raimi this time around makes for a “nostalgic” crossover.

Written by Michael Waldron, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness saw Raimi – who helmed the Tobey Maguire-era Spider-Man trilogy – take over the reins from origin director Scott Derrickson following alleged ‘creative differences'. Utilising the director's background in horror, it's a project that wouldn't be complete without a plentiful supply of special effects for good measure.

It's a film that sees the return of Benedict Wong as Strange's quixotic mentor Wong, too, and the Avengers actor says fans are in for “a real treat”.

Cheerfully recounting how his character started off as a “no-nonsense, midfield general librarian” in the MCU, Wong, 50, notes the past six years have seen him undergo “a few appraisals”.

“Now I've got the promotion!” laughs the actor.

Describing the film as “a real celebration” of slime, he jokingly recalls how one of the crew had been employed with the sole purpose of “stirring the vat of goo”. Labelling Raimi a “master in the genre of horror”, Wong says his inclusion as director was a “real masterstroke” by those heading up the project.

It's a view seconded by co-star Olsen, who notes that scriptwriter Waldron was a key instigator in some “pretty absurd” scenes involving unidentifiable substances. “I think it became an ongoing joke,” she says.

“I was like, ‘What else are you going to have me do? Shall I be soaking wet during a night shoot now or covered in feathers? I eventually kind of felt like I was gonna be Jack Nicholson at the end of Witches Of Eastwick.”

With the actress describing how it was “always the idea” for WandaVision to directly affect Doctor Strange, Olsen says the crossover was something of a “weird” experience. Explaining the overlap between the projects, she explains that Waldron and WandaVision writer Jac Schaeffer were in constant consultation about Wanda's move from the small to the big screen.

“I really felt like I had that ownership for the first time going into Doctor Strange, which felt validating,” Olsen says. “I had this opportunity to really start to feel confident playing this character.”

A project which saw the cast step on to the set of Doctor Strange having only received “a third of the script”, Cumberbatch ends our chat by noting the unique “difficulties” such a scenario poses.

“The uphill struggles were the kind of things I roll my sleeves up for; I like a challenge,” says the award-winning British actor.

“I hadn't had that experience before, but that's the Marvel way – and the only thing that didn't get rewritten was the title!”

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness arrives in cinemas on Thursday May 5.

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