It’s difficult to think of anyone better than the snarky Robert Downey Jr. to play the cocky Iron Man. Or, anyone other than Chris Hemsworth to give Thor his godlike swagger.
It seems obvious now, but before they were cast it was the directors and producers tasked with finding just the right actors to bring the comic book characters to life. That was the task director Scott Derrickson faced in finding someone to play Doctor Strange. He and Kevin Feige, head of the Marvel Studios, came wanted British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. There was just one problem.
“I flew to London, met with him, explained the movie. I think I had some of my concept art at that point,” Derrickson says. “Benedict really wanted to do it, but he was doing Hamlet in theater in London. We were a summer release movie, so it wasn’t going to work. 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.”
Cumberbatch was flattered. The delay ended up also being a huge motivation for the British actor, who felt a massive responsibility to show their confidence in him was not misplaced.
The production team had no worries. Cumberbatch has already shown through his work in productions such as “War Horse,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Imitation Game” and “August: Osage County” that he can handle a large array of acting challenges.
Cumberbatch had one slight advantage since he has been playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC production, “Sherlock.” Doctor Strange and Holmes are both men who are extremely smart, confident and gifted. They both dance along the line between pure confidence and egomania.
The actor sees parallels, but he suggests there’s one huge difference between the evil-fighting characters.
“In the venn diagram of similarities, there is the crossover of clever and arrogant I suppose, and workaholic. But, Strange is a materialist, he’s egocentric, yes, but he’s got charm and he’s witty, he’s liked by his colleagues, he’s had relationships with them,” Cumberbatch says. “He’s not this sort of cut off outsider sociopathic asexual obsessive that Sherlock is. So yeah, there’s a world of difference. He lives in New York and eats bagels every now and again so that’s also different. You know, he’s a man of the world, as opposed to Sherlock who isn’t.”
Once the production team had Cumberbatch on board, they turned to bringing Doctor Strange out of the ‘60s and into the modern world. When Steve Ditko created the character for “Strange Tales” No. 110 in 1963, the world was headed into a period of mind expansion and metaphysical thinking. The comic reflects that thinking through abstract and surreal drawings, so Derrickson goes all out on the visuals.
“I remember in some of my early meetings saying that I felt like that my goal was for every set piece in the movie to be the weirdest set piece in any other movie. Each one of them would be uniquely odd and unusual and refreshing,” Derrickson says.
He also needed Cumberbatch to give these weird worlds enough seriousness to hold the attention of the audience – and to do it while wearing a colorful superhero costume.
Cumberbatch fully embraced the strange look.
“I was sort of giddy like a child at Halloween. It really was the penny drop moment for me. This film had lots of alluring qualities, lots of things that made me really want to go to it and this character in particular, his origin story and where he was going to lie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Cumberbatch says. “But the journey he goes on was sort of supremely important to me.”