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In August the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home made headlines for the staggering size of its audience.
It was watched an unprecedented 355.5 million times in 24 hours, giving the latest Marvel blockbuster fair claim to being the most anticipated movie ever made. (The trailer for Avengers: Endgame managed a comparatively puny 289 million views in the same time period. And that went on to become the biggest-grossing movie of ever made.)
A less commented-on aspect of that trailer was that it gave almost equally billing to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, the Master of the Mystical Arts, who opens up the “Multiverse” for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and allows him to meet Spider-villains and Spider-Men (Spider-Mans?) from the previous films.
For a character who used to be seen as largely a fanboy concern, Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is taking on an increasingly central role in the MCU, with some speculating he will become the new leader of The Avengers. (Iron Man and Captain America are now gone.)
The second Doctor Strange solo film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness just been bumped from March to May, in line with a shift for all Marvel’s 2022 films.
However, it was a role Cumberbatch almost didn’t take.
It was Marvel who approached him, as he explains in a new cover interview with Esquire.
“Yes, yes they did,” he says. “I kind of had my doubts about it, from just going into the comics. I thought ‘This is a very dated, sexist character’. And it’s very tied up in that crossover, that kind of East-meets-West occultism movement of the Sixties and Seventies.”
Marvel explained that it would be leaving those elements in the past.
“And then they sort of sold me on the bigger picture,” Cumberbatch says. “‘Oh no, don’t worry, this will be very much a character of his time. And, yes, he has attitude problems… but this is what we envisage’.”
Cumberbatch then met with writer-director Scott Derrickson, known for his sickly horror movies, and said yes. Filming was scheduled for 2015.
“And then I realised ‘Oh fuck, I can’t do it’,” he says. “I promised to do Hamlet [at the Barbican]. It’s all set-up, the theatre’s booked, I can’t do it when you want to shoot it.”
So Marvel moved the whole shoot back six months, squeezing a year’s allotted postproduction into half that time.
“They flirted with a couple of other options,” he says – one of which is widely believed to have been Joaquin Phoenix for the role. “Then they came back and said ‘We don’t want anyone else to do it’.”
The website Comic Vine ranks Strange at Number 37 in a list of Top 100 Marvel Superheroes. Thirty-six places below Spider-Man. Cumberbatch was under no illusions he was stepping into A-list Marvel tights.
But thanks largely to the charm Cumberbatch brings to the character, the Sorcerer Supreme has emerged as a firm fan favourite.
“Completely,” Cumberbatch tells Esquire. “I’ve got the Second Album Fear with [Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness] because the first one was such a riotous success and he’s become a much-loved character.”
Marvel, he says, has become adept at not just making movies from already proven franchises. But from ones that were way riskier propositions.
“They’re very good at exceeding expectations, when expectations are low. I think it’s always harder to exceed them when they’re high. I’m not saying they make them low. ‘We’re going to do Ant-Man!’ It’s just the way they make these things work. On paper you think ‘Is that exciting?’ They’re starting to take more risks now, I think. I mean, their directors are very tied into the house style. But, you know, Taika Waititi, they were, like, ‘Are we…? Is this going to work?’ And it’s fucking so funny, Thor:Ragnarok.”
In the interview, Cumberbatch also reveals he’s yet to entertain his three children’s friends with his mystic cloak and spells, having yet get the call to suit-up as a kids’ party entertainer.
“Not at the age range I’m going to,” he says.
Aren’t a couple of your kids the perfect age?
“Yeah… if you’re aware I’m Doctor Strange. But I do look quite different from him.”
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