STORY WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
While playing the title character in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” Benedict Cumberbatch enjoyed a number of what he calls “magic moments.”
He was thrilled, for instance, the first time he put on Strange’s get-up, including the trademark Cloak of Levitation, the Eye of Aramotto pendant and the denim coat and pants.
“I was sort of giddy like a child at Halloween,” he recalls. “And then Alex, our brilliant designer who’s done a few of these films, she went, ‘Oh, yeah!’ So it really was an incredible moment for me.”
Even more incredible for the actor was the day he decided to visit a Manhattan comic book store dressed as Doctor Strange. It was the last day of shooting in New York and, as soon as he walked through the doors of the shop, Cumberbatch felt the love coming from the shocked customers and staff members.
The actor even managed to walk away with a handful of “Doctor Strange” comics.
“I didn’t have any money so I [couldn’t pay] for the comics,” he says with a laugh. “I offered my services. I said if the film doesn’t work out, I’ll stock shelves. … It was a magic, magic moment.”
This weekend, audiences will be able to judge for themselves if all of that magic translates to the big screen. Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) directs and Marvel President Kevin Feige is the producer of the latest Marvel Comics adaptation.
Cumberbatch stars as a brilliant neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange whose hands are destroyed in a car accident. After bankrupting himself trying to repair the damage, he travels to Nepal where he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who helps him unlock his inner spell-caster.
Soon, Stephen is able to turn himself into Doctor Strange, a mysterious figure capable of magical abilities. Strange will need his powers to defeat his fellow sorcerer, the dastardly Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).
“This film had lots of qualities, lots of things, that made me really want to go to it,” says Cumberbatch who is best known for playing the title character on TV’s “Sherlock.” “I [liked] this character, in particular.
“When Scott and Kevin were pitching it to me, [Strange’s] trajectory was so interesting. The journey he goes on is supremely important to me … and also [I liked] the oddness and unique weirdness and newness that we were going for visually.”
As Derrickson sees it, his mission with “Doctor Strange” was to push the envelope visually as far as it could be pushed in a Marvel movie.
“I’m a fan of the comics and I know that ‘Doctor Strange’ was a product of the ‘60s and a big breath of fresh air in the world of comics at that time,” says the director. “As a fan watching movies, I felt ready for some new, daring, weird left turns in the [Marvel Comics Universe].
“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 to make this as weird [a movie] as the comic was in the comic book world in the ‘60s, and that’s what we tried to do.”
Key to Derrickson’s vision was the casting of Cumberbatch as Strange. But, thanks to a scheduling snafu, the actor almost didn’t make it into the Marvel Universe.
“Kevin and I talked about who we wanted in the role and we landed on Benedict pretty quickly and just felt like he was right,” recalls Derrickson.
“I flew to London, met with him, 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 [scheduled] to do ‘Hamlet’ in the theater in London 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. Kevin, to his credit, agreed and so we pushed the schedule for Benedict.”
Cumberbatch says that knowing the production waited for him gave him all the motivation he needed to nail the role.
“That was so incredibly flattering,” he says. “It’s a weight of responsibility as well, but it’s a great motivator to try and do a good job and fulfill the promise they’d shown in me.”
At the heart of “Doctor Strange” is a message which Cumberbatch couldn’t be more pleased to be putting out into the universe.
“It’s about mindfulness, in a sense,” says the actor, 40. “The strongest message is the idea that you, with your mind, has the power to change your reality. That’s a great, wonderful, freeing message. And if you can do that, with the idea of also helping others, you’re onto a very, very good thing.”