Benedict Cumberbatch has heard your criticisms about Doctor Strange’s actions in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and he’d like to defend his character once and for all.
In December’s smash hit Spider-Man: No Way Home, Cumberbatch’s Master of the Mystic Arts caught a lot of flak for defying Wong (Benedict Wong) and jumping at the chance to help Peter Parker (Tom Holland) cast a spell that would make people forget that Parker was ever Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the spell quickly went awry as it opened up the Multiverse to various villains (and heroes) from Sam Raimi and Marc Webb’s past Spider-Man films.
Cumberbatch argues that Strange’s heart was in the right place as he was trying to help a young man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders and was still working his way through the loss of his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). However, the English actor believes that it was Parker himself who bungled up a perfectly good spell with his various interruptions. Overall, Cumberbatch insists that Strange did what he was supposed to do for a person in his position.
“What kind of superhero would he be if he didn’t want to help another superhero?” Cumberbatch tells The Hollywood Reporter at the press junket for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In the recent conversation with THR, Cumberbatch also discusses his process for playing multiple versions of Doctor Strange in the sequel to Scott Derrickson’s 2016 film that introduced the character. Then he explains what makes Derrickson’s successor, Raimi, such a gifted collaborator, thereby understanding his place in film history.
Besides a different appearance, how did you approach playing multiple versions of the same character? Is it the same process as any character you play?
I think it’s same-same, but different. You have to get a correlation so that you know you’re watching an iteration that basically through perhaps choices or circumstance and environment has had a different outcome. But it’s a nice sort of loop feeding into self-discovery and self-therapy for the character that we know from our universe, as to how he betters his choices or the situation. So it’s a fun thing to explore. It’s one of the paradoxes that a multiversal narrative will throw up, and I was excited by that challenge.
Was there a point early on in production where you directly understood why Sam Raimi is one of our most well-regarded filmmakers?
I don’t think I needed to witness that in production. I think his work from 20 years ago with the Spider-Man franchise, kicking off this modern era of the superhero genre, as well as his Evil Dead series of films, basically, speak for themselves. But what I did learn on set was how humble and human and funny he is, and how great a first audience he is. All of those qualities make a great director. He wears that iconic status very, very lightly, and he doesn’t let it get in the way of a good day’s work. It commands respect, of course, but he never wants anyone to stand on ceremony. He just wants you to commit and do your best. He’s always incredibly supportive and has an acute eye for detail. So all of those things make you understand why he’s great, but it’s the opposite of the grandeur of his position in the pantheon of filmmakers in this modern era that really sings out as his winning quality. There’s no ego to the guy at all.
In the first 20 minutes, Strange takes down a few martinis, and since superheroes can sometimes lose this ability once they gain power, can he still feel the effects of alcohol?
(Laughs.) That’s a really good question. He wouldn’t be drinking them if he didn’t. It’s a moment where he obviously needs it, but I think you’re right that with time, certain medicines don’t touch the side. But you’ll have to wait and see. Maybe after this iteration of his story, he might need something a bit stiffer than a martini.
Well, I just had to ask since there are a couple scenes (one, two) where Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) drinks even though he knows he won’t feel anything.
(Laughs.) He was probably just being sociable and inclusive.
Characters have to make mistakes, otherwise you’re not going to have a very interesting or compelling character.
Thank you! That’s my defense for all the criticism saying that Strange isn’t very good at his job. I’m like, “He’s been pretty perfect up until Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
Well, that’s what I was going to bring up. How did you reconcile Strange’s actions in Spider-Man: No Way Home?
He’s a human being, and I think it was a very human error. He saw Peter as a fellow foot soldier and then as a teenager going through a very formative experience of not being able to be his true self because of being exposed, and having lost a mentor, [Strange] decided to step in with a gesture of pretty good intention.
But people seemed to think, “Well, it’s a very cavalier thing to do.” I think the spell, on its own, might have been all right. Everyone forgets that Peter interrupts the spell so many times, and that’s what corrupted it. That’s what lets it in. Peter, through the ability he has with his powers, affects the spell with his words. It’s not really Strange’s mistake. He’s right to want to help Peter. What kind of superhero would he be if he didn’t want to help another superhero? That’s kind of questionable. That avuncular love, that genuine love, which, by the end, is another cause for a near mistake, but he rights the correction there in accepting Peter’s idea of channeling the forgetfulness into the identification of him as Peter Parker so that everyone forgets who Peter Parker is. And it’s costly to [Strange] because he cares for the guy. He says, “We. Everyone who loves you. We [would have no memory of you],” and in the use of that pronoun, which was my idea to put in, he allies himself with MJ [Zendaya] and everyone in that universe who loves Peter.
So I don’t know. I think somebody who cares about somebody can be forgiven for doing something that has consequences. But in that moment, it takes a teenager to adjust him to doing the thing for the greater good rather than the selfish thing, which would be to not do that spell so he can carry on a friendship with the guy that he cares about. So, I empathize very much with the idea that a superhero can make a mistake because of their humanity, and I’m glad that I’m playing one that does.
Well, congratulations on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and just in case you were wondering, I, too, believe that there was hope for Phil Burbank. [Writer’s Note: This is a reference to his spirited debate with Marc Maron about his Power of the Dog character on WTF With Marc Maron,]
(Laughs.) Thank you! Good. He’s a tragic figure, and at some stage, it could’ve been very different for him.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters on May 6.
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