‘It’s the scariest Marvel film ever’
Continuing a year of show-stopping performances, Benedict Cumberbatch reveals how he couldn’t wait to reprise his role as complicated superhero Doctor Strange, and despite his own aversion to horror, the star tells Esther McCarthy fans are in for a treat
He’s well versed in playing one of the most iconic characters in the Marvel universe - but sometimes even Benedict Cumberbatch has a ‘pinch me’ moment.
It happens when he arrives on a superhero film set for the first time. It happens when he first sets eyes on the huge and vast cityscapes built especially for a film.
And on his latest, it happened when he travelled in seconds from the film’s UK studios to the centre of ‘New York’ via a suspension cord and the power of the movies.
He recalls being awe-inspired by the experience of landing from the UK sky into a New York streetscape built especially for his new outing as Doctor Strange. “A couple of moments strike me,” he grins at the memory. “Swooping into action, in an early segment of the film, I was hovering above the set build, and I could see the M3 in the background. And then just landing and being in New York - here I am.
“(I remember thinking): This is insane. I mean, what I get to do for a living, I’m so lucky. Surrey is just a memory of being up there. It’s kind of amazing.”
The huge sets for his latest outing as Doctor Strange were specially built in Longcross Studios for the movie poised to be one of the biggest of 2022. For Cumberbatch, the sheer scale of what is created never loses its magic.
“Despite the amount of green and blue screen that you have to imagine realities and events in, you also have a lot of real world sets and environments to work with. Charlie Woods (the film’s production designer) builds these beautiful, intricate spaces, whether it’s the Sanctum sets, or whether it’s entire blocks of New York.
“It was remarkable the detail, and rather like the scene at the beginning of his journey, the origin story in the first film where Hong Kong has been destroyed but he’s using the time stone to reverse that destruction. We were on a set where there was an entire metal workshop, an entire printers, an entire takeaway - well, the takeaway was definitely fake food, because it would have gone rancid after the first night - but unbelievable detail.”
Cumberbatch has a Zen vibe that would no doubt impress his most high-profile character. He’s chatty and friendly, but keen not to divulge plot details of the new film that Marvel fans are keen to see revealed on the big screen.
But he acknowledges that the involvement of legendary film director Sam Raimi, whose roots are in horror, could bring more spooky elements to the world of Marvel. “I’m trying to dial down expectations a little bit. I think it will almost definitely be the most frightening Marvel film of all time,” he tells SW Magazine+
“I’m not a fan of horror in the sense I find it very difficult to watch them. I’m very suggestible and gullible and I buy into what I’m watching and it haunts me for too long afterwards. It just scares me for longer than the moment in the film. There’s enough of that in the real world without my imagination creating more. It’s not my genre go to but I would say in comparison to what little I know, it’s definitely darker in tone. There are jump-scares, there’s a lot of schlock horror as is Sam Raimi’s want.”
Benedict has had a tremendous year - as well as returning to superhero status he received an Oscar nomination for his role in dark western The Power of the Dog. His role as a nasty and manipulative cattle rancher in Jane Campion’s movie has been widely praised. He loves having the opportunity to mix his roles, but unlike Campion’s film, where he famously stayed in character between takes, that’s not the approach he took for the comic-book movie.
“Whereas on her set, I was in character all day, I would never be able to do that on a Marvel set! It would just be so much wasted energy, and I’m all about energy. But if I’m in character for four hours, whilst a very complex camera shot is rigged up and tested, or a stunt is tested, it would all just be going on in a trailer for no one to see. I busy my time doing other things in those moments.
“They’re very different asks, very different outcomes, very different methods of storytelling. And the joy is that I get to do both. Lucky me, to be able to be at the centre of a franchise like this and play such a pivotal gateway character for so much of this phase of the MCU. But also at the same time to to be in smaller fayre.”
He’s having a blast at playing Doctor Strange and adds that though his character has evolved as MCU stories do, Strange remains a messy and complicated character. “I just love the ingredients that go into him. He’s bright, he’s damaged, he’s flawed, he’s heroic, selfless, and then utterly self absorbed. He’s very vain. And at the same time, couldn’t give a damn and very funny at times as well. So it’s a nice combination of flavours to play with.
“I think there’s always an element of stuff you haven’t done before, whether it’s some hand to hand combat, which there is a bit of in this film. Also the more extrapolated use of his powers, which we’re always trying to be inventive with and learn new spells and magic that we can pull from either the comics or our own imaginations.”
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