In Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.
In July 1963, Doctor Strange made his first appearance in the Marvel Comic Strange Tales, issue 110, at the hands of artist Steve Ditko and writer Stan Lee. It would take 53 years before the Master of Mystic Arts would be given a Superhero’s welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the 2016 film aptly titled Doctor Strange.
Now comes Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is pushing the fantasy genre into a darker, more foreboding place. At the very beginning of Doctor Stephen Strange’s journey into the mystic arts, The Ancient One told him, “If I were to tell you everything, you would run from here screaming in terror.” At the time no one could have imagined how prophetic her words were, because five years later Sam Raimi, the master of terror and wizard of thrill, took the helm of the second installment of Doctor Strange.
In celebration of the next chapter in phase four, Disney held a press conference with the Multiverse of Madness cast, Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Benedict Wong (Wong), Xochitl Gomez (America Chavez), Sam Raimi (Director), Michael Waldron (Screenwriter), Kevin Feige (Head of Marvel Studios/Executive Producer) to discuss everything from the horror, growth and Wongverse of Doctor Strange and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Raimi is no stranger to superhero movies. He directed and produced Darkman in 1990 and the original Spider Man trilogy. So, what brings him back to the superhero genre almost 15 years later?
“It’s surreal. Mr. Raimi was a young producer who I just felt lucky to be in the same room with him and now, I’m an old producer that just feels lucky to be in the same room with him,” said Feige.
“There were really a lot of Marvel movies being made when we made the Spiderman movies with Kevin. Kevin was also working on the X-Men movies and the Iron Man movies. So, Kevin and his boss were already developing the Marvel Cinematic Universe even back then. I was very fortunate to get that directing job. I loved Spiderman. I’m glad it had a moment in helping be one of the first MCU movies,” said Raimi.
Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Doctor Strange, whose new adventure in the Multiverse also takes him on a journey of self-discovery. As Cumberbatch explains, “Strange sees, through his experience in the Multiverse and the various versions of him in the Multiverse, how much of a pattern of behavior he carries. It’s a kind of imprint, an identification of who Doctor Stephen Strange is in any universe and what the dangers of that character are. Is he going to be the hero to his enemy or the enemy to his hero? Who is our Doctor Strange in the Multiverse? He’s literally coming up against versions of himself to figure that out.”
“[Strange] is quite a maverick. He’s quite an outsider. He doesn’t immediately strike you as a leader despite his prominence in the MCU at this moment and that’s what makes him really interesting and conflicted, as a hero. It’s the humanity that keeps people coming back for more. We see in the film, an iteration of somebody who we’ve seen very omnipotent, very creative and sort of omnipresent and yet, we haven’t really understood what the cost of that is. What it is that’s fueling that. Both him as a person, but also within this mysterious realm of sorcery and magic,” said Cumberbatch.
“[Multiverse of Madness] is about examining that and finding his flaws, his faults, his humanity, as well as his strengths. And renewing our understanding of him and deepening our understanding of him. So, as far as a leader goes, this is more self-examination of holding up a mirror to him through this incredible narrative structure we have of a Multiverse of other selves, than it is examining what his potential is to lead. He’s far better at being a collaborator, working with others, realizing he can’t always be the one to hold the knife and control all himself. Those are pretty leaderlike qualities. But he’s evolving,” Cumberbatch continued.
[In No Way Home] that was him trying to be an adult. Trying to be a guarding and getting it very wrong, [and I think] that was the best part. There was some poor parenting in that film. He got angry with the kid. He tried to take the toy back. It all went a bit wrong. But he’s not rigid. He’s a very flexible character who is malleable to his experience. He’s a very quick learner as we know. Not just intellectually, but I think emotionally now as well. He’s deepening his emotional language. I would say a maturing leader rather than an elder.” Benedict finished.
Waldron, who recently served as head writer and executive producer on Marvel Studios’ Loki series for Disney, added, “this guy who was the greatest surgeon, now he’s been a sorcerer for a while, he’s been through a lot, how good of a sorcerer is he?” We’re seeing him kind of at the height of his powers. And I think that’s really exciting, and then at the same time, you’re encountering Wong, who has become Sorcerer Supreme. He’s at the height of his powers. And then, you have Wanda, who is actualized in a whole new way from the end of WandaVision. So, you could say she’s at the height of her powers.”
“Stephen, Wanda, Wong, obviously America is a new character that Xochitl was originating, but in a lot of ways, I was just a steward of these characters on the page and so, you know, there was a lot of opportunity to collaborate with these tremendous actors who know them better than I could. As the script evolved, which it very much was all the time, you’re really refining it and leaning on the people who have been doing it even longer than we have in this individual chapter. It’s a real team effort putting this story together,” Waldron finished.
Elizabeth Olsen has been portraying Wanda since 2014 when she first made an appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The fact Wanda went on to headline her own streaming series and has been an ongoing character in the MCU is a testament to Olsen’s own remarkable powers to humanize a powerful comic hero sorceress and give her complex layers that a global audience can connect and empathize with.
For Olsen, getting the chance to revisit the character and explore her more fully was an “incredible opportunity.” “It’s not the most fun, in my mind, to always play the hero of a story where they do no wrong,” says Olsen. “I don’t find that interesting. I think the reason why I really enjoyed Wanda from the beginning is that she’s very clear in her beliefs. They just don’t align with others, and that’s okay. She’ll have her own realizations and admit when she makes mistakes.”
“In the previous films before WandaVision, I took up a lane for storytelling that was more grounded in sincerity, love, loss and grief. With WandaVision, I got to become anything and everything, and really, really grow her into a woman [where she accepts] she is this mythic woman. That is her destiny. I hope in this film people see that continuation of her acceptance of who she is [and] the journey she has taken to get to this moment. I feel like she has way more clarity now than ever in this film,” said Olsen.
America Chavez is brought to the screen by 16-year-old Xochitl Gomez. The young actress got her first big break in 2019 when she was cast as Dawn Schafer on the teen dramedy series The Baby-Sitters Club. Her performance on Season 1 led to her being featured in Variety’s Power of Young Hollywood: Up Next 2020 actors. Gomez feels like placing America in a Doctor Strange film works as a perfect introduction for the character in the MCU. “I loved how they put America in a Doctor Strange film because she has this amazing ability to travel the Multiverse,” says Gomez. “It doesn’t feel forced. It just works.
“I’m so happy the writers were able to fit America’s story in just perfectly. And I love how young she is because we haven’t really seen that. It’s like we wouldn’t pick this combo, but it works so well. I think people are going to really like that.”
“One thing that was so important to me was this is a very adult movie. There’s lots of adults in it. It’s very heavy. So, I wanted to make sure America still had that youthfulness and still had that fake it ’til you make it resilience. But when you’ve got some crazy stuff happening it’s a little hard. But I think one thing that really helps is that she is 14, which is younger than she was in any of the comics. So that really helps in writing a new introduction which I think Michael Waldron did beautifully,” said Gomez.
“It’s important these films represent the world as it is and the world outside your window, as they used to say in publishing and that aspect of America’s character is from the comics, so we always want to adapt [the character] as truthfully as we can. I think when people see the movie, much like in life, it is not any one thing that defines any one character,” said Fiege.
“I did look at Lizzie especially while she was acting, and getting ready do the scene, I would just kind of watch her. I constantly look up to her, and I realized how five minutes before a scene that’s kind of difficult, she would kind of get in that moment and I realized that “Oh, well, if she’s doing it, I should probably do it, too. So, I did do that, and it helped me. I learned so much from her, and she doesn’t even know it,” finished Gomez.
Benedict Wong is excited to bring Wong back and explore him further now that he is Sorcerer Supreme. “I had no idea this was going to happen to Wong,” says the actor. “He started off as the librarian, reading all kinds of books on the mystic arts. And now that he’s picked up the gauntlet to become the Sorcerer Supreme, there’s such a heavy level of responsibility in terms of how he’s teaching his students. I’m fascinated to see where we actually go next with this.”
“When I first took the job six years ago, we moved away from the old source material, which was old, and we developed and crafted this no-nonsense midfield general librarian who’s continued through four or five movies, and now is the no-nonsense Sorcerer Supreme. I love where we’re going with this and the character progression of that. As a comic book fan and having collected all the Marvel comics, to be on board I’m just living this dream as the nerd that crossed the line and gets to play with these amazing actors, auteurs, writers and producers. It’s just a win-win for me,” said Wong.
For Chiwetel Ejiofor reprising Mordo was an exciting prospect. “I’d missed this character a lot,” he admits, “and so just knowing we were going to start revving up and telling the next part of this story was just amazing. I was very excited by it, and I was thrilled about Sam Raimi as well. I thought it sounded incredible, with all of the different universes that they are entering, and the dynamics with Strange and Mordo. I loved all of it. So, I was really excited to put on those boots and get back into it.”
Rachel McAdams was equally happy to bring Christine, Doctor Strange’s former flame, back to the screen. “It’s such a gift to be able to go back to the same character, especially when you’re not necessarily expecting to,” says McAdams. “It’s like a reunion with an old friend or something. And you get to sort of dream about her again. It’s always a little bit of a bittersweet thing to put a character on a shelf and think they’ll never come off again. So, it was great to think that these characters stay alive throughout this and that they can reemerge at any time. There’s just endless possibility in that.”
This film takes us on a journey through different realities in the Multiverse. The Multiverse Raimi speaks of is infinite parallel universes, each universe home to everything that already exists, but in a different reality. Imagine many different versions of yourself living in different versions of the reality you know, leading different lives with different outcomes to the one you are living. That is the Multiverse. Giving a hint of what’s to come, Raimi offers, “The first Doctor Strange film really opened up people’s minds, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we are going to push it further.