'Doctor Strange' Director Addresses Whitewashing Controversy

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'Doctor Strange' (Photo: Marvel/Disney)
‘Doctor Strange’ (Photo: Marvel/Disney)

By Karen Chu, The Hollywood Reporter

Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, producer Kevin Feige and director Scott Derrickson met the press in Hong Kong on Thursday on the first stop of the international press tour for latest Marvel film Doctor Strange.

Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One has caused critics to speak of whitewashing, since the original character in the comic book is Tibetan. But Feige and Derrickson insisted that the role in the film was written for Swinton, and they would have had to rewrite the script if Swinton had not been available.

“Looking at Marvel movies, I think that we’re missing a major character that is Tilda’s age and has this kind of strength and power,” said Derrickson, expanding on a Twitter comment he had made earlier in the year. “The Ancient One in the comics is a very old American stereotype of what Eastern characters and people are like, and I felt very strongly that we need to avoid those stereotypes at all costs.”

Swinton, who has also said that she wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, meanwhile, revealed Thursday that Cumberbatch’s baby boy made his presence known on the set of the film. “Your baby was a great distraction,” Swinton joked in addressing Cumberbatch. “The set just stops when his baby appears,” added Derrickson.

Cumberbatch’s son was born in June 2015, and shooting started in November. “We were running at four hours of sleep and a lot of caffeine,” said Cumberbatch about the experience.

Doctor Strange charts the journey of neurosurgeon Stephen Strange whose career is ruined by a car crash and becomes the Sorcerer Supreme of multiple dimensions under the tutelage of the Ancient One.

Related: Marvel Denies Whitewashing ‘Doctor Strange’ to Appease China

Doctor Strange and all the Marvel films are made by Marvel super-fans, said Cumberbatch, so that fans of the comic books need not worry. “Thankfully we have a studio boss who is also a massive fanboy, there is nothing [Feige] does not know about the original comics,” said Cumberbatch. “So, together with the rest of his team, it’s done out of love, and there’s a huge amount of respect — respect for detail.”

Swinton said she enjoyed the fight scenes in the movie the most. “The greatest fun for me was the fighting,” she said. “That was a great thrill. And possibly the most difficult thing was casting spells while remembering the lines. That was a tricky thing. But truly, it was a blast.”

Cumberbatch said the most fun part for him was also the hardest. “It’s the most extraordinary character journey he goes on,” he said. “This man was part of a very material, logic-driven, binary world, something we essentially experience everyday of our lives, he is obviously very much ahead in his profession. And he has his whole world turned upside-down in a car crash, both physically and mentally. It’s the destruction of him to create something new. He has healing in his hand, and he used it for his own gain. To play that part, there are countless different stages, from a confident man, to a broken man, and then slowly turning into a Marvel superhero. While that was hard, it was also the most enjoyable.”

Director Derrickson commended on Cumberbatch’s physical stunt work for the film. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that when an actor performs a lot of his own stunts, as Benedict did in this movie, it’s very physically demanding,” he said. “So when I think about the production, a lot of what comes to mind is Benedict being in physical pain, and having to perform in situations where he is getting hit, getting kicked, being in harnesses, doing very difficult things. It’s unpleasant but he was a total trouper and kept getting better and better as we went along.”

Related: ‘Doctor Strange’: 4 Highlights from Watching 15 Minutes of Footage

Doctor Strange is the origin story of the titular character that made his debut in comic book form in 1963, steeped in Marvel’s own brand of mysticism and 1960s psychedelia. “In, not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also in comic books and comic book movies, there is always a need and a necessity to explain where the superpowers come from,” said producer and Marvel Studios president Feige. “And in the comics and certainly in the MCU, an explanation always has a grounded basis.”

He added: “When you talk about magic and mystery, you talk about something that defies explanation. Magic by definition is mysterious. It taps into things that you don’t fully understand. That’s what makes magic magic. The very nature of the supernatural is that it defies easy explanation. It goes beyond the limits of what we really understand. And that’s why I am always drawn to it, [to] the fantastic and supernatural, and [it] taps into our own sense of awe. Those are the kind of stories I’d like to watch and I’d like to tell.”

Doctor Strange will have its world premiere in Hong Kong on Thursday night and will be released in theaters there on Oct. 27, a week ahead of its North American bow.

“Doctor Strange is a very exciting character who goes on a fantastic journey in this film,” said Cumberbatch. “It’s an origin story, it’s full of humor, it’s full of truth to the original source material, and it’s got the most fantastic cast. And a wonderful director, and a studio which knows exactly what it is doing, thanks very much to [Feige]. I think the audience is in for a truly spectacular, very heartfelt, at times funny, really thrilling journey.”

Related: Benedict Cumberbatch Says Doctor Strange Will Be Arrogant, But Funny

Watch Cumberbatch talk about how ‘Doctor Strange’ is a different kind of Marvel movie: