While he almost elected not to portray the titular sorcerer in Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch sought inspiration from another realm. It may sound surprising to hear that anyone in their right mind would even consider passing up a chance to play a major character in the biggest shared universe in current cinema, but Cumberbatch is apparently a notch above the rest of us. In speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he simply said:
“No, it’s not something that I had on my bucket list, as they would say.”
Yet here he is, playing the Sorcerer Supreme in one of the most anticipated films of 2016. As for why he changes his mind, the answer apparently dates back a few years. When Cumberbatch was 19, he spent some time in India teaching Tibetan monks how to speak English. (That “other-worldly” thing makes a bit more sense now, huh?) While he was overseas in West Bengal, Cumberbatch felt that he was the one who was truly undergoing a learning experience.
“Basically, they taught me reams, fathoms, more than I could possibly begin [to teach them]. I became interested in the meeting point between Western logic and Eastern mysticism.”
That was close to twenty years ago, but the actor’s interest in worldly philosophies apparently hasn’t dwindled very much. When the role of Stephen Strange was on the table, Cumberbatch decided to do some research. He found that, after Strange’s injury, the gifted doctor undergoes a bit of a transformation as he learns that there is more to life than the physical realm. This gels pretty nicely with the interests that Cumberbatch developed as a teenager, and it heightened his interests in the role.
“I knew it was on their slate, I knew it was coming up, so I got invested in it and I was interested. What happens here in this origin story is, Strange realizes the power he has within his body is not about his body. It’s something that’s beyond the causal-temporal-linear-reality that he knows so well as a [surgeon]. We come from this very causal world into this mystical, magical world of other realms and sorcery.”
Man, that is a deep assessment of a dude who mutters enchantments and throws colorful CGI at bad guys. The good news is that it sounds like Cumberbatch is heavily invested in the part. Even in his lesser films, he’s always been among the best actors on the screen. If he’s dedicated to giving it his all in this one, then this could shape up to be one of the best Marvel movies yet. And it’s all thanks to a few Tibetan monks who just wanted to learn English.
So next time you make fun of that college friend who used to yap your ear off about Eastern philosophy, remember—they might be going through a hippie phase, but they also might grow up to play Doctor freaking Strange. We’ll see how much of this Tibetan mysticism actually makes it into the film when Doctor Strange releases on November 4, 2016.