Benedict Cumberbatch Had Doubts About Playing “Dated, Sexist” Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch has revealed that he nearly passed on playing the Sorcerer Supreme.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange
Photo: Marvel

In advance of his first sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Sorcerer Supreme a.k.a. Doctor Stephen Strange is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most beloved characters.

As played by the irrepressibly charming Benedict Cumberbatch, Strange has accomplished quite a lot during his brief time in the MCU. He headlined his own film, somehow standing out amid Inception-style reality warping CGI and Mads Mikkelsen’s equally reality warping eyeliner. Then he played a major role in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, ultimately predicting the one scenario among 14 million that would lead to Thanos’s defeat. 

It’s hard to imagine the future of Marvel storytelling on screen without Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. And yet, according to a new interview with the actor, we almost had to endure just that. In a wide-ranging interview with Esquire, Cumberbatch reveals that he had some doubts about playing the “dated, sexist” surgeon-turned-sorcerer.

“I kind of had my doubts about it, from just going into the comics. I thought ‘This is a very dated, sexist character,’” Cumberbatch said. “And it’s very tied up in that crossover, that kind of East meets West occultism movement of the Sixties and Seventies.”

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Cumberbatch’s concerns are well-founded. We love Stevie Strange but there’s no denying that his comic book iteration is a bit of an ass. During his many years on the page, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation has: wiped Steve Rogers’ memory, turned his brother Victor into a vampire, and most regrettably allowed Doctor Doom become literal God. That’s not even to mention the fact that he can just be quite rude. 

Perhaps it’s because Strange is so antiquated that Marvel chief Kevin Feige felt adamant that Cumberbatch was the actor to play him. In the Esquire interview, Cumberbatch recounts the already-reported story that Marvel delayed production on Doctor Strange by six months just so they could get the former Sherlock star in the fold. Trusting that an actor has a breadth of soul beneath their wise-cracking exterior goes a long way to humanizing a character. In fact, one could argue that that’s what the entirety of the MCU is built upon with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark being its first major casting. 

Thank One-Above-All that Marvel got their man for Doctor Strange as the character is set to be a linchpin for its Phase 4 of storytelling. In addition to the Sam Raimi directed Multiverse of Madness on May 6, 2022, Strange will be headlining Spider-Man: No Way Home on Dec. 17 of this year. 

Doctor Strange has also played a surprisingly big role on television for Marvel. He was slated to appear in the final episode of WandaVision on Disney+ before producers wisely decided to focus the ending on Wanda’s journey. No fewer than two versions of the character factor prominently into speculative animated series Marvel’s What…If?

In fact, the “evil” Doctor Strange of What If…? (voiced by Cumberbatch) provides an interesting insight into the flaws that the actor may have seen when initially viewing the comic version of the character. With a multiverse of madness approaching it’s comforting to know that Cumberbatch is quite game exploring all different kinds of Doctors Strange.