Benedict Cumberbatch: From Hamlet to Doctor Strange

By Lauren Turner
Entertainment reporter

image copyrightDisney-Marvel/AP
image captionOther-worldly: Benedict Cumberbatch said he thought the new role was 'completely out there'

Benedict Cumberbatch has said he leapt at the chance to play an action hero in Doctor Strange - even though he only learned of the character's existence when a journalist suggested he would be perfect for the role.

The film tells the story of fantastic surgeon Stephen Strange, who thinks his career - and by extension his life - is in tatters after a horrific accident leaves him without the use of his hands.

After travelling to a mysterious mountain community to meet The Ancient One - played by a bald Tilda Swinton - he learns supernatural powers that can bend time and space.

'Beautiful and psychedelic'

The Sherlock actor admits he came to the story "very late".

"It was a suggestion of a journo in LA who said, during a Star Trek junket, 'You'd make a great Doctor Strange'.

"I went, 'Doctor who?' and he said 'Oh yeah, that too', and I was like no, come on - who's Doctor Strange? He explained it a bit to me and I said, 'Wow, that sounds completely out there.'"

image copyrightReuters
image captionCumberbatch said Hamlet had been the only role on his bucket list

He describes the artwork for the comics, by Steve Ditko, as "beautiful, psychedelic, other-worldly" - attributes that could also be applied to the look of the new Marvel film.

The role of the "egotistical, selfish and materialistic" US neurosurgeon was "really intriguing", Cumberbatch explains.

"There were so many pulls for me" he says. "The other one really was the element of being an action hero and being an American lead in a film of this size, which was obviously a huge deal for me career-wise."

Controversy and clickbait

And what else is there to come career-wise for an actor who can boast a successful television series in Sherlock - which Cumberbatch confirms is likely to return - as well as playing Hamlet on stage?

"I don't have a bucket list," says Cumberbatch. "I never really have apart from Hamlet, actually, and that was more an age thing. I thought, if I'm going to, I should probably do that before I turn 40."

On Sherlock, he adds with a wry smile: "Yeah, there's more of him. Despite the controversy, the misquotes - as is the way in the clickbait world we live in - I think there will be more Sherlock at some point."

The actor is also "just getting going" with his own production company, promising "really extraordinary projects, in television and long form and also cinema".

Asked if he wants to move into directing, the father-of-one - who recently revealed he is expecting a second child with wife Sophie Hunter - said: "I'm going to go slowly on that one for now - my life's quite busy as it is."

image copyrightReuters
image captionMcAdams practised on raw turkey breasts when researching her role as a neurosurgeon

Co-star Rachel McAdams, who plays Doctor Strange's hospital colleague and former partner Christine Palmer, says she appreciates the fact the role is far removed from the traditional "love interest", because the pair have broken up.

"It gave us a real history to start with and seemed so much more mature," she says, adding there was "lots to play with, with a smaller role".

'Raw turkey and oranges'

To research the part of Christine, McAdams shadowed a neurosurgeon at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London, and worked with a neurosurgeon on the Doctor Strange set.

"He was there every step of the way, helping me do my sutures, practising on raw turkey breasts and oranges and fake skulls and all kinds of weird things," says McAdams, whose mother was a nurse. "That was really fun."

McAdams said it was "incredibly important" to have strong female roles, both with the high-powered neurosurgeon Christine and the figure played by Swinton.

"I like that this film is balanced that way and everyone is represented well," she says. "It's a great conversation that's happening more and more and there's a lot more awareness of what an impact women can make in films.

"It's great to see women together in films - they're often isolated. I didn't get nearly enough time with Tilda - she's so wonderful. I'd have liked a lot more."

image copyrightDisney-Marvel/AP
image captionTilda Swinton's Ancient One teaches Cumberbatch's character to bend time and space

One of the reasons McAdams wanted to do the film because of its "quiet depth" as a "fresh kind of comic book movie".

"There's so much philosophy to wrap your head around and it's not banging you over the head with it, but it's really powerful and strong," she explains. "I think it's a very relevant conversation.

"We're coming back to that stuff that came up in the '60s at the time when Doctor Strange was written, getting back to that idea of mindfulness and the power you have over yourself.

"So it seems very timely, I think it's tapping into something that's in the psyche out there.

"I do a really interesting kind of yoga called Kundalini yoga, which is a lot about meditation and chanting. It's great - bringing together the body and the mind."

It could almost be a tagline for the film itself.

Doctor Strange is on general release in cinemas in the UK now.

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