The visiting and speaking with the Director of the Marvel 14th movie installment DOCTOR STRANGE was one of my highlights this year. Meeting someone who has been in the movie industry for many year and has accomplished his childhood dream – the love of MARVEL Comics – shows that anything is possible. And it is possible in real life when the passion is strong and the action is perseverance.
If you are a huge fan of Marvel Comics, then this excerpt from my interview with Scott Derrickson, whom I call the mastermind of the amazing set up in DOCTOR STRANGE, would be a delight to follow and find out some interesting details about this person’s road to where he is today.
The DOCTOR STRANGE movie is full of special effects and graphics. Obviously, one of the top questions was how much work went into All that.
It was a long time developing them. It was one of the most creative parts of the whole process, because the idea going into it wasto use visual effects for a new reason than what you usually get in big event movies. In big event movies, even in Marvel movies, special effects are usually used to destroy things.
It’s about destroying cities, because that’s what creates screen stimulus. And I just felt committed to the idea of using those big expensive visual effects for something else, something new, something more interesting, and specifically, something trippy, and weird. And to give the audience an unexpected experience.
A lot of visual effects and the music are based on the 60’s feeling, right from the comics. We asked if there was any attempt to update that 60s feeling and bring to the modern audience.
’60s comics were the primary influence for the movie, for sure. Those early Stan Lee, Steve Ditko comics, which were very much products of the ’60s, and the ’60s psychedelia, um, the weird imagery of the movie is so rooted in the Steve Ditko artwork from that era. I listened to almost nothing but psychedelic rock from that era, while I was working on this screenplay. That’s it, it’s why there’s one Pink Floyd track in there from the first Pink Floyd album, back in their early psychedelic days.
What I wanted to do was to not make a throwback movie or a nostalgic movie. I didn’t want to try to go back and recapture the ’60s revolution feel. But I wanted to have that same mindset of open your mind, expand your mind, see things new.
You know, look at a new aesthetic and explore possibilities. And so, that was the goal, was to take that ’60s mentality, and then bring it into a modern superhero movie, and do it with a character who was about something hopefully meaningful.
The DOCTOR STRANGE – when you see it – has been developed with an idea of breaking stereotypes of many kinds. There are some moments where we laugh, where we cringe from pain, or even when we go deep inside to reflect on the pain or joy presented by the movie characters.
Tilda Swinton who played The Ancient One is one of the stereotypes that was broken by the Director Scott Derrickson. In the original Marvel Comics it is an ancient Asian man. In today’s movie, it is played by one of the most renowned and talented actresses in the world. The question was “WHY” the choice was made in such way? What triggered this choice?
Tilda Swinton Played the Role of The Ancient One
That choice was twofold. The first reason was because I was trying to find ways, creative ways, and positive ways, to escape the racial stereotypes from the original comics. You know, they were products of the ’60s for good and bad, those comics. For bad, the Ancient One, and Wong, those two characters were pretty offensive racial stereotypes by modern standards. Wong’s character, I was able to completely reinvent.
I sort of inverted his character. Everything about his character in the comics, I just flipped on its head. Instead of a man servant, he’s a Master of the Mystic Arts. Instead of a sidekick, he’s Strange’s intellectual mentor. So that was great. With the Ancient One, I couldn’t really do that. The Ancient One, for the story, origin story to work, still had to be a magical, mystical, domineering, martial arts mentor, to Doctor Strange.
So the first thing I wanted to do is make it a woman. And I thought that’s fresh. I did that to get away from the cliché and the stereotype, but I also did that because I wanted a woman Tilda’s age. I wanted a woman who wasn’t the 26-year-old, tightly leather clad, you know, hot, fan-boy-dream girl. I wanted to have a real woman, in the movie, in terms of trying to get diversity in there. I thought about casting an Asian woman. We had lots of discussion about that.
But I couldn’t get away from the stereotype of the Dragon Lady. If you know anything about American cinema, and the portrayal of the Dragon Lady, you know the anime [SOUNDS LIKE: Wong] movies and all that, I just felt like a trap, also. So then I started thinking, well who could bring the ethereal, enigmatic, mystical qualities of the Ancient One from the comics that are good? And I was like, Tilda!
Who else could it be? An interesting story about that is that I was trying to write the role, and it was the one role in the movie that was flat, it was just a flat role. Every version I did of it was just not great. It was not working. And then when I came up with the idea in my head about Tilda doing it, suddenly the role came to life, and I wrote it, without her knowing anything about the movie or knowing that I was interested in her doing it. I wrote it for her, and it was great.
I remember bringing the script. I remember what room I was in. I remember bringing the script to Kevin, and handing it to him, saying, okay, this role is great now, but it has to be Tilda Swinton that plays it. And if it’s not her, we’re going to have to rewrite it again. Because I didn’t feel like anybody, but her could do the role as I, as I wrote it.
[ON THE SIDE NOTE: Read my interview with Tilda and see what she has to say about how this role was proposed to her, no less!]
That story about how the role of Th Ancient One was created – out of inspiration and the knowing of one actress who could carry the weight of this critical character in the entire Doctor Strange movie. You will be inspired and mesmerized by this characters – and all thanks to this wise choice to have Tilda Swinton in the role of The Ancient One.
Were there any other roles that were specifically written to be played by specific actors and actresses?
The five lead roles – this is very rare, – but the five lead roles, we got our first choice on every one of them. I don’t think that’s ever happened for me, where our first choice for each role we just were able to get. It usually doesn’t happen, for no other reason, because of availability.
But it just turned out that the act – all of our first choices were available, and you know, they all wanted to do it, when they heard what the movie was. Once we got Benedict [Cumberbatch], of course, he’s kind of an actor magnet.
Other actors want to work with him, so there was that. But then when I would meet with them and explain the movie, they got excited. I think [they were excited] at what it was that we were trying to do. Like Tilda, I remember Tilda got excited because she understood [that] I was really wasn’t making an experimental movie. I was making something, and she doesn’t care about, you know, how big a movie is. She could care less. She cares how interesting it is.
Being in the movie industry is tough. Everybody wants to work with MARVEL and fulfil their childhood dreams by making movies about their favorite superheroes. We asked Scott how he got his job of directing DOCTOR STRANGE. This story is fascinating and shows how much perseverance one has to possess to get where they want to be and do.
I went after the job really hard. Like, really hard. I had eight meetings to get the job. It’s a very thorough process they go through in hiring their directors. I grew up with Marvel comics. Doctor Strange is my favorite comic! When I heard they were making it, I felt like it was the only comic book character I was uniquely suited to do.When I went in for the first meeting, I had my own opinion about what a Doctor Strange movie should be, and I felt very strongly about it. And when I went in for the first meeting, I was amazed at how in line my thinking about the comic was with theirs. And that was the point it was almost like a switch flipped in my brain, and I just said, I’m getting this job, and I’m going to outwork everyone on the presentation.I wrote the astral fight that they have in the hospital. I wrote that 12 page scene, before my second meeting.Because I wanted. And then I illustrated it, and I spent a lot of money on visual concept art. Because I went in with a full vision, and just said, here’s what a Doctor Strange movie should be, they were in alignment with it, so, I wouldn’t just love it. I love that comic so much. The movie is so true to the comics. It so obviously feels the way the comics feel, and is true to that origin story.
Any favorite scenes for Scott Derrickson in his own movie?
[YOU HAVE TO GO SEE THE MOVIE FFIRST!!! – I AM NOT GOING TO GIVE IT AWAY! I WILL FILL OUT THIS SPACE AFTER THE PREMIERE OF THE MOVIE]
I really love that scene. Audiences pay to see spectacle in these kind of movies. They pay to see these big visual effects, overwhelming scenes, and action, and fighting, and all of that. But whether or not they like a movie is whether or not it moves them. And whether they like the character, and whether it moves them emotionally. And that scene feels like the heart of the movie to me. [You have to go and see the movie first to know what Scott means!]
Strange is a character – there’s a lot of stuff. If you could reduce what a movie is about, to just simple phrases, you wouldn’t need to make a movie. Hopefully movies, like any kind of quality entertainment, or great art, is about more than what you can reduce to statements. But, I think that the idea of this character who has the wrong values, who has everything, thinks he has everything, but his life is shallow.
He’s a materialist, he’s self-centered, he’s bad at relationships. He’s ego-driven. And then he loses everything. And through this trauma, through this gauntlet of pain and suffering, he transforms into something better. I love that the movie’s about that. I love that the movie’s about how pain can dislodge you from what’s bad about your life, and push you into something better. Because he becomes a much better person as a result of the worst thing that could happen to him, happening to him.
As a result, he goes from this selfish, skeptical, materialistic guy, to this unselfish, altruistic, mystic, master of the mystic arts, who wants to save people for better reasons than he did in the past.
“When I made this [movie] and was going in to get the job, I approached it as a fan. I mean, I’m a fan first.
I’m a comic book fan first.
And I’m a movie fan before I’m a filmmaker.
Opens November 4, 2016
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