Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ Movie Makes Another Bold Casting Choice

Doctor Strange movie casting rumors swirled recently. The Doctor Strange movie’s producers are changing up genders and races of prominent characters on par with what the Marvel comic books are doing. All the main characters known at this point will not totally resemble their comic book counterparts in gender or race, aside from Strange himself.

Little by little, Marvel Studios is revealing the cast, but are not revealing all the roles each cast member will play. They’ve revealed Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as a major villain, but are keeping his character a secret. Mikkelsen will also appear in Star Wars spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a month after Doctor Strange is released. Chiwetel Ejiofor has already been revealed as Baron Mordo, in another character race switch for Marvel. But Mordo is surprisingly not the major villain, and may not even become a villain during the time frame of this movie.

Doctor Strange’s major casting switch up is Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One. The Ancient One mentored both Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo, and is portrayed as an ancient and wise Asian man. It’s not the first time Marvel Studios didn’t keep an Asian character in a role designed for one, as Iron Man 3‘s Mandarin shows, but Tilda Swinton’s casting also tips the scales in a bolder, gender-switched direction for Marvel’s on screen efforts.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told Entertainment Weekly what inspired the dramatic casting decision.

“I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don’t hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of the comics, and our movie, ‘the Ancient One’ is a title that many people have had. We hit very early on on, What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that’s an interesting idea. [Clicks fingers.] Tilda Swinton! Whoah! And it just hit.”

But one could argue that Marvel is neglecting Asians in major roles yet again, and this time it’s not even a villainous role like the Mandarin was. People won’t necessarily regard it is a stereotype if you cast an older Asian man for the role, if the story is really fleshed out and the character is dignified. The Ancient One comes from Tibet, anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem to have an actor from Tibet or a surrounding region play the role.

It’s fitting that Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange, a superhero trained by a Tibetan mystic. Cumberbatch spent time in Tibet 20 years ago as an English teacher, where he was amazed by the folklore and spirituality. And as Time reported, Cumberbatch returned to a nearby country to film scenes for Doctor Strange. While he and the crew were filming in Nepal, hordes of fans came out to celebrate his visit. The enormous response to his presence in the Asian nation was intense. The film’s executive producer compared the fan response to seeing The Beatles.

Neither Marvel execs nor Swinton is clear about exactly what gender she will portray as the Ancient One. They are leaving it open, as with most information they are putting out there about this film. The film will be out by November 4 next year. The Doctor Strange movie is likely to be the springboard for launching Marvel movies into the mystical element they need to confront Thanos and more intergalactic enemies by the time Avengers: Infinity War comes out.

[Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images]