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Benedict Cumberbatch tells us about playing Doctor Strange and why he’s different to Sherlock

The Sherlock star talks about his new film, Doctor Strange, and joining the Marvel pantheon

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Famous for his portrayal of the eponymous sleuth in Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch is starring in Marvel’s newest film, Doctor Strange. Lisa Cam meets him to talk superhero movies, his co-stars and teaching English in Asia

If there was an Oscar for popularity on the internet then Benedict Cumberbatch would win hands down. Every year since 2010, when he made international waves by portraying a modern, sociopathic and sometimes ruthless Sherlock Holmes on TV show Sherlock, he’s ruled the web thanks to memes and GIFs galore.

But now it seems the 40-year-old British actor is ruling the A-list too as, since his breakout year, he’s played mathematician Alan Turing, one of the biggest heroes of the Second World War, in The Imitation Game, portrayed the villainous Khan in Star Trek into Darkness and provided the thunderous voice of the dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy.

Versatility is, indeed, his middle name but nothing solidifies an actor on the A-list these days as much as leading an all-star cast in a Marvel movie. And with the imminent release of the comic giant’s latest blockbuster, Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch is set to enter the upper echelon of fame. And he’s just popped into our city, where certain scenes were shot, with co-star Tilda Swinton to promote the project, which, frankly, could yet be a hit or a miss with Marvel maniacs as Doctor Strange remains (for now, anyway) one of the less well known characters in the pantheon. When we sit down with Cumberbatch we begin by snooping out his thoughts regarding this slightly more obscure superhero...

Doctor Strange is less well-known than the likes of Batman or Wolverine. How much did you know about the character before reading the script?
Not very much. He’s surprisingly popular, though. Among kids as well as adults. I mean, Iron Man wasn’t that well known at first. Then [Robert] Downey Jr made him into this iconic lead of the Marvel cinematic universe. I’m not a massive comic geek, so don’t ask me too many difficult questions because I’ll show my lack of knowledge, but I’m a massive fan of comic book films. My first real kind of obsession was Tim Burton’s Batman with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. It was the first one that made an impact on me and I’ve been in love with them ever since.

Speaking of Iron Man, what do you think will happen when Strange and Stark meet?
They might not meet! You’ll have to see. Maybe they’ll bump into each other at the barber’s cutting their beards.

Doctor Strange is a person of ego who’s sometimes arrogant. How do the other characters you’ve played, like Sherlock, compare to him?
They’re very different. Doctor Strange is not a sociopath. He has a sex life and a social life. He’s materialist. He likes his cars and his apartment and other things. He plays the piano. He has an obsession with music. He’s somebody who’s very much of our world. He’s secluded himself in his pursuit of excellence and that makes him a very lonely figure. But it’s different in the sense that he’s still charming, funny and loved by his colleagues. Sherlock is that to an extent, but it’s a tougher, weirder love, I think. Strange’s journey is almost instantaneous. It’s in one film. Sherlock’s is stretching out across four series. What we know of the character from the comic books is that he’s someone who’s very arrogant and while there needs to be an element of that as he develops in the Marvel universe, it’s very important to me that he remains someone you like.

How would you compare your experience of teaching English in India to filming scenes of this movie in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal?
When I was 19, I had the good fortune to travel to India. I was teaching at a Tibetan monastery school and I was an English teacher. As a Western child who’d been brought up on scientific methods, it was interesting to experience spirituality and mental wellbeing through Buddhist traditions. It was just wonderful. I’ve been spoiled with many enriching experiences, so they all sort of collate at any given point.

What was it like filming some of the scenes in Hong Kong?
We had night shoots here for a whole month and it would be 6pm to 6am every day. It was definitely the toughest part of the filming. You work for half an hour, then maybe have a two-hour break. And there were pick-ups going on at the same time for other scenes. It was also at the end of the film, so there was pressure to get it right and we had to really check every step in the filmmaking process.

Was this the most exhausting filming experience you’ve ever had?
Um, I don’t know. It’s near it. But it wasn’t all on me. If I had been a cameraman or a stuntman, yeah, it would have been because I would have been there for the whole working day, for 10 hours. I think that would have been my toughest gig. I wouldn’t put it on me. You’re really well looked after when you work on a Marvel film, so it was all good fun even if it was hard work. Hats off to the crew. They were the real heroes.

What was it like working with such an experienced cast?
It was brilliant. It’s a terrific roster of talent. Everyone was like ‘how can I make it better for you?’ ‘Tell me what I can do for you...’ It’s a very good environment to work in. I have to say, out of all of us, Mads [Mikkelsen, who plays Kaecilius] is extraordinarily talented in action. I know he’s a dancer and he’s done dance scenes before, but I mean you see the guy go and the energy he has, and then he goes for a smoke. He’s such a lovely, sweet man. To have a villain that you have to fight against, yet you really love, is a great thing.

Doctor Strange In cinemas Thu Oct 27

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