Benedict Cumberbatch Improvised Calling Tony Stark A 'Douchebag' In Avengers: Infinity War

Don't ask me why, but nothing lights up certain circles of film fans quite like (usually unsubstantiated) claims that a certain scene or line of dialogue was improvised in a major movie or show. If true, it usually tends to be overblown or a simple case where everyone talked over alternate lines or ways to play specific moments that might not necessarily have been present in the script itself. In short, there's nothing inherently better about improvisation versus sticking to the script! 

All that said, Benedict Cumberbatch opened up about the topic in general with regards to playing Doctor Strange in the Marvel movies and revealed that at least one memorable exchange with Robert Downey, Jr. in "Avengers: Infinity War" came to him in the spur of the moment and... Well, the positive audience response to it speaks for itself.

Improv Routine

From the outside looking in, Marvel's "Avengers" productions have always seemed like an absolute blast to work on. With that many experienced veterans jockeying for elbow room and screen time, it's perhaps inevitable that some level of improvisation would always be on the table. Half the fun, after all, comes from seeing these egos bounce off one another and the varied responses that one hero from a distinct sub-franchise can bring out of another. 

In a wider profile with THR, Benedict Cumberbatch confirms that the set of "Avengers: Infinity War" was no different. In fact, when it came to a particularly heated exchange between Doctor Strange and Tony Stark, the latter's dismissive accusation of "What exactly is your job, besides making balloon animals?" is answered by Cumberbatch's improvisation of the final insult: "It's protecting your reality, douchebag." Cumberbatch gives an insightful answer on his reasoning and the following reaction to that line:

"I remember on the set when I called him a douchebag, there was this sort of ripple effect. 'Oh my God. Did you just call Iron Man a douchebag?' They kept it, good for them. And then, it got the same kind of response at the cinema. I was just ... I got bored of being compared to Liberace or whatever other retorts the guy with the same camp goatee had opposite me, so I tried to knock him down. It's great fun to play with that stuff. You find your feet. The more times you do it, the more familiar it becomes."

Cumberbatch is probably alluding to the fact that many consider the two heroes far too alike in terms of temperament and personality (and facial hair!), so his instinct to differentiate himself by knocking Stark down a peg or two certainly feels like the right one. "Infinity War" served as the first interaction between these superheroes and this early back-and-forth between the two did much to help set the tone of the movie, as well as their continued interactions with one another.

'There Was A Lot More Freedom This Time Around'

Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange will next be seen in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," a production that experienced some brief turmoil when original director Scott Derrickson parted ways with Marvel and was subsequently replaced by legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi. In a particularly revealing quote, Cumberbatch enlightens us on the difference between filming the first "Doctor Strange" and the sequel.

"With the first film, you're always locked into a script, because it's the origin story. But there was a lot more freedom this time around. I guess, because we were ... not literally making it up as we go along, but sometimes it feels like that. Marvel has this amazing ability to come into production: 'We really just have to start shooting now. It doesn't matter that the third act is not quite where you want it to be.' You really do things on a wing and a prayer sometimes."

This might be why I tend to be naturally skeptical about praising improvisation sight unseen, as there are many instances where it becomes required when the script simply isn't in the best shape that it should be. Production on "Multiverse of Madness" was undoubtedly affected by the abrupt change in director and it seems that had a trickle-down effect on the development of the script ... though that obviously doesn't mean that the sequel is doomed. Cumberbatch is right that, despite the narrative that the entirety of the MCU was pre-planned from the beginning, Marvel has always been light on their feet in terms of adapting and improvising.

We'll just have to wait and see how well this turns out for the increasingly jam-packed "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," due in theaters on March 25, 2022.