Doctor Strange's Problematic Past Nearly Cost Marvel Benedict Cumberbatch

The Mandarin isn't the only Marvel Comics character with a complicated history. Doctor Strange, the once world-famous surgeon and now Sorcerer Supreme had troubling comic book origins too, which nearly cost the studio the chance to have actor Benedict Cumberbatch take on the role. The "Sherlock" actor debuted as the all-knowing superhero in "Doctor Strange" (2016), his first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But before signing on to join the studio behind the world's biggest superhero movies, Cumberbatch was quite hesitant about playing the character and was opposed to its "dated, sexist" history in the comic books.

It's hard to imagine anyone but Benedict Cumberbatch with the Eye of Agamotto around his neck, but the actor needed some convincing to take on the role.

Marvel Studios approached the star

Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange has made multiple appearances in the MCU, and his character's power has had a massive effect on the MCU. The sorcerer will return for a mind-melting sequel to face off against new multiversal threats alongside the Scarlet Witch next month, and that's after a spell gone wrong shook up the multiverse in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

However, Cumberbatch wasn't always drawn toward the character. Thankfully, the studio was able to assure him that their depiction of the superhero was nothing less than heroic. The actor told Esquire Magazine back in 2021:

"I kind of had my doubts about it, from just going into the comics. I thought 'This is a very dated, sexist character'. And it's very tied up in that crossover, that kind of East-meets-West occultism movement of the Sixties and Seventies."

Dr. Stephen Strange first made an appearance in the July of 1963 with "Strange Tales" #110. The character was initially conceived as a brilliant but narcissistic surgeon that only treated patients who could afford his exorbitant fees. Stephen is a character who is egotistical and self-centered — he's greedy and doesn't care for those around him. His life transforms entirely when he suffers a near-fatal car accident that renders his hands ineffective for surgery, leaving him to accept his new, unthinkable reality without his status and success as a doctor.

Cumberbatch opposed these negative character traits

Over the next few comics, Doctor Strange goes through a character transformation of sorts, but his arrogance rarely ever leaves his side. Cumberbatch appears to have opposed these negative character traits, so Marvel explained to him that they would be dumping these characteristics where they belonged — in the past. The silver screen version of the cape-wearing superhero would have some "attitude problems" but nothing too overbearing that the actor couldn't work with.

"And then they sort of sold me on the bigger picture. "Oh no, don't worry, this will be very much a character of his time. And, yes, he has attitude problems... but this is what we envisage'."

After meeting with writer-director Scott Derrickson, Cumberbatch agreed to join the MCU, but there was one more hurdle that almost derailed their collaboration. Cumberbatch realized that he had promised to do "Hamlet" at the Barbican performing arts center in London during the film's production timetable. The theatre had been booked — and he couldn't let them down.

So Marvel moved the entire shoot back six months for the actor, squeezing a year's worth of post-production into half that time. The actor also stated that the studio considered picking another actor for the role at one point, but they came back resolved that only Cumberbatch would do it. That actor was "Joker" star Joaquin Phoenix, but Marvel knew that Cumberbatch was their man. The actor recalled:

"Then they came back and said 'We don't want anyone else to do it.'"

Doctor Strange's reputation in his comic book run was certainly questionable. After all, this guy turned his own brother into a vampire and erased Steve Roger's memory that one time. Plus, he's just flat out rude. Fortunately, Marvel Studios updated the character for the better, putting his questionable past behind him, and Benedict Cumberbatch has cemented his place in the MCU.