Doctor Strange 2 Co-Star Michael Stuhlbarg Must Have A Hell Of An Agent

It comes as no surprise that Marvel Studios has been able to entice loads of our finest actors to join its endless, ongoing cinematic universe. These are the biggest movies going around right now and they afford so many performers steady, hefty paychecks. Movies with sizable budgets that are not filled with spandex-clad superheroes are in short supply, so if you want to make some decent coin, you need to get on the payroll for Marvel or DC (or for someone else trying to be Marvel or DC). 

Thankfully, most of these actors are given roles where they at least get to do a little something, and if they don't in their introduction, they are obviously there as set-up for future movies. Two casting decisions always baffled me, and they both came from the first "Doctor Strange" film. First was Rachel McAdams as Strange's co-worker/love interest Christine Palmer. That character in the first film is so underwritten, which is a real waste for someone of Rachel McAdams' talent. "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" tries to right the ship on this by trying to make us believe that theirs is the greatest love story ever told and having McAdams actually involved in the plot of the film. It is not all that successful, but they at least make an effort to justify casting one of our great actors.

Then there is Michael Stuhlbarg. While he is not close to the biggest name enlisted for the MCU, he is one of the most talented. A celebrated character actor of both stage and screen, he has built a career as one of the most dependable and effortless performers working today, with projects like "A Serious Man," "Call Me by Your Name," and "Boardwalk Empire." He shows up in "Doctor Strange" as ... some doctor. I know the comic book fans will come at me with, "Actually, he plays Dr. Nicodemus West!" But, let's be real: In the context of these movies, he is just some doctor. His presence in "Multiverse of Madness" is even more diminished than the first one, and yet despite only appearing in one scene, he's one of a select few actors that make it into the movie's animated credits sequence.

The coveted 'with' billing

Michael Stuhlbarg appears in the third scene of "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" at the wedding of Rachel McAdams' Christine. He talks to the titular doctor about how he was also snapped off the face of the Earth by Thanos and how his two cats (and brother) died during those five years. Oh, and he has this weird, terrible blond wig. That is it. This is the extent of Michael Stuhlbarg's screen time in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." If he is on screen for more than two minutes, I would be surprised. You don't even see him in the next scene at the wedding reception. For someone with so little to do in the movie, it's pretty surprising that he receives the "with" billing in the film's credit sequence.

I have long been fascinated with billing for actors in the credits of a movie. For a lot of people, they do not even pay one iota of attention to the names that pop up on screen. Me? I like seeing the order the names show up in the credits, who gets single card billing and who gets grouped with other names, does the order of names differ from the order on the poster, and, most importantly, if anyone gets the "with," "and," "introducing," or any other special credit designation. 

In "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," the credit listing is not all that crazy. Benedict Cumberbatch is obviously first billed, being the lead and titular character of the film. Elizabeth Olsen follows next, which is another totally understandable placement. Then we get Benedict Wong, who is followed by Xochitl Gomez. In terms of prominence, Gomez really should be ahead of Wong for the story, but Wong is the bigger name and plays a legacy Marvel character, giving him the edge. 

We then get a couple of split cards for smaller characters. The "and" credit is reserved for Rachel McAdams. Right before that, though, we get the "with," and that belongs to Michael Stuhlbarg, which is a rather remarkable billing considering his fleeting impact on the film. And not only does he get a cool animated credit, he gets sixth billing on the poster as well.

The introduction of an umlaut

For those who may not know, the order of the credits is not arbitrary in the slightest; billing placement is all done in contract negotiations with the actors, and it can be a point of pride to earn one of those billing monikers. Usually the billing ends up being somewhat justifiable by the size of the role, but in the case of Stuhlbarg and "Multiverse of Madness," there's an obvious disconnect. In the first "Doctor Strange," he is fifth billed in the cast, without any additional designations. The "with" in that film is reserved for Mads Mikkelsen, and the "and" goes to Tilda Swinton, both of which make sense.

When Stuhlbarg and his agent (Hildy Gottleib from ICM) initially signed on to the MCU, they may have signed a multi-picture deal with the assumption that his role would expand in the following "Doctor Strange" film. His "Multiverse of Madness" role ended up being tiny (perhaps due to the extensive reshoots to rework the story — he may have filmed more scenes that didn't make it into the final cut), but that wouldn't void any contract stipulation about his billing order. 

Another curious detail emerged upon seeing his unusually high billing in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." For years, we have seen the name Michael Stuhlbarg in the credits of films and television shows. You can see that name in the credits of the HBO Max series "The Staircase" right now. However, his name in "Multiverse of Madness" appears slightly differently. Instead of seeing "Michael Stuhlbarg" as we are accustomed to, we see "Michael Stühlbarg." For those not with the keenest eyesight, an umlaut has appeared atop the u in his last name.

He has never been credited like this before in his decades long career. Like I said, he is on a television show currently airing right now, at the same time "Multiverse of Madness" is in theaters, but he is umlaut-less there. I do not know why this change occurred, if it was a change at all. It could just be a misspelling. That seems unlikely due to Marvel being such a well-oiled machine at this point that just adding an umlaut to a person's name when it doesn't belong would be out of a character. However, it would not be the first time a Marvel superhero film got someone's name wrong in the credits, as "The New Mutants" accidentally spelled co-creator Bob McLeod's name "Bob Macleod," only correcting it after the theatrical release.

If this instance was intentional and not a misspelling, one would assume he would carry that over to other projects, but that has not happened. So, why the little flourish here? Is he signaling that this is a Michael Stuhlbarg from another universe performing this part? Was it a test drive to see how it looked on a big screen before making it a permanent change in the future? Whatever the answer may be, I am interested to know. And if it does end up being just a simple misspelling on the part of the folks who made the credits, how ironic that he gets such prominent billing ... but with the wrong spelling.

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is in theaters now.