Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson on Joaquin Phoenix, Illuminati, and future of the franchise

Tom Butler
Senior Editor

‘Doctor Strange’ hits cinemas this week with our very own Benedict Cumberbatch playing Marvel’s mystical superhero, but had fates conspired against us (or in another dimension) we could have been seeing a very different movie, one with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role.

Cumberbatch very nearly missed out on being Strange because of his commitments to playing Hamlet at the Barbican in 2015, and so Marvel began shopping round for other actors to play the role. Jared Leto, Ewan McGregor, and Ryan Gosling were all linked, and talks with Joaquin Phoenix publicly collapsed in late 2014.

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Director Scott Derrickson says he only ever had Cumberbatch in mind for Dr Stephen Strange though, revealing to Yahoo Movies UK during our Facebook Live interview that no other actor ever tried on Strange’s famous red Cloak of Levitation.

“Benedict [Cumberbatch], he’s just the guy,” Derrickson explains. “He has a quality that is very unique and I felt necessary for this movie and Kevin [Feige, Marvel Studios head], to his credit, moved the release date from summer to fall, so that we could get Benedict.”

Here’s what else Scott told us in our exclusive interview above…

Doctor Strange – Credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

On making the weirdest Marvel movie yet – 01:00

“I remember telling Kevin Feige that I thought there should be a good five or six set pieces in the movie and that every one of those set pieces should be the weirdest set piece in any other movie. So we tried to make every action scene unique and unusual, and mind-trippy.”

On finding the right man for Stephen Strange – 02:33

“Benedict was the one guy we wanted from the very beginning. I flew to London from LA and met with him and he wanted to do the role but he was committed to doing Hamlet and we were a summer release movie, so it didn’t work. I went back to New York and back to LA and met with lots of actors and I just ended up going back to Kevin Feige the head of Marvel Studios and saying, it’s got to be Benedict, he’s just the guy. He has a quality that is very unique and I felt necessary for this movie and Kevin, to his credit, moved the release date from summer to fall, so that we could get Benedict.”

How close did Joaquin Phoenix get to the role? – 03:10

“No [we didn’t do costume tests]. There was nobody that really got that close.”

Doctor Strange – Credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Where Doctor Strange fits in the MCU timeline – 03:30

“The ‘Winter Soldier’ reference [to Stephen Strange] was just recognising his incredible aptitude. He’s got a photographic memory, which is an incredibly rare thing, but he’s not a sorcerer at that point, so the movie you’re watching [‘Doctor Strange’] leads up, and by the time you’ve gone through his journey and you’re into the second half of the movie, it’s present day.”

Is Doctor Strange Team Cap or Team Iron Man? – 04:05

“I think Doctor Strange will always be on his own team, you know? It’s part of what I liked about him in the comics. He would have interactions and episodes and situations where he would deal with the Avengers and different characters, but part of what makes Doctor Strange Doctor Strange is that he stands in a very lonely position. He is the gatekeeper between our world and other dimensions, so he doesn’t really stand on anyone’s side other than the side of protecting our world from the malevolent threats that only he can protect the world from.”

Doctor Strange – Credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

On the Illuminati – 04:50

“I think I’d like to see that. I think that that part of him and his future development becomes very interesting in the comics, but that all falls under the guidelines of Kevin Feige, he’s the Sorceror Supreme when it comes to the chess board of how these movies fit together.”

On the possibility of returning for ‘Doctor Strange 2’ – 09:56

“I’d be very interested in making [Doctor Strange 2] but we gotta see how this movie does first, you know? Can’t put the cart before the horse. I hope it does well and I hope there’s going to be a ‘Doctor Strange 2’, I certainly want to see that.”

‘Doctor Strange’ is in cinemas now.