In Marvel Comics, the magician known as Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo is as straight-up supervillain. He’s a jealous man who immediately becomes an adversary of Doctor Strange. Even if you only saw the wonderful 2007 animated film Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme, that was all too evident and obvious. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Mordo is being modernized and updated so he’s not an easy-to-read two-dimensional character, nor is he evil.
In fact, in the Doctor Strange movie, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s take on the character sees Karl Mordo instead serving as Strange’s greatest advocate and ally. They’re fighting the good fight against mystical threats together, Ejiofor being the veteran sorcerer of the pair who’s worked with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) for quite some time. While the film is primarily an origin story for titular protagonist Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), it’s also going to flesh out the supporting players in a way the ’60s comics didn’t.
That means Ejiofor’s character will have his background and motivations fleshed out, and will be setup for return appearances in sequels – something director Scott Derrickson is very excited and hopeful for. When we visited to production at London’s Longcross Film Studios back in February we had the chance to learn a lot more about Mordo, from conceptual art of his designs, to chis costume and preferred weapon of choice, and we event spent some time with Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor himself.
We’ve gotten to hear a little bit about Mordo and how he’s going to be more of an ally than he is in the comic books. Did that change the way you approached developing his backstory?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: The source material was very helpful in terms of trying to construct an overall understanding of him and his relationship to the place, Kamar-Taj, and his relationship to The Ancient One. Of course, in the source material, it’s a much more two-dimensional story in some ways. But one of the richest things of this is finding the other space and really trying to create something that’s very three-dimensional and a person who has a real history and a real background and, as in the comics, has a very good relationship with Kamar-Taj and the Ancient One and by extension Strange himself. So I definitely thought about the character in terms of comics and really understanding the ways in which the character changed and still keep the essence of who he is and add this more three-dimensional aspect to him.
Where do we meet him when the film begins?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: We meet him in Nepal. We meet him in Kamar-Taj when Strange gets there. And he is one of the first allies to Strange and he wants to bring him into this community, this very special, knit community, and see if Strange can fit in and create a home for him there–a place where he can learn the skills of Kamar-Taj and get in contact with these forms. I think that Mordo is the first to recognize the potential in Strange and becomes his primary advocate, initially. Their relationship is complicated. In some ways they’re quite similar but that sort of lends itself to tensions between them. But overall he is the tutor that really brings him in.
Is there a camaraderie between them?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: I think it starts with Strange as the pupil. Strange is somebody who is trying to find out what all of these things are and find the secrets of these place. And I think it develops into something deeper and richer. Yes there is a camaraderie but it’s also a kind of mutual respect as they gain an understanding of each other. And also with the problems that they face and the enemies that they face and their ability to work together to triumph or try to win means that they have a bond. I think the three of them develop this bond with The Ancient One, this mutual respect.
Has he known The Ancient One for a long time?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Yes, as long as Mordo has been here, the Ancient One has also – and also, from obviously well before. There’s an enormous amount of respect and dedication to the cause and to The Ancient One specifically, who is, for whatever version of hell Mordo was blown in from, which probably isn’t a million miles away, psychologically, from Strange’s own journey, in terms of reaching a point of finding it impossible to continue and having to find something else, something new, something radical to restructure oneself.
In the comics, it’s jealousy that really turns Mordo in a big way. Is that something you’re playing with?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: No, I don’t think of him as a kind of envious or jealous entity. He’s actually much purer than that. That’s what I mean by the comics create a slightly more two-dimensional aspect. But the place, Kamar-Taj, what it means and what it means to Mordo, is so strong and his defense of it is so deep and his loyalty is so committed–to the ideas of Kamar-Taj, to the reality of Kamar-Taj, and to The Ancient One, that he would react to any perceived threat but it wouldn’t come from a place of envy but from the dynamic of protection and loyalty.
Physicality of magic, motions of magic. How does that affect the way you play the character?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: There’s a lot of physicality in the film. It’s a really important part of the story. When we bring in Strange to this world, the first thing we introduce him to is the physicality of the world, how we create these other dimensions and the magic that we do. And also the physicality of how we fight and what our combat stances are. And so, very immediately he’s introduced into a physical world and that affects all of the characters in the space, regardless of what we’re doing. All of that is sort of very fundamental. The physicality is fundamental to these characters and what Strange has to learn here.
Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange follows the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange who, in his quest for healing after a horrific car accident, discovers powerful magic in a mysterious place known as Kamar-Taj—the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality.
Doctor Strange is directed by Scott Derrickson, produced by Louis D’Esposito, Stephen Broussard, Victoria Alonso, Charles Newirth, Stan Lee, and Kevin Feige, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, with Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.