Looking at the major players in Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange movie we can immediately see how director Scott Derrickson is modernizing the ’60s origin story for 2016. The Ancient One – or at least, the current person in this position – is no longer a blatant racial stereotype and is now a woman. Baron Mordo isn’t a 2-dimensional villain fueled simply by jealously and instead is an ally of the protagonist. And Kaecilius, a character most comic readers won’t even recognize from the source material, is now a major antagonist and a man of ideas.
Also getting a much-needed update is Wong, the once loyal sidekick or “manservant” of Doctor Strange. In the MCU, he’s not the guy serving others tea. He’s a magic master himself and the keeper of the relics of Kamar-Taj.
We spoke with Benedict Wong on the set of Doctor Strange in February about playing a magic user in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how he got and plays the role.
Kevin Feige explained to us that this take on Wong is going to be very different from what we’ve seen in the comic books. With that in mind, how much of your character development has come from hearing about backstory, and how he’s been used there versus just from this script?
Benedict Wong: Well, I kind of think things like “manservant” and “sidekick,” we’re just gonna leave back in the past now. I’m very much into looking forward into our modern take and back in on the beginnings of this origin story, now. So, you know, let’s turn a whole new page.
Well, then who is this version of Wong? Since the one that we know is no longer in play, who is this character now? Where do we first meet him? What is his story?
Benedict Wong: Wong is in our world now, a master at Kamar-Taj training the fellow disciples and sorcerers, and [he’s a] protector of the Sanctum relics and these ancient ritual books, and it’s where we’ll see Wong and Doctor Strange come together and become, really, allies to fight against these extra-dimensional forces.
What’s his first impression of Strange, and how does that relationship build?
Benedict Wong: I mean, it’s not really kind of…At first he just becomes one of the, a lucky disciple…[waiting until production is done with the current take] I mean, obviously, [Strange] comes into this world very much as a rookie, and we discover and find out how Strange develops these amazing techniques that he has in the mystical arts, and that is something that Wong picks up on.
We heard, too, that the script has a lot of crazy mystical terminology and these kinds of things. Have you run into that at all yet, like having to do the big incantations and such?
Benedict Wong: Oh, any sort of form of spell castings or…?
Benedict Wong: No, not so much, really. I’m very much the kind of the keeper of the books, so far. Yesterday we shot a whole training session where everybody was doing all their katas and, yeah, so it was a lot of fun.
Your role in the film was only officially announced recently, I believe a week or two ago.
Benedict Wong: Yeah.
When did you first find out about this project, and what were your first impressions of reading your script and learning about the role?
Benedict Wong: When did I find out? I found out a couple of… a month before I was doing [the Netflix series] Marco Polo out in Malaysia, and, yeah, I just finished there in December and jumped straight on and hit the ground running, really, and it was great because I’ve known Benedict [Cumberbatch] before for a number of years and Chiwetel [Ejiofor], we’ve worked together and he’s a good pal of mine. But, sorry what was your other…?
First impressions and reading about the role.
Benedict Wong: My first impressions of it? No, yeah, I was really happy with it. This is gonna be a very sort of early introduction of Wong, and I think what will happen is what we’ll see on the next film of what actually happens with both of them.
Did you dive into the comic books, or did you just read the…?
Benedict Wong: Yeah. Well, ‘cause they couldn’t give me the script.
[Laughs] Oh really?
Benedict Wong: Well, at the time, you know. I mean, you’re just reading off of various different pages, but I immediately kind of looked and had a quick look at “The Oath.” So I was reading through that, and was just immersing myself in that, and was hoping I wasn’t on tea-making duties. [Laughs] You know, we can lose that.
Can you tell us a little bit about Wong’s personality? Is he serious? Is he funny?
Benedict Wong: I don’t know. Uh, is he serious? Is he funny? I mean, yeah, he does…Is he serious? He’s very serious about what he’s doing because it’s kind of, it’s almost like — it’s like a huge door that these extra-dimensional forces are now battering through and there is a fight that no one is really seeing. So I think there’s a real importance about, in terms of his training and the importance of that everybody is prepped, really. So there is a seriousness about him.
Is he maneuvering back and forth between the normal world and this Sanctum, or is he just in the Sanctum?
Benedict Wong: So far, yes, just so far we’re in the Sanctum.
What can you tell us about the sorcerers themselves? Like, for instance, are they all human or are they an advanced species kind of like the Asgardians in Thor?
Benedict Wong: The Asgardians in Thor? I don’t, I don’t know. I’ve gotta be honest with you. [Laughs] Are they human? Yeah, they seem quite human to me.
For you as an actor, where do you find the grounding in the fantastic? So, when you are talking about these other dimensions and you’re talking about these spells completely out of the real world things, how do you find a way to connect to that?
Benedict Wong: It’s a kind of a real joy to sort of play in this imaginary world, for me. If anything, you sort of connect what is — as an actor you always find what is personal to you, and, you know, I kind of submit that into what is the importance of that and convey in that.
So, it’s more about finding, like you said, the importance of the fight, the importance of the moment, and working from there?
Benedict Wong: Yeah.
If Wong isn’t a sidekick or a manservant, what does Wong become to Stephen in the story? What kind of relationship is it?
Benedict Wong: It feels like Wong at the time is of a higher ranking, and then obviously with Strange discovers that he has these powers…It’s really hard to sort of circumnavigate for me. Things are gonna happen in the film where, as I said before, that I feel is a sense of how these two — they’re quite an odd couple, really. They’re quite an oddball couple, and it’s how they become allies together. I think that’s what we’re sort of converging, and then we’ll just see how it evolves and how they explore it in the next one.
Can you talk about working with Scott Derrickson? He’s made the transition from, sort of, smaller indie movies to the big world here? What kind of director is he? Is he bringing that indie sensibility of working with the actors to this? What is it like working with him in general?
Benedict Wong: It’s great. I find it, it’s quite fast-paced and Scott’s very open for fluidness and ideas, and, yeah, I’ve enjoyed working with him so far.
Is there another character that Wong interacts with a lot that you’ve found interesting, that relationship with Wong and one of these other masters, or…?
Benedict Wong: Uh, well, we sort of have this thing, like Baron Mordo, who’s a fellow sorcerer, and I think most of my scenes are with Mordo and Strange.
Check out all of the Doctor Strange photos and art 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.