The Marvel Cinematic Universe has so far largely stuck to science fiction tropes, from extraordinary exoskeletons to out-of-control artificial intelligence, but next year will see themes of magic and mysticism weave their way into the MCU with the release of Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch will play the lead role, a doctor who trades surgery for sorcery after his hands are injured in a car accident, and the movie will be helmed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister), who is currently best known for writing and directing horror movies.
Cumberbatch bears a solid resemblance to the character he'll be playing, but one surprising casting reveal for Doctor Strange is Tilda Swinton, who recently confirmed that she will be playing the Ancient One, a powerful sorcerer and Doctor Strange's mentor. In the comics, the Ancient One is Tibetan, a man, and several centuries old, while Swinton is none of these things. However, it seems that descriptions of the Ancient One as being 'gender-swapped' may have been premature.
An interview with Swinton published by The Guardian concludes with a very interesting tidbit from the actor. Swinton apparently said that the Ancient One's gender in the MCU has yet to be determined.
"She will soon start shooting a Marvel blockbuster, Doctor Strange, but there is a Swinton-esque twist – she doesn't yet know if she will play the part as a man or a woman."
Without an exact quote we shouldn't write off the possibility that this is something that Swinton said flippantly, or was taken out of context. Perhaps the part was originally written as male, and Swinton simply isn't assuming that her involvement will change that. However, the idea of the Ancient One being either male or gender-neutral in the MCU does make sense, given Swinton's notably androgynous features and the fact that she's played male characters in the past. A male version of the Ancient One played by a woman could actually be more interesting than a straight-forward gender swap.
UPDATE: Swinton's statement that her character's gender has not yet been decided came from an interview with The Huffington Post. Here is a more detailed explanation:
"We haven’t really started working on it yet, but for sure there’s something interesting to me about being given this opportunity to play a character called the Ancient One, who, as we know in the comic books, is male. I have yet to decide exactly where I’m going to place the gender of this character. It’s not that I know and I’m not telling you -- I have yet to decide that. Presumably by the end of the year I will have worked it out...
"Let’s see what the tenor and what the feeling is. If it’s kind of naturalistic, then who knows. If we decide we’re dealing with a male Ancient One, then we’re going to have to deal with a naturalistic disguise. If we’re not and we decide the Ancient One is not gender specific, then we can play a different game."
Swinton recently played a role that was originally written for a male actor in Snowpiercer, a dystopian sci-fi movie from director Bong Joon-ho, which also starred Chris Evans a.k.a Captain America as the protagonist. Swinton's character, Mason, is the despotic leader of a high-speed train carrying the last remnants of humanity through a second ice age, and was described in the original script as "a mild-mannered man in a suit." Speaking in an interview with Variety, Bong said, "I didn't think twice before changing Mason into a female character — or, actually, a character that transcends gender."
Snowpiercer was loosely based on a little-known French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige, whereas Doctor Strange's source material has a considerably larger readership. For this reason Swinton's casting has been somewhat controversial, not only because of her gender but also because some fans feel that the role should have gone to an Asian actor. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has said that the flexibility in casting is due to the fact that 'Ancient One' is "more of a mantle than a specific person" in the movie.
Ultimately it will be difficult to judge Swinton's version of the Ancient One until we actually see him/her on screen, and Doctor Strange won't even begin filming until later this year, but let us know in the comments if you'd be open to the idea of Swinton playing the character as a man.
Ant-Man is in theaters now. Captain America: Civil War releases on May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man reboot – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Black Panther – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – November 2, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019.