Doctor Strange is definitely the most psychedelic entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s full of kaleidoscopic visuals as the famed surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes able to open new dimensions thanks to some martial arts training in Nepal. But that mind-bending wasn’t all just special effects, Benedict Wong told us that his first day on set altered his mind from travel exhaustion. We got to chat with Wong in London to celebrate next week’s Blu-ray release of Strange and he told us the process of how he became attached to the film without having an agent to represent him. He also talked about how important he felt it was to get this role due to so few East Asian representations in comic books. He also told which comic character was his favorite and how many movies he’s signed on for. Well, his agent will have to get back to us on that.
Our interview with Wong is below. And the film itself is up for one Academy Award tomorrow night, a much deserved nomination for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Something that Wong’s character, also named Wong, has yet to engage with. Might we see him in action soon? Wong can hope.
COLLIDER: I read that you don’t have an agent.
BENEDICT WONG: Yes, yeah. I am a member of Wong and Only Management.
So are you like Bill Murray, where you have a PO box somewhere where scripts get sent?
WONG: We have a Christmas party together, yes, he gives me scripts he doesn’t want. [laughs]
So how did Doctor Strange come to you?
WONG: Well, in true form, I was having lunch with Chiwetel (Ejiofor) and I just asked what he was up to next.
As one does.
WONG: Yeah. Yeah. And then I was just typing in on the internet and I was looking at Doctor Strange stories, and then on the side was Wong popping out on the side, this character. I just, my jaw dropped, and I couldn’t believe it, it’s just so rare to see an Asian character in these comic books. And I just thought, well, I’ve got to get this role now.
So I was doing Marco Polo at the time and I was filming in Budapest, and I was looking at the dates and I was thinking they weren’t going to work, all of a sudden I got the call saying send a tape, and I made a tape in Budapest. Next, I was in Slovakia, then they said do some tweaks, and then by the time I was in Malaysia I found I’d gotten it, and no sooner than that I finished, I flew straight from Marco Polo and then dumped my bags and straight into Strange.
Straight into shooting or rehearsal?
WONG: Yeah! [laughs] Straight into shooting.
What was that experience like, just to go full-force right in?
WONG: It was pretty terrifying because I was jet-lagged, and I always remember, there was one scene where Benedict (Cumberbatch) is messing around with the space-time continuum and making the apple, you know, deteriorate and so we’re going down there and chastising him and I’m suffering really terrible jet-lag and I didn’t really tell anybody, but they sent me home, day one. The day was so long.
He put you in a trance.
WONG: Well, plus he was messing with the space-time continuum, I created my own black hole, so it was an interesting day, but after that it kind of, you know, it was fine, yeah. I don’t recommend that travel into a work work. But I really wanted the part.
What did you know about Marvel Comics or Marvel itself prior to joining the MCU?
WONG: I used to collect Spider-Man comics growing up as a kid in Manchester, and I was forever always just collecting them and spending my days in this comic book store and, you know, I didn’t realize there was any East Asian characters obviously until I found it on the net that day, and it’s just great to be part of this universe, really, and to tell these stories. We’re in a time that we can really tell them, and they are, you know, the visual effects are stunning, just everything about it’s pretty amazing.
The now Oscar-nominated visual effects.
WONG: Yeah, yeah. Amazing.
Very well-deserved. So now that Wong has heard Beyonce, thanks to Doctor Strange and he obviously enjoyed it, what pop music do you think he needs to uncover next?
WONG: Well, we’re hoping for sort of a bigger extended dance move, really. I think the audiences have taken on board La La Land and I’m sure we’ll do a nice dance routine. I don’t know! [laughs] I don’t know. The question is whether or not he had heard of Beyonce before, or he actually loves Beyonce, so it was quite ambiguous, really. We’ll find out about that storyline further down.
I think you can tell the first time someone hears Beyonce [laughs]. That’s what I saw. What do you see for Wong going forward in the MCU?
WONG: What’s great is that we’ve left it into, we’re moving into this dark dimension now. I think Wong is certainly this intellectual mentor and guide to Strange as we’re sort of moving forward into fighting these darker forces, and I think we’ve sort of beautifully set up the film now to move into this other world.
Do you personally have anything on your Marvel bucket list, like you want to use a specific weapon or anything like that?
WONG: Well, I quite, you know, looking at some of the comics, you can sort of see Wong with this sort of bag that’s a huge arsenal of relics, I think, which would be great. So to see Wong spring out various different weapons would be really good, I think.
How many films do you have contracted for Wong?
WONG: I think I did sign maybe a couple.
You should know, you’re your own agent.
WONG: Yeah, yeah, that’s true, I’ll have a word with myself, hang on… he’s not answering. Hang on. He said maybe about, yeah, I think there’s a possibility for a couple more, depending on the success of the film. I’ve heard it’s done quite well. Yeah. It’d be fantastic, you know to keep being Wong.
What was your previous favorite MCU character who’s already existed in the Universe?
WONG: Well, Spider-Man’s a huge favorite. Who else? I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by Guardians of the Galaxy. I’d never really heard of that gang before, that comic series before. And I think when you go into those, watching those sort of films, you watch them with no expectation as well, so you’re always kind of pleasantly surprised, I think.
Well, thank you very much, and can give Bill Murray a script for me?
WONG: I will do, yeah.[laughs]