Tilda Swinton’s casting in Doctor Strange was an exciting step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The films aren’t exactly overflowing with feminine energy, so aside from another positive acting opportunity for a woman, it also gender bent a typically male-rendered role. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Swinton will be playing a woman.
While Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige tells EW that the terms “her” and “she” are used to describe The Ancient One in the film, he doesn’t believe the character’s gender matters all that much to the story. He said:
Look, she’s a chameleon in everything she does. She has this amazing [ability to] harness of this androgynous sense. So, we use the term ‘her’ and ‘she’ in the film but, other than that, it’s very androgynous. Because it doesn’t matter.
Swinton echoed this androgyny when she was asked about her character’s gender. Laughing, she said, “I wouldn’t know how to answer that one. I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the actress put a gender-bent, androgynous spin on a male character. She famously portrayed the archangel Gabriel in the Keanu Reeves-led Constantine. It worked on multiple levels as Classical-era depictions of angelic figures are often hard to discern in terms of gender, and the gender of her character in Snowpiercer was left up to interpretation. The Ancient One, however, is made up as a stereotype in his early incarnations, as Feige described, which makes Swinton’s ascension to the role that much more poignant for a modern superhero film.
In reflecting on casting Swinton as The Ancient One, Feige said:
“We’re never afraid to change. In the comic books, Jarvis is an elderly butler. In the movies, he’s an A.I. system which becomes Paul Bettany’s Vision. We are always looking for ways to change. I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don’t hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of the comics, and our movie, ‘the Ancient One’ is a title that many people have had. We hit very early on on, What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that’s an interesting idea. [Clicks fingers.] Tilda Swinton! Whoa! And it just hit.”
Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme, Mads Mikkelsen as an evil “sorcerer who breaks off into his own sect,” Rachel McAdams as “a fellow surgeon that has a history with Strange,” and Chiwetel Ejiofor as fellow sorcerer and future rival Baron Mordo. The film will bow in theaters on November 4th.