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How Tibetan monks inspired Benedict Cumberbatch to become Doctor Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch is happy to admit that he wasn’t dying to portray the lead role of a surgeon-turned-sorcerer in Marvel’s new superhero film Doctor Strange (out Nov. 4). “No, it’s not something that I had on my bucket list, as they would say,” explains the British actor. “I have to play Stephen Strange!!!”
So how come Cumberbatch is doing just that in a soundstage around 25 miles west of London on an early December afternoon? The answer lies in Cumberbatch’s teenage years — specifically when the 19-year-old Brit spent time teaching English to Tibetan monks in the state of West Bengal in eastern India. “It was a very unfair exchange,” says the Sherlock star. “Basically, they taught me reams, fathoms, more than I could possibly begin [to teach them]. I became interested the meeting point between Western logic and Eastern mysticism.”
Fast-forward almost two decades and, as Cumberbatch began to investigate the character of Strange, he realized that this tale of an injured physician who comes to understand and accept the reality of supernatural forces and alternative dimensions dovetailed nicely with his own interests.
“I knew it was on their slate, I knew it was coming up, so I got invested in it and I was interested,” he says. “What happens here in this origin story is, Strange realizes the power he has within his body is not about his body. It’s something that’s beyond the causal-temporal-linear-reality that he knows so well as a [surgeon]. We come from this very causal world into this mystical, magical world of other realms and sorcery.”