SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” in theaters now.
When Benedict Wong was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016’s “Doctor Strange” as Wong, the titular superhero’s sidekick and fellow sorcerer, the British actor quickly became a favorite fan. Since, Wong has appeared in “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” the animated series “What If…?” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” But with sequel “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Wong steps into the spotlight as more than just Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) right-hand man, but the Sorcerer Supreme.
For Wong, who grew up as a comic book fan, the evolution of his role is a dream come true. Below, Wong tells Variety all about playing the Sorcerer Supreme, how he got his acting start and why he wants to make an action film in the style of John Woo.
How has this journey as Wong been for you, from “Doctor Strange” to this new film?
It’s been a wonderful 30-year overnight career. It’s been six years since “Doctor Strange” started, and to start from the very beginning to play this character Wong has been amazing for me. I’ve been collecting these comics since I was a kid, and the Spider-Man comics, all three of them. To find myself in the MCU has really been bizarre. I don’t know whether something has been manifested along the way, so I’m grateful for it.
There’s a lot of action that you get into this time around, climbing up the side of mountains and lots of physical stuff. How did you prepare?
I was in Australia at the time because it was during the pandemic, and I was filming “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” I did something else and then when we were sent back to Sydney, I started training with Functional Patterns with Shannon Hegarty, an ex-rugby player. We started working out daily, and that was my main source of training.
Let’s talk about Wong’s arc. Did you have conversations with Kevin Feige about how he would grow within the MCU to become more than just a sidekick to Doctor Strange?
When I first embarked on the role, we looked at the old source material and it needed an update. I remember my opening gambit when I was in the trailer and waiting to meet with Kevin and producer Stephen Broussard, and was vehemently not into doing what was in the old source material. And thankfully, neither were they.
So, we created this no-nonsense, midfield general librarian with hints of Roy Keane [former Manchester United player] in there.
This character has progressed now, and I found out when [director] Sam Raimi was on a conference call and talking me through the story. Here was this legend. He said, “Of course, you’re going to be the Sorcerer Supreme,” and as this geek, it’s so great what they’ve done with the character and how he stands toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange.
You grew up with the comic books, and now you’re a part of this world with this incredible storyline. What has been the most satisfying storyline to be a part of?
Growing up, I went to Odyssey, the comic book story in Manchester that is no longer there. I’d spend my days sifting through comics, and now we’re here. It’s just fantastic to go from that and join the MCU. It’s been life-changing for me to be a part of this dream. To see the VFX and how this multiverse world can be realized and work with Sam Rami, who is this legend. It’s been great.
Take me back to young Benedict growing up, who were your heroes and when did you know you wanted to become an actor?
I grew up in the takeaway business. Working in the family business with no weekends and being in the shop front, it felt hemmed in, so you venture out more. But, when you grow up in Salford, the arts weren’t readily available.
When I was in sixth form college, I think they ran out of boys for “Grease,” so I said, “Yeah, I’ll join in.” I enjoyed this role as Vince Fontaine. I did bits where I took my parents’ Reader’s Digest ’50s music and played that with my brothers, who had a microphone. I was subconsciously doing production. I just enjoyed it and somehow I dared to do it.
I also had an audition to an interview with Salford Performing Arts, and I did a monologue. They let me in, and then my journey began. Through being in Manchester, I’d usher at a Fringe [Festival] place, and there would be touring shows. I’d collect the tickets and sweep the floor, but I’d get to watch a free show. That was my foundation for absorbing things that I would never normally watch.
The house manager would also sneak me in so I could watch free shows. It was the kindness of Mancunians that helped build the building blocks for me to begin. I didn’t go to drama school, and decided not to be hard on myself and it was trial and error. I climbed every rung of the ladder for experience, and anything that I didn’t want to do anymore, I closed the door to. Anything I hadn’t done, I would try and tick that on the box and build my experience.
Wait, you played Vince Fontaine, does this mean you have pipes?
I think I can croon a bit.
You know, the fans really love Wong and they’d love to see Wong’s backstory. Would you like a spinoff?
I’ve been asked this a million times, I could have just gotten them to sign the petition.
I’m very flattered, and there are certain answers to certain questions that we need to be answered. We didn’t see him for five years when he went through the portal, so we can fill some storylines there. Let’s wait and see what Marvel does. I always say, ‘Have Portal, will travel.’
What was it like working with Sam Raimi?
He is one of the masters and such a wonderful man. In his nature, there’s so much playfulness with Sam and he allows you to collaborate. I love springing surprises on him, and if you have an inkling to try something, I try it. You just want to jump through hoops of fire for him. I feel Sam Rami is back with this, and we are lucky to have him.
Is there a genre outside of the MCU that you would like to try next?
Maybe a little bit more of an action movie in the kind of Hong Kong genre. I’d like to do something in the John Woo style of film.