One of the most important characters in the Doctor Strange comics is the Ancient One, a mystic who lives in Tibet and acts as a mentor to Strange’s surgeon-turned-superhero. Traditionally, the Ancient One has been depicted as an Asian man. But in Marvel’s new superhero movie Doctor Strange (out Nov. 4), the character is played by non-Asian actress Tilda Swinton. What gives?
“We’re never afraid to change,” says Doctor Strange producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “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! Whoah! And it just hit.”
However, there seems to be some doubt as to whether Swinton is playing a woman in the film. “Look, she’s a chameleon in everything she does,” says Feige of Swinton, whose credits include Snowpiercer, Trainwreck, and 1992’s Orlando, in which her character transformed from male to female. “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.”
Indeed, when EW asks Swinton whether she is playing a man or a woman in Doctor Strange the actress responds, with a cackle, that “I wouldn’t know how to answer that one. I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
To continue reading more on Doctor Strange, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s First Look issue, on newsstands Tuesday, or buy it here.