With the North American premiere of Doctor Strange just over 24 hours away, actor Benedict Wong sat down with Vulture to discuss his role as Wong, Doctor Strange’s trusty sidekick. As Wong doesn’t have an agent and hasn’t quite been a household name as an actor, his role came by in happenstance.
Vulture: How did you come to this role?
Wong: I’m a pal of Chiwetel’s, so we had lunch and I asked him what he was up to: “I’m doing Doctor Strange.” So I said “Okay,” and I started doing a little nosing into it, a little investigating into the world of Doctor Strange, and I couldn’t believe it: I saw this character, Wong. I had thought there were no Asian superheroes, and I was always crestfallen watching the Marvel films and collecting Spider-Man comic books and not seeing any characters that looked like me. So I thought, “Okay, what am I going to do?” I don’t have an agent, so …
Vulture: Well, I guess you don’t have to give that 10 percent to anybody, at least.
Wong: No, not at all. I laugh about it with my friends … I call it “Wong and Only Management.” So yeah, I was looking at dates of the movie, thinking, “I’ve got to get this part.” Simply by birthright! I joked to Chiwetel, I should start a petition: “Wong for Wong.”
Vulture: Who could argue?
Wong: I was filming Marco Polo at the time, and they came to us when I was in Budapest and I went on tape. By the time I was in Slovakia, I did a few more tweaks and sent it off, and then I went to Malaysia and they said, “Okay, you’ve got the gig, congratulations.” And then I texted Chiwetel, “I’m gonna need some help. I might need your lawyer.” He texted back, “Wong for Wong?” And I wrote back, “Wong IS Wong.”
In the Marvel Comicsverse, Wong primarily serves as Stephen Strange’s sidekick. However, when Benedict Wong and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige first met about the role, they mutually agreed to expand past the sidekick role and transform the character into someone more mainstream.
Vulture: This is a different, more assertive Wong than was in the comics.
Wong: Obviously, in the 1960s there were certain aspects of it that we can now safely leave in the ’60s, this idea of a manservant-sidekick. That’s not something that appeals to me. I sort of found that out myself, and I thought, “How can we change this?” When I came onboard, I met [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige in the trailer and said, “I’m not really into that idea of the character,” and he said, “Absolutely, we’re not doing that.” I felt completely buoyed. Now Wong has become this kind of drill sergeant, who’s not your average librarian. Overdue books are fined with broken fingers! This is someone who’s serious and understands the severity that lies ahead. It’s a Wong for our times, or a Wong corrected. I feel really proud to be a part of this change. Maybe there’s a kid who’ll watch and say, “Oh wow, there’s a superhero representing me.” That’s what we want from diversity.
His appearance in Doctor Strange certainly won’t be the last we see of Wong after recently being confirmed to be appearing in Avengers: Infinity War. Take that and add in the rampant speculation of Stephen Strange becoming one of the new faces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-Infinity Wars, and I think it’s safe to say we’re not done with Wong just quite yet.
Vulture: If anything, it feels like Wong will be more prominent in the sequel. He’s practically a partner to Strange by the end of it.
Wong: The chalk and cheese, the odd couple. There’s a beautiful yin and yang to these two. Strange has these powers and still a bit of arrogance, and then you’ve got no-nonsense Wong batting him down occasionally. They both need each other as we combat these dark forces in this multiverse. It’s fantastic to have this new broad canvas in these movies that we can enter into. As an origin story, I think this is a cracking one.
Vulture: You don’t have an agent, but I know that Marvel likes to sign its actors for multiple movies. How many have you been told they want you to do?
Wong: There’s a few, now. The Russo brothers want me involved in Infinity War. They need some Wong!