Perhaps the hottest issue surrounding the production of Doctor Strange has been the decision to cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. While few doubt her ability to create a fantastic character, some commentators have bristled at the idea of filling a role traditionally associated with an Asian man with a caucasian woman. The controversy has touched on a variety of issues in Hollywood, coming near the same time the #oscarssowhite conversation was occurring.
In her latest interview from set visits, Swinton touches on the artistic aims of herself and directory Scott Derrickson, without delving too much into the social questions.
I would say the whole approach is about a kind of fluidity. There are many graphic artists who have interpreted The Ancient One as a Tibetan Buddhist Lama, we’re kind of shifting that a bit. We’re trying not to be fixed, we’re trying not to be fixed to any one thing, any one gender, any one spiritual discipline, and any one race even; we’re just trying to wing it beyond that. So it’s a new gesture really, just another interpretation.
This direction for Swinton isn’t accidental. The movie in many visual ways is working to create a feel of fluidness or “plasticity.” The ambiguity of Swinton’s character echoes that approach.
It certainly centers everything, because we’re making shapes and these shapes are pretty rocking, they’re all pretty graphic. We’re filling a big universe, and so the look and the sort of plasticity of us is really important to us when we’re striking poses here. It’s very important, it’s really great. It’s such fun to work on.
Swinton also touched on the relationship between the Ancient One and Steven Strange. That relationship, for her, is based on familial connection and the need to find a successor.
And so what you’re seeing today is a part of the whole training section when he’s learning the moves and digging deep. So it’s all about that, it’s all about trying to push him to get there. What you’re seeing today or what we’re doing today is a section when he’s getting to touch and go whether he’s gonna makes the grave, but as we know, he does. And how it progresses is, again, the story, it’s really important to The Ancient One that Doctor Strange does cut it because The Ancient One needs a successor, or certainly needs –you could say– a son. So The Ancient One is really invested in Doctor Strange, it’s a very kind of primal relationship.
The language of “needing a son” is interesting because of the dynamic it might set up between Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo. All signs point to the franchise slowly building the tension between the two as Mordo goes from friend and trainer to nemesis. The idea that the Ancient One is a parental figure and the two men are brothers brings a sibling rivalry dynamic to the relationship that lends itself well to ultimate conflict. Thus far the best Marvel film villain is, in fact, the brother of a hero. That dynamic should provide a rich source of antagonism.
The tone of Doctor Strange will also be an important thing to balance for the cast and crew. While everyone wants to see some magic there is always a need to keep things somewhat grounded in reality. For example, what does it look like to have a 21st-century magician? The trailer with the “wifi password” joke was a hint, and Swinton touches on that idea again.
I’ve been really happy to be in that conversation with Scott [Derrickson, the director] for a few months now. We started chewing this cud a while ago. He is, as you probably know, an extremely erudite thinker in terms of religious philosophy and just thinking about a modern take on something really, really ancient, about how to imagine living beyond any physical bounds, which we’re on the verge of now. I mean, I was just talking to Benedict [Cumberbatch] who’s got a little baby and knows his father lives in his phone. We as humans are evolving really fast, so everyday we’re hit with that. This film kind of takes that everyday boring reality and really bursts it wide. So we talked a lot about that. In many ways there’s something very practical about this world, the Kamar-Taj. It’s –You know, we all look like samurai warriors, but actually there are iPads everywhere and there’s a feeling that it’s a practical possibility for this modern world that the Doctor Strange universe is functioning, and that we know it and it’s around the corner for all of us. So we talked about that, we talked about making it kind of muscular and practical. Yeah it’s a fantasy but what’s the difference between fantasy and reality really?
If anyone wants to complain about Swinton’s approach to acting they certainly cannot complain that she isn’t thinking through it. Throughout the interview, she shows an obvious interest in how the world of Doctor Strange is being built and what it means in the larger narrative of the story. From the source material comics to the philosophical and religious trappings, Swinton has some firm ideas about what they are doing and why. You can read more over at Slash Film.
Are you excited about this version of the Ancient One? Do you like your magicians portrayed as modern iPad users, or do you wish the direction was a little more fantastic? Share your thoughts below.
Doctor Strange hits North American cinemas on November 4.
Source: Slash Film