Benedict Cumberbatch doubles up as a villainous variant of Stephen Strange in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but the Marvel star nearly entered the MCU as another villain: Malekiththe Accursed. The role of the Dark Elves leader in 2013's Thor sequel The Dark World ultimately went to Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston after Cumberbatch, fresh off his role as the villain Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, decided to "hold out for something a bit more juicy." Marvel Studios would cast the famed Sherlock actor as the surgeon turned sorcerer in 2016's Doctor Strange, the character's first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"[The Doctor Strange role] happened as an idea muted after, funnily enough, another little dance I did for another character in the MCU, a very brief character," Cumberbatch told BBC Radio 1 of Thor: The Dark World's Malekith. "I was bold enough to say, 'I'm really flattered to be invited to the party, but I'd rather hold out for something a bit more juicy.'"
A Marvel role "just went away" until something juicier came along: an arrogant surgeon who wields magic as a Master of the Mystic Arts after a fateful car accident robs him of the use of his hands.
"I really wasn't part of the conversation until it came back to me through [representatives] that they were interested. I sort of read the comics and went, 'Yikes!'" Cumberbatch said. "Because he's quite old school, a bit of a misogynist, very bound in the '70s. I thought, 'It's a bit cornball. I'm not sure this is a great MCU [role]. I don't get it.' They went, 'No, it would be today. It would be very much a man of today. Yes, with some of those qualities, but like a man of today would have those qualities where he thinks he's the business,' because he has to have that arrogance."
In the definitive history book The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said Cumberbatch was a "top choice" for a part in the MCU. After Joaquin Phoenix exited negotiations to lead Doctor Strange in 2014, a reported short list included Cumberbatch, future Venom actor Tom Hardy, and future Morbius actor Jared Leto.
"Benedict had always been the top choice because of all the things he had been doing. We were excited to meet with him," Feige recalled in The Story of Marvel Studios. "We thought, 'He would probably be a pretty good Strange, but let's not mention that right away. Let's just meet him, see what he wants to do.' He was talking about Star Trek. Then, I said, 'Well, we've got a lot of characters...' and he goes, 'Doctor Strange?'"
Cumberbatch would return for a cameo in 2017's Thor: Ragnarok, reprising the role in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, 2019's Avengers: Endgame, the animated What If...?, and last year's mega-blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, with Michael Stühlbarg, and Rachel McAdams, Marvel's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing only in theaters.