Cumberbatch works his magic
Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch talks about how an experience in his youth helped him get into character
A large part of Benedict Cumberbatch's decision to play the title role in Doctor Strange was his personal experience with spirituality and mysticism.
As a 19-year-old, he went to Darjeeling, India, to teach English in a Tibetan monastery.
"For a white boy from an English public school, it was a mind-blowing experience to teach Tibetan monks English, and I learnt a lot more from them than I could possibly give them as a teacher," he said.
"I was fortunate to have my doors of understanding and perception opened a crack. I think my whole life journey is just going to try to keep forcing that door open."
The 40-year-old, whose fame skyrocketed after he starred in BBC's Sherlock and after his Oscar-nominated performance in 2014's The Imitation Game, has opened that door wide open with his newest - and biggest - role yet as the Sorcerer Supreme.
Doctor Strange is the 14th film from Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unlike the earlier Marvel movies such as The Avengers, Captain America and Iron Man, this movie is about a superhero with mind power, not muscle power.
Dr Stephen Strange made his first appearance in Marvel comics in 1963.
A brilliant neurosurgeon, he started out as "a very arrogant alpha male" who injures his hands in an accident and discovers parallel universes and hidden dimensions of mysticism and magic as he tries to heal himself.
In the movie, which opens here tomorrow, Tilda Swinton plays the Ancient One, a mystic who mentors Strange to become the Master of the Mystic Arts.
Mads Mikkelsen plays the villain Kaecilius, Chiwetel Ejiofor is an apprentice of the Ancient One who becomes Strange's good friend, and Rachel McAdams is a surgeon from his past.
Strange comes to realise that he has a mission beyond himself to battle dark forces bent on destroying humanity.
Despite his standing as an A-list actor, Cumberbatch has always had that typical British reserve and dry wit, and he is no different at our meeting at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills.
That he is considered a sex symbol by his fans makes him uncomfortable.
Hundreds of Nepalese fans thronged the shoot in Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu, shouting his name, so he had to wave at them from a building's window to acknowledge them.
Doctor Strange is very different from any character he has played before.
"There's this fantastic arc this character goes on. From someone who's seemingly in control of the world, it's a story about him discovering that he doesn't know anything.
"He's just at the beginning of understanding what our reality is really about and what's beyond our reality.
"It was an absolute joy from start to finish."
Dealing with the special effects in the film required him to learn special skills. The blue and green screen rooms took some getting used to.
"It's disorientating. But you know you are in the hands of the best special effects artists in the world, so it's not the dull sort of technical exercise that people might imagine. You are actually part of that creation."
Strange's hand gestures required a lot of thought.
"When I perform a movement, I know the energy of my hand at the end of that movement has to result in something," Cumberbatch said.
"You realise you are in many ways still the puppeteer rather than the puppet, and what you do affects what they then do around you.
"So it's a very creative collaborative process and it's not running around in spandex with reflectors on it and just losing your sense of what your craft is as an actor."
In the movie, Strange has an amazing knowledge of songs, something Cumberbatch does not share with his character.
"I am no human Shazam," he said, referring to the music app that identifies songs.
"I don't share that superpower with my character.
"But I love my music, and we share the same spectrum - from Beethoven to any kind of Brit pop, from Beck to Bach and from Radiohead to Rachmaninoff.
"But I do also love the idea of returning in a more tactile sense to vinyl, how it first began.
"So I am getting into my vinyl at the moment, and it's not just a digital download any more for me."
Benedict Cumberbatch (L) and his wife Sophie Hunter at the premiere of Doctor Strange at Westminster Abbey in central London on Oct 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
Playing one of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe puts him in a happy place, but being a new father tops the happiness chart.
Cumberbatch and wife, English theatre director and playwright Sophie Hunter, welcomed their son Christopher Carlton in June last year, a few months after their Valentine's Day wedding. They are expecting their second child.
Never one to talk about his private life, all he would say about fatherhood was "people outside of myself are more of a concern and are more important to me now, and that is a blessing as much as it is a responsibility".
He said meditation is good way for him to centre himself, especially as a reaction to the fame he never sought.
"Mindfulness is something that is great for anyone in any walk of life, but especially with the oddness of fame, yes. But nothing is more helpful than having people you know, who really know who you are, that are present in your life."
By the numbers
Amount fetched at an auction for Doctor Strange's first comic book, Marvel Strange Tales #110 (1963)
Production budget for Doctor Strange
The year in which plans to develop a Doctor Strange feature film first began
Number of actors considered by Marvel Studios to take on the titular role
Number of days it took to complete principal photography of Doctor Strange