Doctor Strange: Interview with Director Scott Derrickson

Director Scott Derrickson, best known for “Sinister” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” brings his vision for the supernatural and paranormal to immerse audiences in the worlds of magic that define the newest Super HeroMarvel Cinematic Universe’s.

“Scott Derrickson has a great body of work and ihe’s always playing with the genre; he’s always subverting the genre,” producer Kevin Feige comments. “Sometimes he dives right into it, sometimes he twists it. That’s exactly what we love to do at Marvel. We had a few great meetings where we realized he was the guy to lead us through this journey of Doctor Strange.”

Mystery and Mysticism

For Derrickson, taking the reins of Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange” was the stuff dreams are made of. “Doctor Strange has always been my favorite comic book character,” says Derrickson, “not just in the Marvel universe but in all of comics. I connect to that comic primarily because of how seriously it takes the idea of mysticism and the notion that the universe is a profoundly mysterious place. I believe we are surrounded by more than what can be measured with instruments of science.”

Derrickson adds, “The comics were bold, trippy, hallucinogenic and fantastical—but at the same time they always treating these mystical things as though they are real. I’m a person who thinks that they are real. I think the universe is incredibly weird and mysterious, and so to be able to use this kind of big-budget entertainment to explore the world’s weirdness and bring other dimensions into the cinema for audiences to experience—well, what could be greater than that?”

Hard Left Turns and Crazy Risks

Fans of Marvel comics know that other dimensions play a huge role in the Marvel comic universe, not just for “Doctor Strange” but for quite a few of the Marvel characters. Derrickson says, “This movie is certainly opening up the world of other dimensions more than any other Marvel film. In the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Thor,’ ‘Captain America’ and ‘The Avengers’ were amazing, groundbreaking, trendsetting movies and they all did kind of belong to each other. I think that Marvel very wisely recognized that it needed to take some hard left turns and some crazy, wild, ambitious risks—and certainly ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ my favorite film of 2014, was that kind of crazy left turn.  ‘Doctor Strange’ is that as well.

“It’s an attempt to create not only a broader universe for Marvel characters and Doctor Strange himself to inhabit, but it really is an attempt to push the ball forward when it comes to what audiences can expect to enjoy from tent-pole movies. That’s an ambitious goal, but that’s what we’re doing,” the director concludes.

Derrickson wanted to take the science of alternate dimensions seriously and respect the idea that there is very credible, sound dimensional theory and use that as a way into the grounded Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s been created so far.

Magic is Magic

But that doesn’t mean that magic is all scientific in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange.”  As Derrickson explains, “I respect the sound scientific theory regarding the existence of extra dimensions, but that doesn’t mean that magic is scientific in this. In ‘Doctor Strange’ magic is magic. And what makes magic ‘magic’ is that it goes beyond mere scientific understanding. What makes mysticism ‘mysticism’ is that it transcends our categories and our ability to assimilate through knowledge, that which is scientific, factual and which is provable. I ascribe to the idea that mysticism is not the absence of reality, but the presence of more reality than we can comprehend.”

Executive producer Stephen Broussard adds, “A line in ‘Thor’ goes like, ‘Where you come from, you call it science. We call it magic.’ They’re one in the same. If we applied that sort of approach to the magic in Strange you would lose the mystery. You would lose the wonder of it. So it was a tough trick finding the right line to let the audience understand what they need to know yet leave a gap of understanding when it comes to the mystery of how it all works because magic by its very nature is mysterious and unknowable. In a lot of ways the journey of Stephen Strange in this movie was the journey of our own discovery of defining magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

Magic and Science

That dichotomy between science and magic that Dr. Stephen Strange must come to grips with makes him an interesting character to the director, who informs, “Stephen Strange, being a skeptic and a materialist and somebody who is very resistant to magic and mysticism, is forced to open up his mind to the possibility that maybe there is more to the world than what he thought. I admire character journeys where a person’s view of the world is expanded. I admire that in the real world when I see people having the courage to expand their minds and see that maybe the world is more than they thought it was—and that’s the journey of Stephen Strange.”

Origin Story

Derrickson offers, “We tell the origin story from the comics. Nearly every movie with a good character is an origin story, whether it’s a comic book movie or not. A good movie is usually about how a character becomes the person they are by the end of the movie, and I think that in this instance the origin story of Stephen Strange is uniquely interesting. However, it’s not a movie that’s entirely about Strange’s beginnings. The movie is about more than just that original origin story of a car crash and mangled hands and how he comes upon The Ancient One and is introduced to sorcery.

“There’s a lot more to it than just that, but I’m incredibly excited that his origin is part of the movie, because that is much of what I love about the Doctor Strange comics. And in the movie, if you don’t know Strange as the arrogant, wealthy, skeptical, materialistic man of hubris that he was, you really can’t appreciate the man he becomes or the gravity of responsibility he comes to accept in his life. That’s what makes him an awesome character,” the director concludes.