Benedict Wong quietly — very quietly — steals a chunk of “Doctor Strange.” He plays Wong, a stern, stone-faced, intimidating guardian of the library of mystic books housed in Kamar-Taj, the headquarters for the film’s legion of goodly sorcerers. Wong was in the original Marvel comics, launched in 1963 and concerning an American neurosurgeon (played in the film by Benedict Cumberbatch) who becomes a powerful magician. However, Wong was originally more of an Asian stereotype: basically a manservant whose most requested task involved making tea.
That had to be done away with for the splashy new movie. And so Wong — an English character actor whose CV includes “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Prometheus” and Kublai Khan on Netflix’s “Marco Polo” — wound up embodying a character with the same name but a very different function. For one thing, he makes for fine comic relief when paired with the more emotional Cumberbatch.
Wong, 45, talks to us about updating his character and mixing drama, blockbusters and comedy.
Are you a comics person?
No. I grew up on adventure books. I read some Marvel comics. I didn’t see many Asian superheroes. I remember last year having lunch with Chiwetel [Ejiofor] and he was telling me he was doing “Doctor Strange.” I checked it out on the Internet, and there was a character named Wong. I thought, ‘I should do this, just for the ancestors. I should be playing this part by birthright.’
Wong became a very different character from the original comics, for obvious reasons. In the movie he’s more like a drill sergeant.
I guess it was a very different time then. When I was reading the source material, that element popped up and sort of irked me. During preparation, I would have chats with [Marvel film producer] Kevin Feige and Scott [Derrickson, director], and they were all on the same page: this needs to be updated. Hopefully people find it refreshing that we’ve got this character who stands alongside Strange, this cheese-and-chalk couple that come and go. It’s definitely the better version of him.