Sometimes creators and fans can think together. Michael Waldron, screenwriter (Loki, Rick, and Morty() shares in our spoiler-laden interview about the making and editing of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessBefore MCU fans started to speculate online about Tom Cruise appearing in the film as an alternate version of Iron Man (or MCU), Waldron had the exact same idea. The writer also discussed some of the film’s more controversial moments, and much more. (Again: this interview is full of spoilers; click away if you haven’t yet seen Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.)
My favorite part of this movie was when you introduce the alternate-Earth heroes of the Illuminati — and then promptly have Wanda slaughter them, which freaked out some fans. I wonder where that idea came from.
Yeah, that’s a blast. That’s probably my favorite sequence in the movie. That idea was not in my outline. I was writing the first draft when I realized that the movie needed to get drunk. It felt like we’re at the point where I need to find the madness in the multiverse here. I had no idea: Would I be able to use these characters? What would it take to make this possible? But Sam knew. [Raimi]It would be incredible if it was done this way. It was so simple that I had to write it down.
I was looking. AliensAs I was writing, it was a lot. This movie is both a thriller, and a comedy. [feature-length] chase. I just love how Aliens goes to great lengths to tell you how badass the space Marines are — and then they just get slaughtered. Then you are really scared of the Xenomorphs for the rest of that movie, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish with Wanda. You will see the Illuminati sequence at the end. I’m sure you were terrified of the Scarlet Witch. It’s been awesome being in the theater hearing the cheers, then the gasps and the groans. [Laughs] I mean, you know, people were feeling something at the movies. That’s good!
What was your thinking behind having Wanda Maximoff become a full-in villain in this movie, especially since it’s a bit of a change in course from WandaVision?
Well, first off, it’s true to who the comics’ version of the character is and what she does in the comics. It was always the direction Wanda was heading in the MCU, even though I took over the movie. This was the question. When It could happen. Yes, there was an original version of the movie where Wanda was part-of the ensemble. She could then have become an antagonist in another movie. But I feel like in that case, you would have had a watered-down version of Wanda going bad because it’s still Dr. Strange’s movie. She wouldn’t be the protagonist, and she wouldn’t really be the antagonist. You’d have to have a [different]The film’s antagonist for most of its running time.
You know, she’s doing bad stuff throughout WandaVision. She is brave enough to let go. But it’s also revealed to her that the family she’s built is not real. At the end of the series, she is granted the Darkhold. She discovers there are real versions of her children. And if you’ve got the Book of the Damned whispering in your ear long enough that your kids are out there and you could go get ’em, maybe that can push you to do some terrible things.
How did you determine who was going to be part of the Illuminati?
The final lineup in that group is beyond my wildest dreams of who we could get — and then dispatch. [Laughs] I never dreamed we’d be able to do that. The lineup is very close to the original draft of my first draft. It was: “Okay, I know it can’t actually be this.”It was close to this. It was just a moving target of who’s available and who’s right. It evolved into, “All right, if you’re putting together an Illuminati, who would actually need to be in it?” You’d have people with certain power sets. We tried to represent the Illuminati’s characters in comics.
Fans were totally right about Patrick Stewart appearing as an alternate Professor X, but totally wrong about Tom Cruise — who had once been slated to star as Iron Man years before Robert Downey Jr. — showing up as an alternate Iron Man. Is it possible that the Tom Cruise thing was just a joke among the fans?
Yes, it was entirely made up. I mean, there’s no cut footage of Tom Cruise! But Tom Cruise is my favorite, and I said so. [Marvel Studios president] Kevin [Feige] at one point, I was like, Could we get Tom Cruise’s Iron Man? I remember reading about that in Ain’t It Cool News back in the day, that Tom Cruise was going to be Iron Man.
So it’s totally made up by the fans — but you also tried to make it up, is what you’re saying?
Yeah, exactly. As it was being talked about online, I was like, Yeah, that’d be cool!
Was Kevin really able to answer your question?
You mean, he was filming Mission Impossible7 and 8.
To make it clear, who reached out to Tom Cruise to get his opinion?
I don’t believe so. I just don’t think it was ever an option, because of availability.
Here’s a very geeky question for you. Quentin Beck [Jake Gyllenhaal]In Spider-Man Far from HomeEarth-616 is the name of the main MCU Earth. It turned out he was lying about the multiverse and wasn’t really from another universe. But in this movie, that’s presented as the correct dimensional designation. Can you help me? And if not, I may have an out for you…
Let me know, okay! [Laughs]It begs the question: What did Quentin actually know? He was a smart man. It’s possible that it was a coincidence. That’s… I don’t know. But what’s your out?
It was a dream. It was a multiversal dream.
There you are!
Let’s talk about the final act. After the movie is over, let’s talk about the final act. “drunk,”It stays drunk. How did you get to the point of creating a Zombie Dr. Strange?
We had the amazing face-off against Sinister Strange. And so much of that was driven largely by Benedict singing that song. We were all kind of unsure how Strange would return for this final conflict, as I can recall. [When we were]While we were in London prepping, it didn’t feel like we had the answers. One day I was sitting with Richie Palmer, our producer, and we’re like, he’s got to dreamwalk. He’s got the Darkhold; it’s got to be dreamwalking. We asked ourselves: “Who is he going dreamwalk?” To? There’s gotta be a body. We both felt the lightbulb moment simultaneously: There’s a dead Stranger from that portal that can enter America through that portal! I quickly made a pitch and sent it out.
And to Sam’s credit, he was excited. But he didn’t want to just come in and play all of his greatest hits just for the hell of it. He didn’t want to do a zombie thing just because he’s Sam Raimi. It had to really be Strange’s best move. Kevin was enthusiastic about it, while Benedict was thrilled about the challenge and physicality of it. It felt like the film had just ended with an amazing, thrilling ending. This is America’s last moment as a zombie. [Laughs]It was amazing. Benedict was amazing. To do this, he had to wear makeup for at least six hours. We got the White Walker make up artist. Game of ThronesIt was amazing to see the kit.
How did Dr. Strange come up with this semi-cliffhanger ending? Strange developed a third eye at the center of his forehead, and fell to his knees in pain.
I felt like we had a happy ending. We were like, “Gee, you know, for a movie where a lot of bad shit happens, we got kind of a happy ending here.” We really wrapped it up and that didn’t quite seem right. We thought about the warning Mordo gave Strange in the first film. “The bill comes due.” It’s like Wong says, “You possessed your own corpse.”Is this man ever going to be punished? And it just felt like a great nod to horror movies where there’s that final twist.
When John Kraczinski’s Reed Richards is introduced as being from the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange replies, “Didn’t you guys chart in the 1960s?”Did it just refer to the Beatles or was it meant as a suggestion that maybe there had been a Fantastic Four back in the 1960s in the main MCU?
Benedict might have riffed it, and that was a joke about Fab Four or Fantastic Four. Yes, that was a joke.
That’s fair enough. Can you name specific lessons Sam Raimi has taught you?
It was film school every day for two and a half years, and it whet my own appetite to direct. It’s crazy how it felt like this is something I have to do now. Because I felt like I had learned from a master. He is just so creative in the way he uses his camera. There’s no rules, but it’s all in service of character. It’s never a cool camera move for a cool camera move’s sake. It’s because this is going to better immerse you in Strange’s point of view or help you feel the disorienting feeling they’re experiencing. He’s a master.
After Sam and You took over [original director]Scott Derrickson was gone. What were the steps between blank page and first draft?
Sam was about a week ahead of me. It was February 2020. We were initially planning to go into production in May 2020. We were going to take what was already there and make it into a film that could be shot in three months. I was given three weeks to create a new draft, using the very good ideas of Scott Bartlett and Jade Bartlett who were the original writers. It is nearly impossible to write a movie in just three weeks. And then halfway through that third week, where I’ve already gone insane, COVID happened, and the world shut down. I thought, “Did I make this break in reality?” Then, the movie pushed. [its release date], and Sam and I were able to say all right, let’s set all this aside. Let’s basically start over with [a new]Start from scratch and create a new version of the movie. This gave me a bit more time to finish the first draft than I had in three weeks.
The shooting and release dates of everything — Spider-Man: WandaVision, Far From Home — moved around to an extent. What did these things do to the way you approached this issue?
You have always wanted to be your own person. My friendship with [WandaVision head writer] Jac [Schaeffer]I was able to read the scripts and knew what they meant. WandaVisionit was going be amazing. There was always the pressure of what a hard thing to follow up, but let’s just try to do this character justice and continue that story in a way that’s reverent but also breaks new ground. With Spider-Man, There’s No Way HomeThe original intention of the shift was that we would be the first movie to break ground in the multiverse in MCU. When we shifted, suddenly it’s like wait, Dr. Strange has been on a whole multiversal journey, which actually gave us some freedom. It was quite pleasant. He understood more. We don’t want to spoon feed this as much to the audience.