Three Huge Things You Need to Know About Doctor Strange's Take On The Ancient One

The Ancient One in Doctor Strange

When Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange hits theaters in November, we expect to see a lot of changes made between the pages of the classic Marvel comic and the silver screen. Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) will be an ally... at least, for now. A new villain named Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen) is being introduced. And Wong (Benedict Wong) isn't a lowly man servant anymore. He's practically a peer of the Sorcerer Supreme.

But few changes rank as high, on the seismic scale, as the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, the most powerful being who agrees to train Stephen Strange at the Kamar-Taj in Nepal and set him on his path to mystical and spiritual enlightenment. Why? Well, because, for decades, the Ancient One was portrayed as an old, Asian man -- three things that Swinton is not.

Recently, we were able to visit the set of Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, where we learned all about the director's approach to the mythos of the Sorcerer Supreme. And few choices fascinated us as much as the casting of Swinton as The Ancient One. So we spoke to everyone about her upcoming portrayal, and this is what we think you need to know:

Tilda Swinton

This Is Not The First Ancient One, And Likely Won't Be The Last

Instead of The Ancient One being a character, think of it as a title. The way that Marvel President Kevin Feige explained it to us:

We talked about the ancient one being a title that has been held probably for hundreds and hundreds of years by individuals, but there have been various ones, and the one we meet in this movie happens to be female, of Celtic descent who most people who you've surround her have forgotten exactly where she came from, because she's been around. I think we state hundreds and hundreds of years. They're not sure exactly how long. So that was one way of doing a new interpretation of that character.

And there's a reason she's seeking out Doctor Strange. Read on...

The Ancient One Really Needs A Successor

Tilda Swinton admits that the relationship between her interpretation of The Ancient One and Stephen Strange is vital because, even though she likely has been around for centuries, the time is coming where she is going to have to pass the mantle to another worthy sorcerer. In one of the trailers, the Ancient One admits that she has spent eons searching through the various realms looking for Strange, and Swinton explained to us:

It's really important to the Ancient One that Doctor Strange does cut it, because the Ancient One needs a successor or certainly needs, you could say, a son. So the Ancient One is really invested in Doctor Strange. It's a very kind of primal relationship.

This makes us wonder if The Ancient One won't be long for this world. Marvel has a tendency to kill off mentors, both on the big screen, and in its comics. Could Tilda be a one-and-done in the MCU?

This Looks Different, But It's Deeply Rooted In The Comics

Seeing a female, Caucasian Ancient One might have a number of Marvel diehards scratching their heads as Doctor Strange makes his way to the big screen for the first time. Not that Marvel hasn't opened itself up to bold casting choices in the past. But few main roles have been gender-swapped, like making Thor a woman in Ragnarok because of changes that have happened in the comics. And yet, Tilda Swinton told us on set that it's the fluidity of the comic medium that she thinks has allowed them to make these changes to The Ancient One, and that her approach to the movie very much is rooted in the comic book source material. She told us:

The comics are... that's the root. That's the source, and we will always -- as I said, it's just another interpretation. One of the wonderful things that I've always loved as an art student, what I always loved about comics is they are interpreted differently by different graphic artists all the time. So now, film is doing that, thanks to the Marvel Studios. I'm a huge Marvel fan, and the fact that, to take the liberties that they do in filmmaking, I think if anything, it dignifies the comics. It says, 'Yeah, this is a strong enough, robust enough source. We can bend it. It's elastic. It's bouncy.'

"Bouncy" is a good way to describe the approach to the world of Doctor Strange. After all, you saw what happened to the buildings when Kaecillius hit them, right?

As part of this reveal, Marvel allowed us to show off the official Tilda Swinton Doctor Strange character poster. Click to the next page, and tell me you don't want to see that gorgeous one sheet hanging on your bedroom wall.

Doctor Strange poster

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.