We probably had the least amount of time on the London set of DOCTOR STRANGE with the actor playing Baron Karl Mordo, Chiwetel Ejiofor for the simple reason that he seemed to be in every single shot being done of the particular day our group of online writers were visiting. Much like the rest of his career, Ejiofor has never not been working, from his first film role in Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD to parts in DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, LOVE ACTUALLY, SHE HATE ME, FOUR BROTHERS, SERENITY, INSIDE MAN, KINKY BOOTS, CHILDREN OF MEN, TALK TO ME, AMERICAN GANGSTER, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE MARTIAN, and earlier this year in TRIPLE 9.
It’s no secret that the Mordo character in the Doctor Strange comics was his oldest rival, but in the film adaptation, he’s Strange’s mentor (we’ll see how long that lasts), so it should be interesting to see how their relationship evolves over the course what will likely be more than one film. With that, please enjoy our brief talk with Chiwetel Ejiofor…
Question: We’ve gotten to hear a little bit about Mordo and how he’s going to be more of an ally than he is in the comic books. Did that change the way you approached looking into his backstory and finding out stuff from the source material, since he’s not really going to be that character?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: The source material was very helpful in terms of trying to construct an overall understanding of him and his relationship to the place, the Kamar-Taj, and his relationship to The Ancient One. Of course in the source material, it’s a much more two-dimensional story in some ways. But one of the richest things of this is finding the other space and really trying to create something that’s very three-dimensional and a person who has a real history and a real background and, as in the comics, has a very good relationship with all the things that happen in Kamar-Taj and with The Ancient One and by extension with Strange himself. So I definitely thought about the character in terms of the comics and really understanding the ways in which the character had been changed and still keep the essence of who he is in the comic and add this more three-dimensional aspect to him.
Question: Can you tell us where we meet him?
CE: We meet him in Nepal. We meet him in Kamar-Taj, when Strange gets there. And he is one of the first allies to Strange and he wants to bring him into this community, this very special, knit community, and see if Strange can fit in and create a home for him there—a place where he can learn the skills of Kamar-Taj and get in contact with these forms. I think that Mordo is the first to recognize the potential in Strange and becomes his primary advocate, initially. Their relationship is complicated. In some ways, they’re quite similar but that lends itself to tensions between them. But overall, he is the tutor that really brings him in.
Question: Is there a camaraderie between them?
CE: I think it starts with Strange as the pupil. Strange is somebody who is trying to find out what all of these things are and find the secrets of this place. And I think it develops into something deeper and richer. Yes, there is a camaraderie, but it’s also a kind of mutual respect as they gain an understanding of each other. Also with the problems that they face and the enemies that they face and their ability to work together to triumph or try to win, it means that they have a bond. I think the three of them develop this bond, including The Ancient One, this mutual respect and acknowledgment.
Question: Has he known The Ancient One for a long time?
CE: Yes, as long as Mordo has been here, The Ancient One has also, and well before. There’s an enormous amount of respect and dedication to the cause and to The Ancient One specifically. From whatever version of hell Mordo was blown in from, which probably isn’t a million miles away, psychologically, from Strange’s own journey, in terms of finding it impossible to continue, he had to find something else, something new, something radically different in order to restructure oneself.
Question: In the comics, it’s jealousy that turns Mordo in a big way. Is that something you’re playing with and part of the tapestry of who he is?
CE: I don’t think of him as an envious or jealous entity. I think he’s much purer than that. That’s what I mean by the comics creating a slightly more two-dimensional aspect. But the place, Kamar-Taj, what it means and what it means to Mordo, is so strong, and his defense of it is so deep and his loyalty is so committed to the ideas of Kamar-Taj, to the reality of Kamar-Taj, and to The Ancient One, he would react to any perceived threat, but it wouldn’t come from a place of envy but from a place of protection and loyalty.
Question: How does the language and motions of magic affect the way you play the character?
CE: There’s a lot of physicality in the film. It’s a really important part of the story. When we bring in Strange to this world, the first thing we introduce him to is the physicality of the world, how we create these other dimensions and the magic that we do. And also, the physicality of how we fight and what our combat stances are. So very immediately, he’s introduced into a physical world, and that affects all of the characters in the space, regardless of what we’re doing. All of that is fundamental. The physicality is fundamental to these characters and what Strange has to learn here.