There are plenty of arresting images in the first trailer for Marvel’s superhero movie Doctor Strange, from the horribly damaged, post-car crash hands of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme-in-the-making to a trio of impossibly-positioned city skylines. But many people would doubtless have been surprised by seeing a bald Tilda Swinton — and that was the plan. When this writer visited the Doctor Strange set in London last year, the fact that Swinton was playing her character — a superpowered mystic called the Ancient One — as hairless was something the actress had asked Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige to request I not reveal.
“She said, ‘I need to talk to you about something,'” Feige explained at the time. “I said, ‘Do you not want him to say you’re bald?’ ‘That would be wonderful.’ ‘Okay. I’ll ask.'”
Subsequently, Swinton made her own case when I spoke with her on set. “You’re not going to talk about what I look like, because we mustn’t!” she insisted. “Please! It would be such fun if people don’t know anything.”
In the Doctor Strange comics, the Ancient One is bald. But, in the comics, the character is also a man, whereas Swinton is playing the mystic in a decidedly androgynous manner. “I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder,” said the actress about her character’s sexual identity. “You know, your gender comes out of the mouth of the person who’s addressing you.”
Swinton’s decision to play the character without hair, of course, feeds into the mystery of the role’s sex. “Look, she’s a chameleon in everything she does,” said Feige of the actress. “She can harness this amazing androgynous sense. So, we use the term ‘her’ and ‘she’ in the film. But, other than that, it’s very androgynous. Because it doesn’t matter.”
Swinton also revealed that she was partly responsible for the Ancient One’s distinctive look. “It’s something that I was so happy to develop with Marvel,” she said. “They were so welcoming and we cooked it all up together.”
You can see the Doctor Strange trailer, below.