Marvel's What If...? star Jeffrey Wright reveals why Doctor Strange episode 'rocked' him
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's episode of What If...?.
There was no happy ending in this week's episode of Marvel's What If...?
The Disney+ animated MCU series reimagined Doctor Strange in episode 4, "What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?," and watching Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) struggle with Christine Palmer's (Rachel McAdams) death over and over ultimately brought about the total destruction of his universe.
While the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) tried to stop that from happening by splitting Doctor Strange into two versions of himself in the same timeline, his more evil alter ego became too strong in his quest to absorb enough power to bring Christine back to life, thereby altering an Absolute Point in time. The evil Doctor Strange won the battle, and while he brought Christine back, he lost the war, because his actions broke this reality. Uatu The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) could only watch as this universe died, and while he wanted to first stop and then punish Strange for his actions, he said he couldn't interfere.
Below, EW got Wright to reveal why this episode resonated with him, what it means for The Watcher and the rest of the season moving forward, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before What If...? premiered, you said this episode was one of your favorites. Now that fans have seen it, why did this one stand out to you?
JEFFREY WRIGHT: Strange's dilemma is such a timeless one. And when I saw this episode for the first time, I guess that timelessness was very timely for me. [Laughs] It just rocked me. It hit me pretty close to home. We all, at times, have tried to reverse circumstances and undo events, or at least we all, at times, have wished we were able to trace our steps backward and try to undo events that have not turned out as we might have desired they turned out the first time. The framing of that temptation for him was really well conceived of in this episode, and I just found myself sinking further and further into this hopelessly tragic abyss with Strange as it unfolded — [laughs] for reasons that I won't go into detail about.
That's understandable. What was your reaction when you read the script and learned how dark and emotional this episode gets?
I use the term dark differently than some. I just saw it as tragic. I don't know if that's dark, tragedy is something that we will all experience. There's something deeply human and emotional about it for me. Yes, he's tortured by this loss and desperate and full of hubris and lost, but for me it just seems so perfectly human. So I think I describe it more in those terms than it being dark. It's just filled with pathos. And for that reason I really empathize with that journey. [Laughs] I found myself, like The Watcher, there with him.
I didn't expect to see an entire universe get destroyed as a result of Doctor Strange's actions — how is that going to influence the rest of the season now that we know there can be such wide-reaching consequences to a What If...? question?
That remains to be seen, but I think this idea of his universe being destroyed is a wonderful metaphor too for all of us when we attempt the impossible or rather when we try to reject our path, our destiny, or the inevitability of our lives. When a schism grows between our reality and our relationship to it, we do in fact kind of destroy our universe, you know? It unravels completely and we lose touch with our wisdom and we lose touch with a healthy relationship to our lives, and that in and of itself is the destruction of the universe, right? I really enjoyed the metaphor of that idea, and I don't want to give too much away about what comes after... The nature of this series is about exploring possibilities, and what I think is true of the MCU is that all of these threads can potentially weave themselves in to the other. So it's possible. Just watch.
This is the first time we've seen The Watcher consider intervening in a universe's events and he had an angry confrontation with Doctor Strange, which is the first time we've seen him actually speak with a character. Are we going to see more of that happening as this season continues?
In this instance it speaks to Strange's mystical powers too, that he perceives him there. So there's two sides to that, but also yes, The Watcher is is compelled by the danger that Strange is conjuring, obviously not only for himself but for his whole reality. For The Watcher there's only so much he can only watch. He's not a voyeur for voyeurism's sake, he is in some ways made up of these characters. Without them, what does he watch? [Laughs] He's profoundly compelled by them, and maybe there's only so much he can take. We'll see.
What was that like for you, getting to play a more active role in this episode outside just narrating?
It's a shift in attitude for him, and it's a shift in purpose and intent and all of that stuff for him. That's a fun gearshift to play. And he also becomes less disembodied. For audiences too, that's the moment in which he steps into these worlds a little bit closer and steps a little closer to the audience as well. That's his moment where he knocks on the door.
Are we going to see him potentially open that door later this season?
Well, I guess the question is, how reliable a narrator is The Watcher? How trustworthy can we be of his description of himself and the rules that he says he abides by? We'll see.
The Watcher was trending on Twitter because people are making some incredible memes from today's episode. There's even some featuring your character on Westworld.
[Laughs] Oh yeah, a little crossover there.
Have you seen any of those memes?
I saw a couple of them. It's nice that people are watching themselves and are enjoying what they see and are, in some ways, making an attempt to interfere. [Laughs] With shows like this or other Marvel films or a show like Westworld, the fans become writers themselves. All of this stuff, all of the commentary and all of the speculation about these characters and their narratives are to an extent as valid as anything as the scripts themselves. They become a part of the written universe that surrounds these things. I think that's really cool.
What If...? debuts new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.
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