Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson on why Strange was a perfect fit

Scott Derrickson talks horror, Strange and directing… Thor?

To celebrate the home release of Doctor Strange, we had a chat with director Scott Derrickson about the film, his comic book origins, and the other Marvel film that he almost directed…

What’s your history with Marvel comic books? Did you read a lot as a kid?

My dad brought home a huge sacks of hundreds, if not maybe over 1000, comics one day from work, so probably some kind whose dad worked with my dad didn’t want them anymore, and a lot of them were Marvel comics. Some were DC comics and other weird things. I started off reading lighter, funnier ones like Richie Rich and stuff like that. In the DC comics, I liked Aquaman. And then I got into the Marvel comics. I liked Fantastic Four probably the most. I read a lot of those. And Doctor Strange!

Is that why you were so keen to get involved with the film, because you grew up with comics?

No, it was because of the specific love for Doctor Strange, for that comics. I had been approached about meeting for other comic book movies before, none of which I felt quite right for. In fact, I had a meeting with Marvel very early on in their growth about directing the first Thor movie. That doesn’t mean they were offering it to me; I was just one of many directors they were looking at. I remember taking this big bible – and I’d read plenty of Thor growing up, but I never was the biggest Thor fan – and I read a bunch of comic books that they were thinking of basing the movie on. I just thought, I have no idea how to turn this into a movie! I’m still kind of amazed that Kenneth Branagh made a movie that worked out of Thor, and that he’s now a beloved character in the MCU. It was such a hard task to pull off. I just felt that Doctor Strange was the comic book that I was uniquely suited to do. You know, it was the one that I had the most personal connection to.

Are there any Marvel characters that you’d like to direct in a film or a short? 

I don’t really know that I’m right for anybody but Doctor Strange!

Scott Derrickson and Benedict Cumberbatch at San Diego Comic Con 2016.

What do you think made you right for this film?

I think because of the fact that it deals in the occult and magic and the supernatural and other dimensions unknown, and that the character of Strange himself is this lonely, isolated character with one foot in the real world and one foot in these other dimensions. That speaks to the same interests and fascinations for me as the material of my horror films. It’s not horror, but it has everything I like about horror. But it’s positive and more enjoyable to think about!

That definitely comes through in the sense that it’s not scary, but there are still freaky bits like the hands covering Strange in the Astral Plane.

There’s a little bit of the horror director slipping through there! I think there’s a plenty of overlap between horror and sci-fi. But for a lot of people who don’t watch genre films, they’ve been struck by how scary they find this film. Patton Oswalt sent out a tweet about how awesome and scary the movie is. I guess he must not watch a lot of horror, I don’t know! But I love that! I love that it’s hitting people in a visceral enough way that it’s disturbing, because it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be disturbing to the character, so if it’s not freaky and weird and upsetting on some level then we haven’t do it right.

Doctor Strange hits the trifecta of genre, with the sci-fi and horror and then fantasy with the magic.

It’s funny because this is a kind of fantasy that speaks to me more than science fiction and horror, and I typically don’t like fantasy when you talk about that trifecta. Fantasy literature I’ve read very little of. I’ve read The Lord Of The Rings and Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman, but most of the fantasy that I’ve started to read has been so flowery and overly disruptive and so world-centric that I get bored. And fantasy filmmaking is very difficult to make work. I watch Game Of Thrones, but I don’t really think that qualifies as fantasy in the same way that the novels did. I think that Doctor Strange somehow avoids the strict logic and rules of sci-fi, certainly hard sci-fi that I’ve read a tonne of. It’s mostly what I read. It doesn’t venture into anything so graphic or scary to qualify as horror. So it probably is closest to fantasy, but it’s a different kind of fantasy. It’s the mysticism of it. It’s the philosophical mysticism and other dimensional quality of it that creates this weird overlap between fantasy and science and spirituality and religion. That overlapped space that it occupies is where I live. That’s why is feels uniquely suited to me.

Doctor Strange is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray now. Get all the latest sci-fi news with every issue of SciFiNow.