Since Tilda Swinton was initially announced as playing the Ancient One in Marvel's big screen "Doctor Strange" film, the decision to cast a white actress in a role portrayed as Tibetan man in the comics has been a source of much discussion. Criticisms that the film whitewashes the Ancient One have been made, and grew after audiences saw the character in the first trailer.
During the first stop of the film's international press tour in Hong Kong, director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige once again spoke about the decision to cast Swinton in the role. As covered by The Hollywood Reporter, Feige and Derrickson both said that the Ancient One was written with Tilda Swinton in mind. The character and actress were so tied together from conception that they said if Swinton hadn't been available, they would have had to rewrite the entire character.
"Looking at Marvel movies, I think that we're missing a major character that is Tilda's age and has this kind of strength and power," said Derrickson. "The Ancient One in the comics is a very old American stereotype of what Eastern characters and people are like, and I felt very strongly that we need to avoid those stereotypes at all costs."
Swinton has commented on the role before, and said again that she was never asked to play a character intended to be an Asian man. In April of this year, Swinton said: “Well, it’s not actually an Asian character -- that’s what I need to tell you about it. I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.”
At the press conference, Swinton did speak about her favorite thing about shooting the film: the fighting. "The greatest fun for me was the fighting," she said. "That was a great thrill. And possibly the most difficult thing was casting spells while remembering the lines. That was a tricky thing. But truly, it was a blast."
Star Benedict Cumberbatch, also in attendance, praised the moviemakers, commenting that they're all fans and take great care when translating these stories to the screen. "Thankfully we have a studio boss who is also a massive fanboy, there is nothing [Feige] does not know about the original comics," said Cumberbatch. "So, together with the rest of his team, it's done out of love, and there's a huge amount of respect -- respect for detail."
Directed by Derrickson, co-written by Derrickson, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and others, “Doctor Strange” hits theaters on November 4.