On May 3, 2002, Sam Raimi took the superhero movie world by storm with his first Spider-Man movie. Now, almost 20 years later to the day, the director is poised to take the superhero movie multiverse by storm with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In this interview, Raimi discusses working with multiple Stranges and Scarlet Witches, how new hero America Chavez joined the movie, and the difference 20 years make in making a Marvel film.
Sabina Graves, io9: I’ve gotten to see about 20 minutes of the film, and I felt like a kid again seeing that opening set-piece in New York. I just want to discuss the differences in the mechanics of shooting a set-piece of that scale now versus when you shot the first Spider-Man film?
Sam Raimi: Well, technology has obviously improved 20 years into the future now, and we used to have to make the tools to make the tools on the first Spider-Man to create the first CG superhero. And now there are whole companies, pipelines set in place, just to do that. So, the goal really is, now, “How can we show the audience something they haven’t seen before, since they’ve seen so much? And how can we do it in a great, quality way that will impress them?” And that’s really where we focus now—not on doing it the first time, but doing it the best we can.
io9: I’m always impressed by actors when they take these characters into different films with new stories and new collaborators, but remain true to their characters. Can you share a bit about that process with Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen? Especially in a film where they interact with different versions of themselves?
Raimi: That’s true. Benedict Cumberbatch created this character, Doctor Strange, with his original director, Scott Derrickson, and… he’s been not only in that first feature film, but probably six successive Marvel pictures. So, he comes into this film, Multiverse of Madness, really with a deep understanding of who his character is, what his flaws are—same with Elizabeth Olsen, she has WandaVision. Not only the movies, but that television series. So, they come in as experts on the characters, so it’s really interesting to see them meet up in this movie. It’s kind of like a kid, when you buy a Marvel team-up comic book and see Thor meets Captain America for the first time. It’s so cool. They’re fully formed and clashing and they’re working together. It’s really interesting to watch!
And the fact that they know their characters so well is very helpful in this movie, because, this is a journey into the Multiverse, and the Multiverse is really a mirror—a funhouse mirror, you might say—of one’s self. [It’s a] journey to alternate universes where you meet altered versions of Doctor Strange and Wanda. So, the fact that they knew their characters so well allowed them to just tweak this or that aspect of their personality and create an entirely different character.
io9: I didn’t have America Chavez growing up, so to see her in the trailers was so impactful to me and I’m very excited to see your take on her origin. I just wanted to know what it was about this character that made you want to bring her into the fold of his huge team-up? She has a smaller, shorter history compared to the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange.
Raimi: That’s right. America Chavez is a new character introduced in this film—it was really Marvel that wanted to introduce the character. They were going to introduce her in the last Spider-Man movie, but I think that storyline got pushed forward to our film—all the movies work together for Marvel, as you know, they share common goals and intersections and storylines. But once I was told that was our job, I was thrilled because it’s great to introduce a young, Latina heroine for the audience and let them have a hero of every culture. I think it’s really nice to see how inclusive Marvel is.
But once she came aboard, it was my job, really, to ask, “Why is she an important character to put in a Doctor Strange movie?” And I think the answer is because he is a very egotistical character. He builds up a wall around his insecurities with that. And America Chavez is somebody that doesn’t take any guff, she cuts right to the chase and doesn’t respect him because he’s Doctor Strange, he has to earn that with her. So he bristles at that. She embodies the spirit of youth and truth. It’s upsetting for Doctor Strange—they have a positive effect on each other, eventually, over the course of the movie.
io9: Was Xochitl Gomez already cast as America or were you part of that process?
Raimi: I was part of that process. We had screen tests and she just blew us all away.
io9: One of the things I’m excited to see in this film is your signature touches, because just seeing you back on screen is a really, really big deal. How early in the process of a film like this do you find ways to blend your art with what’s on the page and still keep it fun for yourself?
Raimi: I think that’s in every step of the way. Working with Marvel, or the writer, Michael Waldron, or my producer Richard Palmer… we’re always trying to make it an exciting adventure with the characters we know and love, trying to understand where they are in their previous films so when they go forward into this movie, it’s really a progression, so the audience is ready for the next step. We want to be in lockstep with the audience’s expectations of who these characters are, and then we can have really interesting clashes with them, and conflicts between the characters. So, I guess that’s the best answer I got for you!
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.