[The following story contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.]
Now that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has been released to the tune of $507 million worldwide, many questions have been answered, but many more still remain. Is John Krasinski a lock to reprise his role as Reed Richards in the upcoming Fantastic Four? Who did the empty chair belong to as Doctor Strange stood on trial in front of Earth-838’s Illuminati?
Multiverse of Madness screenwriter and Loki head writer Michael Waldron can’t answer these questions at the moment, but he is able to add a bit more clarity regarding Loki’s ending, which seemingly opened up the multiverse before Doctor Strange’s spell went awry in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
“Well, I think [Loki’s ending is] what makes all that possible. The Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it, Earth-616, was insulated from any multiversal shenanigans … After the events of the Loki finale, that protection is gone. So that’s why you can pull in villains and characters from other Spider-Man movies, and that’s why in the new Doctor Strange, our characters can travel to other universes,” Waldron tells The Hollywood Reporter.
In a recent conversation with THR, Waldron also shared the origin story behind the shocking Illuminati sequence, before discussing the common thread between Stephen Strange, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and newcomer America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez).
Between WandaVision and Multiverse of Madness, how long did the Darkhold take root in Wanda?
It’s never specifically defined, but it’s been long enough, though. We’re not picking up the day after that [WandaVision] tag; that’s for sure. So it’s definitely long enough to really get its hooks into her.
The “I never said their name” trope is always satisfying, so I loved how you flipped it by having Wanda diagnose her mistake of mentioning America’s (Xochitl Gomez) name. That, in turn, revealed Wanda as the movie’s villain.
Yes, absolutely. I love that trope, too. I was like, “This is a trope I’ve seen. I’m definitely not breaking new ground here.” But it just felt exciting, and it felt like Strange was being a detective. So that moment is so creepy, and the actors were both so great in it. We had a lot of fun with it.
For the Illuminati, did Marvel brass basically give you a list of characters that were available and tell you to have at it?
No, that scene wasn’t even in my outline. I just wrote it in [the script], and they were like, “This is cool. We should do it.” And then it was a constant back and forth of figuring out who’s the right mix of characters. Who makes sense to actually be in an alternate universe Illuminati? And who we ended up with felt like that was the impossible group. We never thought we’d get all of those people, but we did.
And when did their massacre then enter into the equation?
That was in the first draft. That was there. I liked how they came in and made the audience feel safe, and then Wanda becomes that much more frightening when she takes them out.
Is John Krasinski’s casting an indication that he’ll be the Reed Richards we eventually meet in Fantastic Four? Or was this just a cool way for him to satisfy all the fan-casting and bow out from here?
That’s a question above my paygrade.
Who does the empty chair belong to on the Illuminati’s dais of sorts?
That’s also an unanswerable question, but we talked about that a lot, though. Maybe that was just a mistake. Maybe the set [decorator] guy had one too many chairs. (Laughs.)
Do you guys actually know the answer, or is it open-ended for the time being?
A bit of both.
Reed Richards quoted 838-Strange as saying, “Things had gotten out of hand,” and that’s a variation of the line that Sinister Strange said in the trailer. Since Sinister Strange’s line was cut from the movie, was 838-Strange originally supposed to become Sinister Strange?
No, they were never the same guy. Sinister Strange’s line was just there as a bit of symmetry. This idea is really starting to weigh on Stephen: “Jesus, is every one of me bad in the multiverse? And if that’s true, does that mean I’m fated to go bad?” But as so often happens, that line was ultimately just a trailer line and didn’t make it into the final cut.
Wanda, Strange and America each have to let go of people they love. Can you talk about this parallel track that all three were on with regard to their loved ones?
All three characters are dealing with loss, and Wanda is dealing with it so much more viscerally than anybody else. Strange also talks about how he lost his sister, and then he has to say goodbye to Christine [Rachel McAdams] at the end. And America’s whole origin story is the loss of her parents. So they’re all broken characters trying to find their way in this world, but the biggest difference between the three of them is that the Darkhold got ahold of Wanda in this particular story.
So how does the multiversal ending of Loki fit into Spider-Man: No Way Home and Multiverse of Madness’s own multiversal exploits?
Well, I think it’s what makes all that possible. The MCU as we know it, Earth-616, was insulated from any multiversal shenanigans, or perhaps the multiverse didn’t even exist until the events of the Loki finale. After the events of the Loki finale, that protection is gone. The multiverse exists, and the universe of the MCU is now part of it. So that’s why you can pull in villains and characters from other Spider-Man movies, and that’s why in the new Doctor Strange, our characters can travel to other universes.
Since Wanda has real children in at least one other universe, does that suggest they were fathered by a human Vision?
Potentially, yeah! Maybe, maybe not.
I know you had a cameo at Christine’s wedding, but what was your most surreal day on set as a writer?
For this one, I was on set every day, which was so fun. Every day was surreal, but some of those days with the Illuminati, certainly, were crazy. But also seeing Benedict in full-on zombie makeup, facing off against a superpowered Scarlet Witch was really exciting just because those actors are so, so good. So that was pretty surreal as well.
Whether it’s Doctor Strange and Loki or Star Wars and Heels, how have you managed to keep all these plates spinning at once?
Well, I have great collaborators. On all of those projects, I’m surrounded by amazing teams. I’m just a cog in the wheel. (Laughs.) So I’m lucky to be a part of those teams, and you’ve got to trust your collaborators. So that’s how I’ve been able to bounce around.
Before I go, I have to say how much I loved the Crystal Tyler (Kelli Berglund) story on Heels. At a certain point, the show just seemed to want to gravitate towards her.
I’m so glad to hear that! That was there from my very first pitch of the show, that Crystal was the hero in a lot of ways on season one of Heels. We got to really do an accelerated, underdog-rises-to-the-top story over the course of season one. So with season two of Heels, it’s exciting to explore what happens to her now that she’s had a taste of success.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in movie theaters.