Without a doubt, the first thing you’ll notice when you see Tilda Swinton in the new Marvel movie “Doctor Strange” is her bald head.
But once you move past her shiny dome as The Ancient One, you’ll experience the kind of strong, fleshed-out character the Oscar-winning British actress is known for, in films from “Michael Clayton” to the “Narnia” movies to “Snowpiercer.” And it’s a unique role for her, as she gets to really show off her magical fighting skills.
amNewYork spoke with Swinton, whose character acts as trainer and guide to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange, helping the broken, lost healer to master the mystical arts.
This film requires such unique hand motions to capture the magic. Was it difficult mastering that?
There was a real superhero on the set in the shape of a guy called Jayfunk who does tutting. ... Do you know about tutting? Have you ever seen tutting?
No, I haven’t.
I’d never heard of it either, just go on YouTube and look up “Jayfunk, tutting.” He’s got these magical fingers which do what no fingers should be able to do without CGI. He taught us all these extraordinary gestures. What we do is baby steps compared to what he can do. He had us in a boot camp for weeks learning these things.
Did you ever get used to seeing yourself bald?
I love it. It was my suggestion actually. ... We went through all sorts of variations with hair and various shapes of head. But my original suggestion was that she should be bald with these scars which show a kind of — not just history, but survival of really brutal stuff that you don’t want to know about, and you never do know about. ... And I kept thinking of the merch. I kept thinking, I’m saving so much plastic because Lego isn’t going to have to make a little wig for me.
Do you get excited to have toys of your characters?
Yeah, that’s so exciting and I have seen already the sweetest. The Ancient One Funko toy is the Christmas present of the century as far as I’m concerned! Everyone in my family is getting one Funko toy this year.
The Ancient One is such a relaxed, Zen character. How did you go about bringing her to life?
The first thing that occurred to me is that even though she’s his mentor and she’s absolutely a force for good, she’s kind of an antagonist for Dr. Strange. She’s kind of like a brick wall that he hits, when he comes toward her. He is all hopped up on Mountain Dew, as they say in “Talladega Nights.” He’s fully pumped up on bitterness and fear and anger and resentment and self-pity and loathing. So I figured as a starting point that The Ancient One has to be the opposite of that. She has to be completely ethereal and completely flexible and relaxed in every sense.
Were you a fan of the Marvel movies before doing this?
I was always a fan of Marvel. ... Apart from the stories and what they’re doing within films, they’re also ... giving people a reason to continue to go into big theaters, particularly IMAX theaters, put on 3-D goggles and take part in a cinematic experience. ... It never occurred to me that they’d come calling because I couldn’t imagine that they’d find a [role] for me, and I’m so happy that they have.