Doctor Strange 2 Screenwriter Details the Comic & Pro Wrestling Influences

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes the sorcerer into even more dangerous situations, pitting him against multiversal versions of himself in the long-anticipated entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Screenwriter Michael Waldron is no stranger to dealing with variations of Marvel characters, having previously tackled the TV series Loki. In fact, prior to penning some of the most popular Marvel stories, Waldron also wrote for Rick and Morty, another series that tackles variant forms of characters in a meta-examination of story. Clearly, Waldron knows how to turn a sci-fi trope into a powerful and dramatic storytelling tool.

Ahead of the May 6 release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, screenwriter Michael Waldron spoke with CBR about his work on the movie. He dove into the comics he leaned on for inspiration and how pro wrestling influenced his Marvel writing. Waldron also spoke about the storytelling appeal of letting characters talk to themselves.

CBR: I know that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not your first foray into Marvel. So I'm curious about what your experience was like with Marvel before even taking on these screenwriting opportunities. Were you a big fan?

Michael Waldron: I was! I was a fan, I would say, probably more of the movies than I was a big comic books fan. I wasn't a huge comics kid growing up. I was more a fan of pro wrestling, to tell you the truth. That was my nerdy obsession. Then I love the movies -- they were great blockbuster action comedies with real drama, and so when I got a chance to fold into that universe, I was so excited.

So how does Doctor Strange differ from some of your previous writing experiences -- or how does it draw on it? I guess?

Well, I would say that, at least in Loki, I was writing about a villain, an anti-hero. In Rick and Morty, Rick is an anti-hero, and Heels, my show on Starz, that's probably a show about anti-heroes. In this case, I was finally writing about a good guy, writing about a hero in Doctor Strange. Sometimes that's harder because you still have to find [that] maybe what's broken and conflicted about them isn't worn on their sleeve quite as much [as] with a traditional hero. I was really excited for that challenge.

Then just tonally, to get to write a Sam Raimi movie that was going to have elements of suspense thrillers and horror movies was just a joy. So I was excited to put on my Aliens and Jurassic Park hat a little bit and try and write a proper ride of a movie.

Did dealing with alternate universe, multiversal versions of characters offer up any fun opportunities or challenges for you?

Totally. Much like it did in Loki, it's forced self-reflection. Again, in this case, we're dealing with heroes: Wanda and Steven Strange, and them confronting alternate versions of themselves. It's interesting to see who are they in slightly different shades? It was important to me that, as we brought the multiverse to life for the first time in the MCU, that it wasn't just this cartoon version of a straight-up mirror version of yourself -- that if I meet myself in the multiverse, it's not just the opposite me. Instead, it has to be a version of you with a fully lived-in history and backstory with maybe just a few key differences that have affected the different shape of their lives. That was exciting. That's great big sci-fi stuff to get to play with. So it was a lot of fun.

Absolutely. I know you said you weren't a big comics reader as a kid. Were you able to go to the comics for any source material, stories, or styles for the script?

Yes, yeah, absolutely. I read certainly plenty of the Ditko Doctor Strange comics and lots of the more modern stuff. There's lots of great Wanda stuff out there, too. Then for the multiverse stuff, I look to Jonathan Hickman as a great multiverse run. There's great multiverse stuff with the Council of Reeds. I'm a big Fantastic Four fan, so they deal with the multiverse a lot. I had kind of a good comic foundation of that stuff just from reading a bunch of those.

That's excellent. Did you get to draw on any of your pro wrestling experience in the script at all?

I think I'm probably always drawing on my pro wrestling experience a little bit in that it's just those are stories of mythical heroes and villains clashing and working out their problems through violence. It's opera in the same way pro wrestling is, and the best pro wrestling is the stuff that, even amidst the insanity of it all, finds a real human thread.

When Stone Cold Steve Austin is feuding with Vince McMahon, that resonates because if you're somebody that hates your boss and feels held down at work, then suddenly Stone Cold represents you. There's humanity there. I think that's what we try to do in a movie like this. Yeah, it's a story about going through the multiverse and sorcerers and witches and all sorts of big sci-fi stuff, but where can we find the relatable human conflict about who am I and what's my place in this world?

Do you find that it is different to tackle those big questions when scripting a Marvel movie as opposed to a Marvel television show, just approaching from different formats?

Well, less time, for sure. I couldn't get away with my 12-page dialogue scenes the way I could with Loki. So I wasn't able to get up to my old tricks quite as much, but Sam and the whole team, they still embraced leaning into dramatic scenes that were dialogue-driven. You just have to keep the story moving. You don't have six hours to unfold maybe what is a little more of a slow-burn, mystery adventure. This thing's got to be a rollercoaster that blasts you out at top speed. So that was a fun, different kind of challenge to take on.

You've mentioned, in addition to your previous work on Loki, your work on Rick and Morty. I think, in all of these, we see various versions of the same character and we see these meta plot lines that deal with the structure of story itself. Is this sort of a throughline for you, something that you personally like to see in the stories that you imbibe?

I don't know, I wouldn't say consciously or necessarily. [laughs] I'm forever trying to figure out how to just write a little play with these characters. I'm happiest when, in my mind, I can boil it down to two characters across a table from one another having a conflict, and can that be the heart of every scene in some way? So whether it's multiversal or what, that's just been the arena I've been fortunate to play in, but I'm really trying to just write good character drama in that world.

I think you've been incredibly successful so far. Can you tease anything about what viewers can expect from the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?

I'm just trying to think of stuff from the trailer that they've seen because that's the only stuff I can say. Look, we go into the multiverse, you're gonna see some crazy stuff. That's the tagline, I think: We go into the multiverse, you're gonna see some crazy stuff! Is that the tease you were hoping for?

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