There’s a grand tradition in many of the comic books of yesteryear of having laughably evil, conniving, mustache-twirling villains. That was certainly the case with Baron Mordo when readers first met him in Marvel’s Strange Tales #111 in August of 1963. In the comic books, Mordo is like a significantly more murdery Salieri to Doctor Strange’s arrogant Mozart. A rival sorcerer studying under the Ancient One, Mordo developed a rivalry with Strange when the newcomer foiled his plans to murder their master. Over the years, Mordo became one of Strange’s most constant foes, attempting to kill the Sorcerer Supreme on countless occasions. He even teamed up with the demonic Dormammu, the ruler of the terrifying Dark Dimension. In short, he was a bad, bad man.
But that’s the comic book version; in director Scott Derrickson’s feature film adaptation, Mordo isn’t a villain at all. In fact, this version of Baron Mordo is more of an ally and a steadfast companion than a jealous rival. And that is largely thanks to the way in which actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is approaching the character. While visiting the set of Doctor Strange in London earlier this year, Nerdist and other press outlets sat down with Ejiofor to learn how he’s updating Baron Mordo for the 21st century.
“The source material was very helpful in terms of trying to construct an overall understanding of him and his relationship to the place, Kamar-Taj, and his relationship to the Ancient One,” Ejiofor told us. “Of course in the source material, it’s a much more two-dimensional story in some ways. But one of the richest things of this is finding the other space and really trying to create something that’s very three-dimensional and a person who has a real history and a real background and, as in the comics, has a very good relationship with Kamar-Taj and the Ancient One. And, by extension, Strange himself.”
Much like in Doctor Strange’s origin story, when we first meet Baron Mordo, he is also studying under the Ancient One. “We meet him in Nepal … in Kamar-Taj,” Ejiofor confirmed. “And he is one of the first allies to Strange and he wants to bring him into this community, this very special, knit community, and see if Strange can fit in and create a home for him there—a place where he can learn the skills of Karmatage and get in contact with these forms. I think that Mordo is the first to recognize the potential in Strange and becomes his primary advocate, initially. Their relationship is complicated. In some ways they’re quite similar but that lends itself to tensions between them. But overall he is the tutor that really brings him in.”
Although contentious, that teacher-pupil relationship seems as though it will be one of the defining arcs of the film as Mordo molds Strange from a self-centered jerk into a more selfless sorcerer-in-training.
“Strange is somebody who is trying to find out what all of these things are and find the secrets of these place,” Ejiofor explained. “And I think it develops into something deeper and richer. Yes, there is a camaraderie, but it’s also a kind of mutual respect as they gain an understanding of each other. And also, with the problems that they face and the enemies that they face, their ability to work together to triumph or try to win means that they have a bond. I think [they] develop this bond with the Ancient One, this mutual respect.”
That all sounds well and good, but many of us had teachers that we absolutely loathed even though they probably taught us a lot. While we meet Mordo as an ally in the film, could we see the beginning of his descent into villainy as Strange becomes the star pupil and edges him out of the limelight?
“I don’t think of him as a kind of envious or jealous entity,” reflected Ejiofor. “I think he’s much purer than that. Kamar-Taj, what it means and what it means to Mordo, is so strong and his defense of it is so deep and his loyalty is so committed to the ideas of Kamar-Taj, to the reality of Kamar-Taj, and to the Ancient One, that he would react to any perceived threat. But it wouldn’t come from a place of envy, but from a place of protection and loyalty.”
In other words, Mordo has champagne for his real friends and real pain for his sham friends. What kind will Stephen Strange be? You’ll have to wait and see this November.
What do you hope to see from Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange? Let us know in the comments below.
Brush up on Baron Mordo’s comic book origins!
Doctor Strange hits theaters on November 4, 2016.
Read our complete set visit report, featuring interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Feige, Scott Derrickson, and Benedict Wong!
For high-res, full-size behind-the-scenes images and new character posters, please click to enlarge in our gallery below.