Many fans were taken aback when it was revealed that Chiwetel Ejiofor's Baron Karl Mordo in Marvel's Doctor Strange was actually going to be an ally for the titular hero. In the comics, Mordo is a straight-up bad guy, and so it makes this onscreen partnership between he and Strange- however temporary it ends up being- seem like a (ahem) strange fit.
In a new interview with Collider, Ejiofor opened up about what the exact dynamic between his Mordo and Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange will be. To hear him describe it, it's all part of making Mordo a more three-dimensional character and not simply some mustache-twiddling villain.
"I think that Mordo is the first to recognize the potential in Strange and becomes his primary advocate, initially," the 12 Years A Slave actor said. "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."
In response to a question regarding the Doctor Strange comic books, and what he managed to learn from them while researching Baron Mordo, Ejiofor gave a thoughtful answer. "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," he said. "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."
It sounds like he feels the film does a better job of fleshing out Mordo, and turning him into a fully-fleshed out character. Even at the cost of being untrue to the books, Ejiofor thinks it's worth it. Another liberty they're taking is that, in the comics, it's Mordo's envy of Doctor Strange that makes him work to thwart him. Ejiofor says that a turn to the dark side- if it ever happens- won't have anything to do with jealousy or envy.
"I don’t think of him as a kind of envious or jealous entity. I think he’s much purer than that. That’s what I mean by the comics create a slightly more two-dimensional aspect," Ejiofor says. "But the place, 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."
So it sounds like the inevitable rift between Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo will have more to do with Mordo seeing Strange as a threat to Kamar-Taj and The Ancient One, rather than simply wishing he had the Sorcerer Supreme's abilities. In that way it'll be a much more classic villain trope where, in his eyes, he isn't a villain at all. He's just doing what he thinks is right and just, within the confines of his own worldview.
It definitely sounds like a more cerebral and nuanced take on the character, and Marvel pulled off a real casting coup getting Ejiofor for this, so I think it's safe to say that this new direction for Mordo is in good hands.
I'll leave you with this other quote from Ejiofor, about his relationship with Doctor Strange, as further evidence that this will go far deeper than anything we've seen in the books:
"I think it starts with Strange as the pupil. Strange is somebody who is trying to find out what all of these things are and find the secrets of these place. 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 and their ability to work together to triumph or try to win means that they have a bond. I think the three of them develop this bond with the Ancient One, this mutual respect."
We'll get to watch this interesting dynamic unfold and evolve when Doctor Strange arrives in theaters on November 4.