Twenty-six seconds of fame: how Doctor Strange got upstaged by a swivel-eyed extra | Film


A lot of the criticism directed towards Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness pertains to that final word. Aside from a brief montage of Doctor Strange being quickly flung through a bunch of multiverses, the film just wasn’t mad enough for most people.

Well, more fool us. A clip from the movie has just gone viral, and it contains perhaps the maddest thing put to film in the last decade. We just didn’t notice it at the time, because it happened in the background. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that there is a small, quiet scene in which Doctor Strange attends the wedding of his ex-girlfriend. In the foreground, Benedict Cumberbatch does lots of complicated internal work to show his discomfort with the situation. But watch the scene again. Look at the extra sitting behind him. She absolutely loses her mind.

Within the space of 26 seconds, the extra looks offscreen as if calling across to an old acquaintance. She gives a quick burst of three wildly distinct reactions to this unseen friend (that taken as a whole read as her learning of a minor scandal, absorbing the full weight of its sexiness and then knowingly agreeing to keep it to herself) and then aggressively scans the front of the church, the church’s ceiling and her own knees. Then, for just a split second, she almost peers into the camera, before catching herself and overcompensating by scanning the ceiling again. Next, having finally achieved peace, she fixes her gaze at a single spot on the ceiling and finally relaxes. The tweet that sent the clip viral read “Her agent told her to give the performance of a lifetime and she did”, and it’s honestly hard to argue with any of that.

In fairness to her, the extra has been given an incredibly difficult task. Being a background actor is tough enough at the best of times, but she has it especially bad. She can’t simply look ahead, because then she would be staring right down the barrel of the camera. She has no companion to chit-chat with. She can’t just heave and sigh with boredom, like everyone else does at weddings, because it would have undercut the emotional tension of the scene. The poor woman had to do something. In retrospect, her mistake was doing everything.

It’s a magnificent performance (after all, not everyone has the charisma to yank your attention away from Oscar-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch) and one that has secured the actor’s entrance into the pantheon of bewildering extras.

It doesn’t take a lot to join this legendary team – maybe a vague misreading of the tone of the scene, or perhaps a demonstration of the sort of fear that instantly locks your joints together – but overwhelmingly these weird choices are edited out in post-production. For them to slip through hints at a lack of attention to detail on the part of the director, and this is what makes them so special.

Quantum of Solace, for instance, had a troubled production. And perhaps this is why one scene that made the final cut included a shot of the world’s least employable road sweep. You can see him in the background while James Bond broods on a motorbike, sweeping up with grit-jawed concentration, while steadfastly refusing to let his broom go anywhere near the ground.

The Back to the Future sequels, meanwhile, were shot back-to-back in a giant production that took the better part of a year. And if you were in charge of overseeing a gargantuan task like that, there’s a good chance that you would accidentally let mistakes slip through the net. And this is why, in a clip you will never be able to unsee, at one point in the film Doc Brown’s young son beckons the camera towards him so that he can point directly at his crotch. The official story is that he was discreetly attempting to tell the crew that he needed the toilet, but now it is part of cinema history.

There are dozens of other examples, but I’ll leave you with my favourite two. Hulk Hogan’s 1993 Kindergarten Cop rip-off Mr Nanny is not a film that ever needs to be rewatched, except for a long scene where Hogan rides his Harley-Davidson around aimlessly. Because this is where, perhaps entirely by accident, he passes a man who is right in the middle of flinging his dog into the sea. The dog-flinging has an authentic flourish to it, like the man is truly done with being a pet owner. A scene this disturbing has no place in a film like Mr Nanny. However, Mr Nanny is all the better for it.

And, finally, there is the crowd scene in Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai where a horse loses its temper and kicks an extra in the testicles. A simple gesture, but an important one.

But let’s not get too distracted. These are all wonderful moments, but today belongs to the busy Doctor Strange extra, whoever she is. She is now officially the best thing about Doctor Strange 2 and, the way that Marvel is going, her Disney+ spin-off series can only be weeks away.