The weekend after they arrived in Nepal, we invited Richard Morris and his wife Alison to the Doctor Strange shoot in the heart of the earthquake damaged Patan Durbar Square. It was early November 2015 when we first met, before he had even presented credentials, surrounded by lights, cameras, extras and all the paraphernalia of a movie set.
I had arrived early and been startled to find myself standing next to the unpronounceable star of Kinky Boots, Chiwetel Ejifor at the crew’s Himalayan Java coffee stand. He smiled shyly dressed in some outlandish medieval costume, swallowed his expresso, and stooped through the durbar’s low lintel onto the set.
Working with the production, we brought a few select guests to watch the shoot and be thanked by the Hollywood team — the British Embassy had helped with handling the English stars on the Boeing charter, and a handful of ministers, generals and police chiefs without whom we could not have made it happen. The education ministry had rescheduled local exams in order to clear the palace precincts.
The Americans were super-supportive of the Disney Marvel razzmatazz featuring Nepal in a blockbuster, especially so soon after the earthquake devastation. The US Ambassador was there that day, her son having secured a leading role in a crowd scene. That same heady weekend David Beckham was kicking a football around in Bhaktapur for a UNICEF documentary.
The Doctor Strange logistics were complicated by blockade fuel shortages, hundreds of local actors, and police cordons sealing the Durbar Square as we had underestimated the rampant popularity of Benedict Cumberbatch. The lanky British actor turned out to have a huge fan base in Nepal, made famous as an enigmatic Sherlock in the classic television series. Ever since Benedict was first spotted in Pashupatinath, crowds had gravitated to the sets – Thamel, Indrachok, New Road, Swayambunath and now Patan.
Wandering over between takes to say hello to the waiting VIPs, politely corralled in a corner of the square admiring the action, Benedict passed a flagstone where he could be glimpsed by his followers from behind the guarded barriers, resulting in a chant of admiration: “Benedict, Benedict.” He paused, took a step back, and the fans screamed their appreciation. “Ah, I’ve found the Benedict stone!” he grinned, namaste-ing Richard as we weren’t allowed to touch his tramp-like makeover.
After the chaos of the shoot, I walked with Richard and Alison through the peaceful back streets of Patan, excited to see their fresh, first-time reaction to the temple shrines, concealed courtyards and hidden corners of the historic city. I showed them earthquake restoration sites and a couple of the Cosy Nepal homestays, meeting some of the innovative owners who introduced them to Newari heritage.