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Why Dr. Sivana From Shazam! Looks So Familiar

"Shazam!" offered audiences a fascinating new perspective on the lives of the DC Extended Universe's perfectly symmetrical, seemingly invincible super-beings when it bravely and boldly asked, "what if they were pretty stoked about their lives?" Drawing from almost a century of stories originating in the pages of Fawcett Comics, and more specifically from the reimagined characters of DC's recent stories, the startlingly lighthearted tale of a young man gifted with the powers, stature, and beer-buying abilities of a superhero charmed the pants off of viewers.

And you can't have a hero without a villain. In the case of "Shazam," the forces of no-goodery were represented by Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, the longtime nemesis of Earth's Mightiest Mortal. An adversary with roots in the golden age of comic books, Sivana started out as a Professor Farnsworth-adjacent evil genius before landing a late-in-life reimagining with DC's New 52 initiative. In his new form, he was less about maniacal hand wringing and more possessed of sinister intent and, crucially, good posture. He would need a suitably severe actor to fill his imposing combat boots.

Luckily, Mark Strong was available. Even better, DC already had his phone number. But here, we're getting ahead of ourselves, as we're here to discuss why he may look so familiar to viewers.

A young Mark Strong appeared on EastEnders

If you live stateside, it's entirely possible that you've never heard of "EastEnders." Our apologies for the wasted time to anyone from the U.K., but for the benefit of American readers, here's what "EastEnders" is: it's 3,000 hours. That's what it is — nearly 7,000 episodes stretching back to 1985. The British soap opera has been a staple of the BBC's programming schedule for longer than most scotches are aged. If you sat down and tried to watch all of "EastEnders" nose to toes, it would take more than four months, and that's without taking a break for food or sleep or finding a toilet.

With that much content, the law of large numbers dictates that Mark Strong was going to wind up on the show eventually, as we all will. In point of fact, Strong's work on the soap, playing the unforgettable character "Telephone Engineer," holds special significance.

"I think it was the first thing I ever did on camera, to be honest," the actor told The A.V. Club of his 1989 performance. "Somebody just rediscovered it recently. I think what I had back then was a fantastic lack of concern for the artifice of filming. I just played it like it was completely real. I probably didn't even know where the camera was," he continued.

It's true. "EastEnders" was Strong's first credited work on IMDb. As debut portrayals of guys fixing landlines go? Not bad.

Mark Strong's big break arrived with Prime Suspect

Traditionally, one of the more jarring differences between television made in the U.S. versus the U.K. has been studios' willingness to take a breather. While American TV shows are pumped out with clockwork regularity, British shows — "Doctor Who" notwithstanding — generally seem to come out when they're good and ready. "Don't put the cart before the horse," the BBC seems to say to its creatives. "No need to rush production before we even have a story." In show business terminology, this is what's known as a Reverse J. J. Abrams.

Mark Strong's big break came on one such show — "Prime Suspect," which premiered in 1991. He didn't appear on the program until Series 3, two-and-a-half years later, before making a return trip to the series for Series 6 in 2003.

"Prime Suspect" followed Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), a police detective struggling to do good in a dude-heavy field of work. Strong appeared as Detective Inspector Larry Hall in all but two episodes of the third series, before being promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent in the sixth.

Mark Strong commits fratricide with the best of them in Stardust

It was 2007, and superhero movie roles hadn't become the defining attributes in performers' careers yet. Charlie Cox hadn't suited up as Daredevil, Henry Cavill was not yet the Man of Steel, and Robert De Niro was still years away from embodying the classic DC character Talk Show Host Who Hangs Out With Marc Maron For 30 Seconds And Then Gets Shot By The Joker.

But somehow, big names like Michelle Pfeiffer and Ian McKellen continued to survive, even without being forced to wear costumes that they had to be sewed into. "Stardust," for example, meant work for all of the names mentioned above. The surreal fairy tale adventure, based in broad strokes on the comics and novel written by Neil Gaiman, saw Strong in the role of Prince Septimus, one of seven mnemonically named brothers, each on a mission to kill the other six and take the throne following the death of their father. Strong plays Septimus with characteristic intensity and gets one of the weirdest sword fights in motion picture history during the movie's third act.

Mark Strong went to-to-toe with Sherlock Holmes

Every great hero needs a nemesis. Superman has Lex Luthor, the Crest Team has the Cavity Creeps, and anyone with an ounce of cultural awareness knows that Sherlock Holmes has Professor James Moriarty.

But 2009's "Sherlock Holmes," starring Robert Downey Jr. in the eponymous lead role, wasn't going to drop its most iconic villain during the first days of the franchise. Instead, the Guy Ritchie reimagining of Baker Street's favorite eccentric introduced a new antagonist: Lord Henry Blackwood, played by Mark Strong. Blackwood was all of the best parts of a good Holmes villain wrapped up in a single, imposing, weird package. He had that megalomaniacal obsession that tells fictional characters "I should try to play mind games with the world's smartest vigilante," as well as the cloak-and-dagger showmanship necessary to make the audience wonder if something unearthly really was going on.

It is a sad fact of life that aspiring super-criminals face a higher-than-usual mortality rate when facing RDJ characters — never forget the massacre during the final moments of 2020's "Dolittle" — and a slip-and-fall accident on the Tower Bridge meant that Blackwood, like so many Iron Mongers and Whiplashes before him, was not destined for sequels.

Mark Strong played another villain before Shazam!

In brightest day, in blackest night, and in well-intentioned but poorly executed comic book adaptations, the Green Lanterns of the DC Universe are staunchly opposed to evil escaping their sight. And no Lantern disliked evil more than Sinestro, the interplanetary peacekeeper who fought big yellow CGI monsters until, like Nietzsche tried to warn him, he became a big yellow CGI monster himself.

"Green Lantern" has been an easy target for a decade now, mostly owing to the way that it was, what do you call it, bad. That said, the movie's cast was on point. Michael Clarke Duncan's voice was spot-on Kilowog, Ryan Reynolds could have made a hell of a Hal Jordan with a different script, and Mark Strong really was picture perfect, bringing an extra layer of complexity to Sinestro during his enormous-air-quotes "good cop" phase. It was almost enough to make you wish that the franchise hadn't skidded to a halt one movie in, or that the post-credits sequence where Strong nets a yellow power ring had made even one single lick of sense.

Mark Strong is Merlin in the Kingsman movies

Already well established as both a reliable comic book actor and, more presciently, a British person, Mark Strong joined the Millarverse in the most gentlemanly way available in 2014 — he enlisted as a Kingsman, with all the rights and privileges and bulletproof projector umbrellas thereunto appertaining.

More specifically, Strong took the role of Merlin, the eponymous organization's tech wiz, in "Kingsman: The Secret Service," Matthew Vaughn's high-octane love letter to espionage thrillers. The character manages to beat the odds by looking and behaving like Mark Strong without ever turning out to be a double agent or a secret assassin sent by a rival organization. He even survives to see the sequel, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," where he goes out in a blaze of heroic John Denver. We should all be so lucky.

But dry those tears, Merlin fans. In a recent interview with ComicBookMovie, Strong hinted that we may not have seen the last of the franchise's deadliest karaoke hero. "There is a Kingsman 3 and in that universe, despite the fact that I've been blown to pieces, it doesn't necessarily mean he's out of the running because anything can happen in that universe," the actor teased.

Mark Strong is more than meets the eye in Cruella

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, "in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and those live-action reimaginings of Disney cartoon characters." After the painful engine stall that the entertainment industry experienced in 2020, the House of Mouse got back in the swing of things with "Cruella," the movie that finally addressed the question "what kind of monster wants to skin dalmatians to make clothes? Wouldn't it be easier to skin a bunch of white cats and then spray paint black spots onto them?"

Here, Strong plays John the Valet. Could there be more to the character than just "Guy Who Drives Politely?" We'll never tell. Maybe he's the real reason that the story's hero hates dogs so much. Maybe he is a dog. Maybe, just maybe, he's got the sort of dirt that only a de-aged CGI rendering of John the Valet can do justice to? Again, we're not here to give away the plot of "Cruella," but we will say this: Yeah, probably.