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Why Nicodemus West From Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Looks So Familiar

As the blockbuster movie season nears, fans are especially excited for the MCU sequel, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," which premieres on May 6. The first "Doctor Strange" was a big hit in 2016, racking up an 89% Rotten Tomatoes score and 86% from audiences, and raking in more than $677 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo. Benedict Cumberbatch, of course, plays the brilliant but cocky neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange at Metro-General hospital, where he has an ongoing rivalry with neurosurgeon Dr. Nicodemus West — but Dr. West comes to his rescue when Strange has a life-threatening car accident. West operates on Strange and saves his life, but can't save his hands, which starts Strange on his superpower-unearthing journey to becoming the sorcerer we all know.

The truly eagle-eyed Doctor Strange fans out there have noticed a literal blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment from a trailer released in January that shows Dr. West at Christine Palmer's (Rachel McAdams) wedding, and the actor who plays the rival doctor has a higher billing than previously thought. So fans are speculating why the Doc is back, and whether he'll have a more robust role in the new film, perhaps relating to one of the original comic books...

It's hugely important for actors, especially character actors, to become chameleons and disappear completely into roles. That can go a long way to explain why the actor who plays Dr. West may seem familiar, but you may not know who he is. Let's look at some of his work.

Michael Stuhlbarg's breakout role was leading a Coen Brothers film

Character actor Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Dr. Nicodemus West, has portrayed so many interesting supporting characters that it's difficult to narrow down the most memorable. And he's only played one leading role: his breakout role in 2009's "A Serious Man."

Though Stuhlbarg enjoyed a successful career in live theatre before branching out on screen in 1998, it wasn't until he was 30 years old that he landed his breakout role. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, auteurs of films like "Raising Arizona," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "The Big Lebowski," and "Fargo," cast Stuhlbarg as the lead of their dark comedy, according to The Independent, because he was largely unknown to movie audiences. The film, made for only $7 million, brought in $31 million at the box office, along with an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a quiet Jewish physics professor in late 1960s Minnesota whose life slowly collapses when his wife leaves him for a more "serious" man. Though the film is semi-autobiographical, featuring characters inspired by people in the Coens' lives and thought to express their nihilistic worldview, they haven't confirmed this. Stuhlbarg enjoys that aspect of the film. "I like for other people to make up their own minds about it," he told AFI. "It's fascinating because everyone will bring their own experience to seeing this and everyone has their own ideas, and that's as it should be, I think."

Michael Stuhlbarg stole the scene in a big-budget sequel

Of the many supporting roles that Michael Stuhlbarg played, often portraying real-life people, one of his most memorable was in a big-budget sequel, where he finally became known to a mainstream audience. Stuhlbarg gave a scene-stealing turn as future-telling alien Griffin in "Men in Black 3."

Griffin is an Archanan alien who is the last of his kind. When Agents K (Josh Brolin) and J (Will Smith) meet Griffin, he quickly shows them his ability: he can predict the many possible futures that could occur based on an infinite number of scenarios and timelines. While that can be an overwhelming superpower, the awkward Griffin takes it in stride with a sense of humor and a big, goofy smile. He also gave the struggling "MIB" franchise new life in 2012 after its disappointing second installment 10 years earlier, earning it 68% on the Tomatometer, versus the previous film's 39%.

Stuhlbarg embraced his alien role so thoroughly that director Barry Sonnenfeld grew concerned. "His script and notebook were filled with tiny scribbles, notes, diagrams," Sonnenfeld told Newsweek. "It made me suspect that perhaps I had actually cast an alien." Stuhlbarg, who wanted to be a cartoonist as a kid, still draws his characters while preparing for a role, envisioning how they might look on paper. "I like to lose myself in that stuff," he told Juilliard. But when Sonnenfeld saw it on "MIB3," he said, "To Michael, all his little notations made sense. To me, they were scary and indecipherable."

Michael Stuhlbarg appeared in a trifecta of award-contending films

2017 was a banner year for Michael Stuhlbarg, and this was where he really hit his stride. That year, Stuhlbarg became one of only a handful of actors in history to star in three best-picture Oscar-nominated films in the same year. He played journalist Abe Rosenthal in the Steven Spielberg movie "The Post," and was scientist-turned-Soviet-spy Dr. Robert Hoffstetler in Guillermo Del Toro's film "The Shape of Water," which ultimately won the coveted award. But the best known of his trifecta of award-contending film roles was as Timothée Chalamet's quiet but supportive father, Samuel Perlman, in "Call Me By Your Name."

Like Larry Gopnik in "A Serious Man," Stuhlbarg again plays a Jewish professor, this time in archeology, who is working on a project in 1983 Italy. Assisting him is handsome doctoral student Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, who soon develops a romantic relationship with Chalamet's Elio, Samuel's teenage son. Samuel is quiet but present, supporting his son and showing excitement for his research project with Oliver. He finally delivers the powerful message of the film in a heartfelt monologue to Elio, after Oliver has left Elio sad and alone. The monologue raised questions from fans about Samuel's sexual orientation, and it certainly showcased the power of Stuhlbarg's soft, understated interpretation. However, among the film's four Oscar nominations, Stulhbarg's performance wasn't one.

Michael Stuhlbarg took on his most notorious real-life role to date

Though more known for his fictional roles, Michael Stuhlbarg also portrayed many real-life characters in projects like "Boardwalk Empire," "Lincoln," and "The Looming Tower." But those roles couldn't fully prepare him for arguably his most notorious one to date.

In 2021, Stuhlbarg starred as the shrewd, creepy billionaire-businessman Richard Sackler in Hulu's brilliant miniseries "Dopesick," based on the nonfiction book of the same name. Sackler is the former president of Purdue Pharma who was later sued for his connection to the horrific opioid epidemic that killed nearly 500,000 people from 1999 to 2019, according to the CDC. The series follows many characters over several years as the opioid crisis grips the country. "At the time that we were making this series there was something like 2,500 lawsuits pending," Stuhlbarg told Esquire. While Sackler denies any responsibility, per The New York Times, instead blaming users who supposedly didn't follow the dosage instructions, Purdue pleaded guilty and settled many lawsuits over the years, and the Sackler family ultimately got off scot-free.

Speaking to the infamous Sackler was out of the question for Stuhlbarg, so he relied a lot on Sackler's eight-hour deposition video for clues to his personality. "It's quite a revealing piece of videotape," Stuhlbarg said. "He has this sphinx-like quality." He later added, "He seemed like a pretty lonely person to me." As to the family's lack of culpability, Stuhlbarg isn't surprised. "Unless somebody creates some laws to make individuals accountable, that is how it's going to remain," he remarked.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).