Monthly Archives: January 2015
Oscar-nominated actor talks about playing the man who ended WWII, fame and his rabid fans
Campaigning…isn’t that what politicians do?” Benedict Cumberbatch has been on the phone for less than a minute, and it’s already obvious he’s in a bit of a playful mood. The British actor — who you either know from his starmaking turn on the BBC import Sherlock, as a villain in projects as varied as 12 Years a Slave and Star Trek Into Darkness, or as the subject of endless fawning memes — is en route to the Palm Springs Film Festival, where he’ll pick up the Ensemble Award alongside other cast members of his latest movie, The Imitation Game. In a few weeks, the 38-year-old star will add “Oscar nominee” to his resumé and, per the endless predictions of seasonal industry drum-beaters, will be one of the five men up for the Best Actor Academy Award. But for now, Cumberbatch is in a car, calling to chat about the reason for all this buzz and jokingly questioning an interviewer’s use of the word “campaigning.”
“It suggests that what I’m doing falls under the category of ‘work,’” he says, “when, if I’m being honest, what I’m doing with you right now — talking about a man whom I could not admire more — feels more like a privilege on my part. I have to go back to London in a few days to shoot the Sherlock Christmas special — that’s work! This is practically like a holiday.”
The gentleman he’s referring to is Alan Turing, the subject of The Imitation Game and, until recently, a somewhat controversial figure in the U.K. Hired by the government’s intelligence agency in the 1940s, Turing was a cryptanalyst who ended up pioneering computer programming and helped the Allies win the war by cracking the enigma code. He was also a homosexual during a time in Britain when such things were deemed a felony, however, and as the film recounts, he was forced to endure “chemical castration” treatments after being arrested in 1952. Despite the fact that Turing’s formerly classified work during WWII had been made public in the Eighties, the government did not publicly acknowledge and apologize for the barbaric treatment he received until 2009; he wasn’t officially pardoned for his “crime” until 2013.
The film is, in a way, both a celebration of Turing’s achievements and a correction to the fact that he’s never truly been given his due — something that continues to irk Cumberbatch. “Why is he not on bank notes?” the actor asks, his voice rising. “Why is he not on the covers of textbooks? Going into this, I knew a little bit about him. After I’d finished the film, I thought it was the criminal the whole world didn’t know everything about him.” When Cumberbatch received the script while shooting the Star Trek sequel (“It was like, ‘Ah, English period war drama…this should be a nice change of pace from playing a genetically engineered, super-warrior baddie bad guy!’”), he remembered Turing’s name from the Hugh Whitemore play Breaking the Code, in which Derek Jacobi played the logician. He quickly learned, however, that there was more to him than simply cracking Enigma. “The man was funny, he was acerbic, he was awkward, he had an interesting early life that I’d had no idea about. From the moment I read that interview scene with Denniston [Charles Dance’s character], I thought okay, I’m in. I’d have done anything. If they hadn’t have cast me, I’d been willing to have just served tea on set.”
“It’s not every actor who can play a genius,” director Morten Tyldum says, and the Norwegian filmmaker (best known for his 2011 adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s Nordic-noir novel Headhunters) admits that Cumberbatch was essentially his only choice for the role. “Watch his eyes: You can always see something going on behind them. He always had questions, like ‘How does a mind that’s going in 1o different directions at once work? How does one have a conversation with somebody and show that it’s engaged while figuring out how to crack a code at the same time?’” Once Benedict started researching Turing, poring through writings on him and talking to his colleagues and relatives, he claims that two anecdotes helped him get him handle on who Turing was.
“His nieces told me that Alan used to play chess with his back to the board,” Cumberbatch says, laughing. “An opponent would go ‘Bishop to Rook Four’ or whatever, and he could countermove without having to look. He kept the entire game in his head! The other bit came from something a coworker said, after Alan had been in ‘treatment’ for longer than he should have been. The court had never taken the implant in his hip out, and his response was, ‘Well, that’s not really cricket, is it?’ He’d had this horrible injustice done to him, and he just made a joke of it. Then, later that day, Alan apparently went home and tried to remove the thing himself with a knife and was found passed out in his apartment.” There’s a momentary silence on the other end of the line. “The man started to come into focus for me after that.”
Though Cumberbatch has played his share of real-life figures, from The Fifth Estate’s Julian Assange to Stephen Hawking (in the 2004 TV movie Hawking, a fact that’s delighted Oscar pundits as the actor competes against The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne for a statuette), he says its no more or less of a challenge than taking on an iconic role — like Sherlock Holmes or, as he’s slated to do in the near future, the Marvel superhero Dr. Strange. “You certainly feel a responsibility for protecting someone’s legacy,” he admits. “But I also feel a responsibility to those who have expectations that go beyond what you bring to a role. You’re delivering something to a fan base that comes to something with preconceived notions, and you know you can’t satisfy everyone — you’d go mad if you tried. It will never be the Sherlock or the Khan they have in their head. So you do what you can do.”
As for those rabid fans — the ones known by a certain nickname — who come to his work for less than prurient reasons, he says finds the attention “completely flattering” even if the seemingly overnight success of it all initially struck him as somewhat bewildering. “The trickiest thing about navigating fame, for lack of a better word,” Cumberbatch says, “is not being able to give everybody the time and interaction they want. I’ve always been sensitive to social situations, and you never want to feel like you’re letting anyone down. Or that you don’t seem to be grateful for all the attention you’re getting.” What sounds like a giggle suddenly materializes over the phone. “Or that you think someone recognizes you when, in fact, they don’t. I’ve made that mistake more than once. When that happens, no matter how many people are yelling your name, it’s humbling, believe me.”
Suddenly, a publicist is telling Benedict he has to go, as his car pulls up at his destination. “Well, time to ‘campaign,’ as you say,” he proclaims, laughing, and then he’s off.
The ‘Batch is back!
Benedict Cumberbatch, once the Internet’s boyfriend and now an Oscar-nominated global sensation, has returned to the role that initially broke his career – the charming, asexual, modern day Sherlock Holmes.
In between attending awards shows in Hollywood for his role in The Imitation Game, the newly engaged actor has been seen filming in London with costar Martin Freeman for a one-off Sherlock special set to air later this year.
So how does the actor manage to remember the crazy, rapid-fire lines that his Holmes character spews forth when making his deductions?
“There are two things,” Cumberbatch tells PEOPLE. “I memorize them very painstakingly and slowly. And I try to exercise, and stay off the cigarettes, booze and caffeine when filming, so I’ve got this good, healthy oxygenated blood and can think fast.”
Still, even a three-time Emmy winner and classically trained actor like Cumberbatch can have some trouble with the lines from time to time.
“There’s always a moment when I get behind and I’m having a messy day, and I’m just kind of going, ‘Sorry …. ‘ But by and large, you have to be really disciplined,” he says.
Cumberbatch, who recently announced he’s expecting his first child with his fiancée, Sophie Hunter, also says the lines can be harder to do depending on the season they’re shooting.
“It can be hell when you’re standing on the side of the Thames in January with the winds … you can’t even move your jaw, so trying to do one of the long passages of deduction is really physically hard,” he says. “You have to warm up, remember to use your diaphragm.”
And shooting in the studio can be equally tough. “It’s really hot with the huge studio lights. When it comes to speaking fast, you really just can’t be tired or unhealthy in any way, or it’s going to be that much more work for you.”
And one of his preferred ways to stay in shape? In the great outdoors.
“I love hiking,” he says. “It’s great to get away in nature. It’s grounding. I go up to the country a lot, but I also love the coasts. We’re shooting Richard III, and it’s been the most amazing heritage tour in the English countryside, with all the castles and manor houses and nunneries. It’s stunning.”
Benedict Cumberbatch is chasing the sun. Fresh off an island vacation with fiancée Sophie Hunter and just out of a steam at the Parker Palm Spring’s sauna, Cumberbatch is moving his patio chair clockwise around a firepit on a chilly January afternoon. “There’s no shame today,” says Cumberbatch, clad in gray sweatpants and a vintage Pink Floyd T-shirt. “I’m going back to England, where it’s like the Arctic Circle. I need to store up the sun now, otherwise I’ll get rickets by the time I step off the plane.”
Cumberbatch has landed in Palm Springs along with the rest of the cast of “The Imitation Game” to accept an ensemble award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The movie, a look at the life of Alan Turing, the Cambridge genius who led the team that cracked the Enigma code that Nazi Germany used to encrypt its radio transmissions during World War II, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and recently won eight Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture and for Cumberbatch’s lead turn.
We moved right alongwith the 38-year-old actor as he shifted his chair to account for the dying light and spoke about his eventful journey between Toronto and Palm Springs.
You look a lot more relaxed than when I saw you last in Toronto.
It was a really steep incline toward Christmas, just crazy, finishing “Richard III” [which will be featured in the BBC’s “The Hollow Crown” series], getting ready for the holidays, moving around seeing different families. That was a big induction this Christmas. A whole new world opens up. And then we were able to just breathe, be in the present tense, be in one place, just relaxing and … [Cumberbatch leans forward and drops his voice to an excited whisper]. That’s Robert Duvall! Wow! [Duvall, also in Palm Springs for the festival, walks by on a path about 20 yards away.]
I’ve never met an actor who doesn’t idolize him. Have you ever met him?
He’s one of the masters. I haven’t met him. I’d love to.
Maybe tonight at the gala?
As a fanboy, yeah, to just touch the hem of the garment. But at the same time, to get a meaningful moment, you need to be away from the circus. That’s why I’ve enjoyed the acting roundtables I’ve done in this roar. You get to have a free-flowing conversation about acting stuff.
Have you learned anything from those conversations?
Paul Thomas Anderson recently said that having kids helps too. With them, you realize you’ve already done your best work, so it frees you to be a little looser with your day job.
I salute that principle 100 … no not more than 100%. I’m not Simon Cowell. [Cumberbatch breaks into a Cowell impersonation] “One hundred and fifty percent!” There’s no such thing. I get very nerdy every time he does that on “The X Factor.” He’s brilliant and I completely endorse every thing he does … except for the math part.
You once said your greatest regret was not being a dad by the age of 32. Why 32?
When I was growing up, I had a weird obsession with 32 being the mark of adulthood and that was part of what I thought that might mean, naively. It was just a hunch about a number. I was always a bit of an old soul. I wasn’t really interested in being young. I mean, I wasn’t eccentric.
But I’m glad it didn’t happen. Things happen for a reason. And I’m definitely with the right person for that. So no regrets … [Actor David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” approaches.] David! How are you? The back of your head is everywhere. As I was driving in last night, I kept seeing it all over the place.
Oyelowo: I’ve got one of the most famous backs of heads in history. But you … Richard III, Hamlet, Sherlock … are there three of you? You’re setting the bar too high. It’s hard keeping up with you.
Cumberbatch: What I fear, if the work gets diluted, people will go, “Well, he just took on too much.” But, to be honest, I just can’t turn down those opportunities.
Oyelowo: Somehow, I don’t think people are going to be saying, “He spread himself too thin.” [The two talk a bit more before Oyelowo takes his leave. I tell Cumberbatch, who hasn’t yet seen “Selma,” that some have said the movie isn’t fair to President Lyndon Johnson. “The Imitation Game” has also caught flak, with a few critics saying the movie should have shown Turing’s sexuality on screen.]
How do you balance legacy and storytelling in fact-based movies like yours and “Selma”?
You can’t do one without the other. The argument with ours, that you don’t see him being sexually active, upset me because we weren’t shy of it. I’m not interested in the vanity of a character or my own vanity as an actor. The idea that for a second I would want to do that or the film would do that is perverse.
The whole structure of the film is about showing a man who had a life that wasn’t allowed. So, what, you need to prove that he was gay by seeing him be with a man? Whether it was something we needed to see because it was very much a part of his life is another argument, but I would argue that in our paradigm, it just would have looked really stuck in for good measure; it would have looked distasteful.
There could be another movie made about that aspect of his life.
There are so many movies to be made of this story. We have only two hours. It packs quite a punch, our film. At one moment, it’s war-espionage thriller, the next moment a tragic story of a man wronged by an intolerant society, the next moment a celebration of someone who’s different.
Everyone has a version of the story they want to see and I completely respect that. And, obviously, they are going to have to respect me being defensive about it because I’m in the thick of it, trying to be fair and uncompromising in my portrayal of this great man.
Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor, is leading a campaign to convince the government to overturn historic ‘indecency’ convictions handed to 49,000 gay men
Benedict Cumberbatch has urged the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to help convince the government to pardon 49,000 men convicted under outdated indecency laws.
Cumberbatch, star of The Imitation Game, will ask for ordinary men to be offered the same official pardon as Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1952.
The campaign, launched by an open letter, is backed by his co-star Allen Leech, broadcaster Stephen Fry and Rachel Barnes, the niece of Turing himself.
Turing, who helped win the Second World War by developing machines to decipher the Enigma codes, committed suicide after being subjected to chemical castration as a result of his prosecution under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.
An estimated 49,000 other homosexual men were convicted under the same law, described by campaigners as “intolerable” in its homophobia.
An open letter addressed to Her Majesty’s Government now calls on politicians and “young leaders”, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to see the convictions overturned.
Calling Turing “one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century”, it argues that while his pardon was welcomed by supporters, it does not go far enough.
“In 2009, an “unequivocal apology” for his appalling treatment was issued by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown,” it reads.
“Following the apology and after receiving a request from the justice secretary Chris Grayling, Queen Elizabeth II granted Alan Turing a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in 2013.
“But Alan Turing was not alone.
“The apology and pardon of Alan Turing are to be welcomed but ignores over 49,000 men who were convicted under the same law, many of whom took their own lives. An estimated 15,000 men are believed to still be alive.
“The UK’s homophobic laws made the lives of generations of gay and bisexual men intolerable.
“It is up to young leaders of today including The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to acknowledge this mark on our history and not allow it to stand.”
The campaigners, which also include film director Morten Tyldum, Matthew Todd, editor of Attitude magazine, and Peter Tatchell, equal rights campaigner, have now called on the government to “begin a discussion about the possibility of a pardoning all the men, alive or deceased, who like Alan Turing, were convicted under the UK’s ‘gross indecency’ law”.
Cumberbatch has previously been outspoken in his condemnation of all the indecency convictions.
He told Hollwood Reporter: “Alan Turing was not only prosecuted, but quite arguably persuaded to end his own life early, by a society who called him a criminal for simply seeking out the love he deserved, as all human beings do.
“Sixty years later, that same government claimed to ‘forgive’ him by pardoning him. I find this deplorable, because Turing’s actions did not warrant forgiveness — theirs did — and the 49,000 other prosecuted men deserve the same.”
David Oyelowo has defended fellow British actor and friend, Benedict Cumberbatch, for using the term “coloured” during an interview.
Cumberbatch has apologised and said he was “devastated to have caused offence” after using the word on a US TV show to describe black actors.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Selma star Oyelowo told Newsbeat.
“When you look at what he was actually saying it’s clear that he’s a huge supporter of black performers.”
David Oyelowo was speaking at the UK premiere of Selma, in which he stars as 1960s civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cumberbatch mentioned David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor as part of a wider discussion with US talk show host Tavis Smiley about diversity in the film industry.
“To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance.”
The actor also said he had spoken to Cumberbatch about the controversy that flared up online over the past few days.
“I reached out to him in support and said I think it’s ridiculous,” he said.
When asked if he felt Hollywood and the film industry had an issue with diversity, Oyelowo replied with a resounding “absolutely”.
“You can see that in the fact every time a film of this size and stature comes up.
“We’re talking about diversity again and that’s because there isn’t enough of it.”
He cited his recent role in Interstellar as one that wasn’t specified as a black character and noted “to get to the point whereby myself and Ryan Gosling are going up for the same role is going to be great”.
“That’s not to say that that doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t happen often.”
Oyelowo suggested there needed to be more diversity among people with the power to finance and get films made.
“Excellence is the best weapon against prejudice. I intend to be part of the solution and not the problem.
“You’ve just got to keep on banging out good performances.”
Benedict Cumberbatch has been nominated for the best actor Oscar for his role in The Imitation Game, and while David Oyelowo missed out on an acting nomination for Selma, the film is in the running for best picture at next month’s ceremony.
So does David think the negative publicity Benedict has been getting will harm Cumberbatch’s career?
“Absolutely not,” said Oyelowo.
“I think it’s just part of the silly news cycle that we all feed off and it will go away like chip paper as it does.
“He’s a brilliant actor, he gives a brilliant performance in Imitation Game and, like I say, it’s just a diversion from what we should be talking about, which is that astounding performance.”
The Imitation Game ’ Los Angeles Times portraits by Jay L Clendenin
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Caption : TORONTO, CANADA – SEPTEMBER 09: Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is photographed for Los Angeles Times on September 9, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photos by Jay L. Clendenin for the Los Angeles Times) *** Local Caption *** Benedict Cumberbatch
This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As if this year’s best picture Oscar race weren’t already heavily politicized — what with the furor over the Academy’s failure to nominate Selma director Ava DuVernay, followed by American Sniper‘s sudden emergence as the favorite of flag-waving Red State America — a new issue has just been injected into the contest. The Weinstein Co. originally promoted The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, as a period thriller that paid tribute to Alan Turing, the father of modern computing. But on Jan. 19, appearing on CBS This Morning, Harvey Weinstein introduced a new tactic, arguing that though Turing received a royal pardon in 2013 for his 1952 conviction for gross indecency because of his homosexuality, he deserves to be honored by the British government. He added the government also should pardon the thousands of British citizens convicted under laws forbidding homosexuality, which wasn’t decriminalized in the U.K. until 1967. Weinstein, who was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004, said he “was willing to give up my own CBE” to make that happen.
Two days later at a screening for BAFTA members in London, actor Stephen Fry joined the campaign to use The Imitation Game to promote honors for Turing and win pardons for others, saying, “There is a general feeling that perhaps if he should be pardoned, then perhaps so should all those men whose names were ruined in their lifetime.” And the following day, the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies on behalf of LGBT issues, added its voice. HRC, which had already announced that it would honor The Imitation Game at a Jan. 31 gala dinner in New York, took out full-page ads in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times signed by HRC president Chad Griffin. The ads noted that 49,000 gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same laws that forced Turing to submit to chemical castration or face jail, and the ads exhorted readers to “Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000.” The message to the Academy was clear: If you support gay rights, then vote for The Imitation Game for best picture.
Attaching a movie to a worthy cause has, of course, become de rigueur among modern-day Oscar campaigns. Two years ago, The Weinstein Co. sent the Silver Linings Playbook team to Congress to lobby on behalf of mental health legislation. Such gestures are well intentioned, calculated to use a movie to raise awareness about a social issue, but they’re also designed to translate the urge to do something about that issue into Oscar support.
But the Academy isn’t necessarily looking to single out gay movies. This year, it chose to ignore several other awards-worthy, gay-themed films: Love Is Strange, Ira Sachs‘ drama about an older gay couple; Pride, the British dramedy about gay activists who lent their support to striking mine workers; and Ben Cotner and Ryan White‘s The Case Against 8, the documentary about the legal battle to overturn California’s ban against same-sex marriage (which made it onto the documentary shortlist of 15 films but not the final five).
And The Imitation Game‘s gay credentials also have been a matter of debate, with some gay viewers complaining that it’s much too discrete about Turing’s sexuality. Writing in the National Review, critic Armond White accused the movie of “whitewashing Turing, [turning him into] a hollow statue.” And while the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association gave the movie three noms, including best film and best LGBTQ film, when it came to a final vote, the group chose Boyhood and Pride in those two categories.
With Birdman and Boyhood seemingly battling for dominance — after its PGA and SAG wins, Birdman now appears to enjoy an edge — the other six movies in the competition are looking for ways to stake a claim. On its own merits, The Imitation Game is a well-made historical drama, in the tradition of TWC’s own Oscar-winning The King’s Speech. It shouldn’t be easily dismissed, says a rival campaign consultant, explaining, “It’s formidable, it got a lot of nominations, and it’s easy to watch.” So turning it into a rainbow-flag-waving cause celebre is not without its risks. It’s one thing for Weinstein to challenge the Queen to do the right thing, it’s quite another to put the Academy in the hot seat.
sherlock setting up at my school! apparently they’re doing the filming at night though. i made friends with a set guy. he let me touch the bookcase. there was also a horse transport van ok i will update tomorrow x
Victorian armchairs. Two of them. A red one and one made of black leather. I wonder, if Sherlock and John will both live at 221B (again)? But how does Mary fit in? Do we go back to ‘The Sign of Four’? Mary as a client?