Category Archives: August: Osage County
It’s the end of a long day of interviews for Benedict Cumberbatch and he seems almost giddy as he gazes wishfully out of a hotel-room window in Toronto. Suddenly, he says excitedly: “I was in the elevator with Bill Murray yesterday. It was f—ing fantastic! I stepped into the elevator in a bathrobe and he went, ‘oh this guy is up for the same underwear ad that I am’. And then he stepped over to me and whispered, ‘You won’t get it, I’ve already got it’.
“He was so funny, I was completely starstruck.”
These days it’s usually the other way around when the 38-year-old actor walks into a room. In the past three years, Cumberbatch has graduated from being known mostly for stage work in his native England to a name brand whose films have included best-picture Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave, the Meryl Streep dramedy August: Osage County and the Julian Assange story The Fifth Estate.
This year, the actorhas all his eggs in one basket at the Toronto Film Festival, but what a basket. He’s an Oscar favourite and Golden Globe nominee for his complex role in The Imitation Game as English mathematician Alan Turing, who virtually invented the first computer and during World War II broke the enigma codethat helped end the war years earlier, only to be persecuted by his own country later for being homosexual.
It’s not the first time Cumberbatch has played a character much smarter than him, he admits. His title character in the television series Sherlock enjoys being a pompous arse and as Khan in Star Trek: Into the Darkness he’s no dummy either. But nothing prepared the actor for the journey of Turing, who was finally issued an official pardon and apology from the Queen this year, 60 years after he committed suicide following his chemical castration for homosexuality.
“I got to know my character very well and by the time we shot the scene where he breaks down in front of Joan [Keira Knightley] at the end, I had no control over my emotions,” he says. “I couldn’t stop crying and it wasn’t good acting, it was just because I knew that I was mourning this extraordinary human being who I had become so fond of. I can’t remember another time that it’s happened to me in my career, but it’s a desperately moving story and it deeply affected me.”
Asked about his own maths skills, Cumberbatch looks speechless. “My what? Oh, I thought you said my romance skills, as we sit here alone in an empty bedroom’,” he deadpans, then chuckles. “Yes, I’ll admit they are pretty awful and even now I vaguely panic when somebody give me arithmetic to do, because it’s just not my strong suit.”
The fiercely private Cumberbatch likes to waffle on in interviews about the intricacies of his character’s motivations until he runs the clock down without saying anything too personal, I’ve discovered in the past. Today he’s tired, so maybe his defences are down a little because he’s surprisingly funny, even joking about how he navigates a world of being constantly watched and recorded.
“What’s interesting is that you walk a minefield because everyone is a walking publisher, so anything you do in public isn’t private, and it’s all up for scrutiny,” he says. “The funniest ones are the people who pretend they are on the phone so they can take a photograph and think you don’t notice. I go right up to them and shock them by asking if I can see the picture!”
Catching up with Cumberbatch again last month, he was in Los Angeles doing his bit for his film’s award chances but pining for some quiet time at home in London. “I like being in nature – that’s why l live near the Heath, because I just love the fact there’s ancient woodland on my doorstep in the middle of London,” he says.
He’d just announced his surprise engagement to his girlfriend Sophie Hunter via a paid-for announcement in the classifieds section of The Times, naming both their parents.
“It’s the standard way of doing it in England and it may seem old-fashioned now but I would have done that if I wasn’t in this strange, heightened position that I am as a famous actor, so it’s just to try and normalise something that’s deeply personal to me I guess,” Cumberbatch says.
Was he old-fashioned in his proposal? “That’s something for me to know and you to never find out,” he says with a polite grin.
Much has been written about the actor and two friends being kidnapped in 2005 by armed robbers in South Africa, only to be released unexpectedly from the trunk of a car. He has been quoted many times as having promised himself at that time that if he survived he would live a life less ordinary. “Have I done that?” he jumps in, knowing where the question is going. “I would say I have done pretty well since then – as he says in his empty hotel room!”
Being seen and heard
Benedict Cumberbatch can be seen in just one film this holiday season, but his voice can be heard in two others: as Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (out now) and as Classified, the head of a pack of wolf spies aiding the black-and-white heroes in the animated Penguins of Madagascar (January 1).
“Penguins and dragons are very different animals, excuse the pun,” Cumberbatch says of his voice work. “Because Smaug came out in motion-capture form, the movement completely informed the voice … But the Penguins part was extraordinary in a different way because we recorded over a long period of time and had a lot of fun and freedom.
“All disciplines of acting feed off one each other and they all require different energies,” he adds. “So I am not exhausting myself doing just one thing.”
Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the PBS series on fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, may be one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, but he said fame is never something he strived to achieve.
“It’s really hard. It’s really, really hard,” Cumberbatch, 37, who also had a key role in the ensemble cast for the 2013 blockbuster film, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” said of show business during a recent interview with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. “It’s a difficult job and with all the success comes a whole new load of problems.”
Since 2012, Cumberbatch has portrayed the characters of Smaug and the Necromancer through voice and motion capture in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy. He has also appeared in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “12 Years a Slave” and “August: Osage County.” The Golden Globe-nominated actor recently sat down to talk with BAFTA’s YouTube channel called “In Focus: Acting.”
Cumberbatch prefers to keep his private life just that and has taken great pains to keep the identity of his rumored girlfriend from the media. But the British-born actor did open up with advice on how to break into the business. “The landscape of it is forever changing,” he said. “I just think, persevere.”
While Cumberbatch may have gained a loyal fanbase playing the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, the actor said his performances are, and never will be, as “perfect” as his fans believe them to be. The BBC-produced “Holmes” airs on PBS in the United States.
“You can never perfect what we do. There is no way,” he explained. “I have never met anyone who goes, ‘That’s perfection.’ I mean to an audience, outside of your work, people can think that that’s the only way they would ever want to see that part played or that moment done, whatever, but as an actor, and this is not humility, I think it just goes for all art forms really, that the whole point is perfection is unachievable.”
While Cumberbatch may shrug at the public notoriety his acting talents have deservedly brought him (In April 2014, Time magazine included him in its annual Time 100 as one of the “Most Influential People in the World.”), he still retains a sense of refreshing awe and wonder about his craft, even at one point referring to the world of acting as “magic.”
“It’s that constant pursuit of the unattainable which is kind of magic, really,” Cumberbatch said with a smile, while discussing the art form. “It should keep us kind of motivated to try better. Fail again, fail better. “
Cumberbatch is in Boston filming the Whitey Bulger crime drama, “Black Mass,“ alongside Johnny Depp and Dakota Johnson. The film, which is based on a true story, is being written and directed by Scott Cooper. It’s due out next year.
Cumberbatch said that when he’s choosing a role, the importance of a character overrides how big a part it is. “Usually what I try to look for in a role is something I haven’t done before,” he said. “I like to sort of throw some fresh stuff out and I think about, well how important is this character? Not how big, but just how important. How interesting is this going to be to watch and to bring to life?”
The actor said rehearsals also are critical. “It’s a great thing to have rehearsals and just know that you’re coming at it from the same point of view. It just means you can be more free, you can play and enjoy it, and I think that’s what elevates good work to great work.”
Cumberbatch has three films set to debut in theaters later this year: Morten Tyldum’s biographical thriller, “The Imitation Game,” (Nov. 21); the animated feature, “Penguins of Madagascar,” (Nov. 26); and the highly anticipated, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” (Dec. 17).
The three episodes that will make up Season 4 of “Sherlock” are expected to air on BBC One sometime in 2016, plus a Christmas special to hold fans over is in the works and will presumably air in December 2015.
It’s never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year’s critical darlings.
In Hollywood as in life, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. This past awards season saw splashy spectacles (The Great Gatsby), gutsy biopics (Diana), and seemingly slam-dunk awards bait (The Butler) blow into theaters with the torrent winds of great Oscar expectations and blow out with the faint gusts of disappointment. And then there were those that early on seemed like worthy nominees—Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis—before being eclipsed by late, unexpected contenders.
All of which is to say, predicting Oscar nominees is hard. But it’s also fun. Even if the movies and actors that appear to be likely champions now turn out to be busts come next Awards season, looking ahead at the prestigious release schedule at least gives us a chance to get excited about the coming year filmgoing.
Twelve months before the 2013 Academy Awards, I called seven of the eventual nine Best Picture nominees, including the winner, Argo. A year before last Sunday’s ceremony, I correctly predicted… two of nine, Wolf of Wall Streetand Dallas Buyers’ Club (though I also gave honorable mentions to two other eventual nominees, Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave). Here’s a try at prophesying 2015. Gauging by buzz and on-paper credentials, which films seem to be the best bets for Academy Awards nominations next year? Below, the very,very early predictions.
Benedict Cumberbatch has been on the edge of awards contention for years, but he’s getting his starring turn, finally, in ‘The Imitation Game.’
The Imitation Game
Release Date: TBD
Benedict Cumberbatch has been on the edge of awards contention for years, playing small parts in major works like Atonement, War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and, this past year, 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County. He’s getting his starring turn, finally, in The Imitation Game, and it’s a role as complex as Cumberbatch’s skills demand. He plays Alan Turing, a cryptographer in WWII who helped crack the Nazi code before being prosecuted for homosexuality. At best, expect one of those sweeping, character-driven war epics that the Academy can’t resist.
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**Older, but funny article…
Benedict Cumberbatch talks TIFF ‘It Boy’ status, playing Julian Assange and his real hair color.
Benedict Cumberbatch arrives nearly an hour late for our scheduled interview during TIFF, but then we should have expected this, shouldn’t we?
He was, after all, extremely busy as the “It Boy” of TIFF 2013, appearing in three of the most talked-about films at the fest: gala opener The Fifth Estate, and Oscar hopefuls 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County.
Cumberbatch, 37, shared TIFF “It Boy” status with fellow British actor Daniel Radcliffe, who also had three films at the fest. The Star christened the pair “Brit Boys” in a headline.
“I’m very flattered by that,” Cumberbatch says. “Just because I’ve got 10 years on Daniel. I’d be a Brit Boy any time you’d like.”
Being an It Boy or Brit Boy comes with important duties big and small, it seems. Cumberbatch had barely seated himself at the chair and side table he was using for his Toronto interviews (which, oddly, resembled a home rec-room version of the Enterprise bridge on Star Trek) when a man came out of nowhere carrying a plain white dinner plate.
He wanted Cumberbatch to autograph it with black marker, which the actor cheerfully did.
But to get back to why it should come as no surprise that Cumberbatch was so late for his interview, we need to recall something he told The Independent newspaper in 2008.
Asked to finish the sentence, “A phrase I use far too often is . . . ” he replied: “‘Sorry I’m late!’ I’m a terrible timekeeper.”
He said this back when he was getting good notices for having portrayed physicist Stephen Hawking in the BBC drama Hawking. It was still some time before his current superstardom playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC-TV series Sherlock, launched in 2010, and his more recent acclaim as the super villain in Star Trek Into Darkness and the scorching dragon Smaug in the coming The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
And that’s only a fraction of his current projects, with rumors of a Star Wars prequel/sequel in the mix.
So we shouldn’t be surprised about the lateness, should we? And Cumberbatch is indeed apologetic. It seems he nipped outside the interview room in the Ritz Carlton Hotel for a quick ciggie and respite from the mayhem.
“Sorry, it’s my first TIFF and I am so busy I can’t even see one of the films I’m in,” he says.
I remark at how relaxed he looks, considering how in-demand he is.
“I just got some fresh air; it does wonders for you getting out of a hotel room. But yeah, I look all right. I’m doing OK.”
With Holmesian acuity I observe that he’s wearing brown slacks, a blue denim shirt, a white striped summer sport coat and striped canvas sneakers, sans socks.
I further note with alarm that his hair is a dark reddish-brown, not at all like the “naturally blond” hue I had described in an earlier Star article. I had committed the journalistic sin of assuming it was his natural colour, because I’d seen it that way onscreen many times, including The Fifth Estate, due in theatres Oct. 18, in which he plays notorious WikiLeaks whistle blower Julian Assange.
Describing Cumberbatch as a “natural blond” brought me under sniper fire from his many fans on Twitter. Several of them indignantly scolded me, telling me that the lanky actor’s real hair colour is red, or “ginger” as the Brits call it.
“Well, you can sling s— back at them,” Cumberbatch says with a wry smile, rising to my defence. “I’m not ginger.”
Cumberbatch begins to elaborate, while the four publicists/assistants seated behind him look up from their iPhones and iPads with amused interest.
“I’m auburn and there is a difference,” he says firmly.
“I’ve got very good friends and relatives who are ginger and trust me, there’s a difference. And they ain’t ever gonna see the proof! They might say, ‘We saw it when you were the Creature in Frankenstein!’ (a stage play in which Cumberbatch appeared nude), but they didn’t, they didn’t! The Creature in Frankenstein had darker hair than me.
“That was one of the oddest moments of my life, applying makeup to that particular part of my body, but I have hair that is auburn. It’s got streaks of red in it, definitely. It’s also got streaks of bronze and lighter colours and darker brown colours. When I was a kid I was as blond as the young Julian in our film.”
Such precision is what you’d expect of the man who plays Sherlock Holmes, who can deduce a man’s entire life story from the ashes of his cigar. It could also describe, conveniently enough, the nitpicky ways of Assange, the Aussie computer boffin and muckraker who stunned the world (and terrified many world leaders) in 2010 when WikiLeaks, in cahoots with several major newspapers, dumped thousands of secret U.S. military and government documents into the public domain.
Cumberbatch reached out to Assange before portraying him in The Fifth Estate (which he does very well), but Mr. WikiLeaks was having none of it. Assange was also not inclined to broach any discussion about the subject, perhaps because he’s still living under diplomatic asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, still potentially facing legal charges in the U.S. and Sweden.
“I wanted to meet him, but he didn’t want to meet me,” Cumberbatch sighs, adding that he was turned down in writing, not verbally.
“I haven’t spoken to him. He didn’t want to condone a film that he felt was based on two poisonous accounts of events that might be detrimental to him and his institution and people, including some who are awaiting trial and possible extradition.
“I respected that, but at the same time as politely as he wrote to me, I returned to him and said, ‘I thoroughly disagree. This is a good thing; we want to portray you in all your glories. It’s not about vilifying you. It’s not about demonizing you. It’s not about making you into a hero, but it’s about trying to explore the complexities of it and it’s a film, not a documentary.’”
Cumberbatch’s normally perfect diction suddenly seems muffled. He sheepishly removes the maple sugar hard candy he’s been sucking on.
“Sorry, this is a really good sweet! Sorry if it’s making my diction s—!”
Despite being turned down by Assange, Cumberbatch still felt he needed to do right by the man, by showing him as more than just a humourless Internet troublemaker.
“I really profoundly wanted to show someone in private who had an emotional context, a sense of humour and the three-dimensionality which he can’t allow himself to show. I think that’s not because of being self-serving and protective, but because he doesn’t want to get in the way of the message.”
I point out to Cumberbatch that he’s not unlike Assange in his current state of notoriety. Everything the two of them say and do is under constant scrutiny, and they’re both caught in a whirlwind of media attention.
Cumberbatch keeps up a work schedule that would wear out three actors, perhaps making up for lost time over those years when he was a struggling unknown — such as when his film Starter for 10 played TIFF in 2006 and he wasn’t deemed important enough by the filmmakers to warrant an air ticket to Toronto for the fest.
How does he keep it up?
“Good diet and sleeping every now and again helps,” Cumberbatch says, grinning.
“I’ve got friends who keep me really grounded and for me — I guess in a way like Julian, although in a more flippant context — it’s about the work. So if the work is being celebrated, then all the other hoopla around it is nice, but it’s peripheral to the work.
“I’m in a really lucky position as well. I’m aware that not only is it an embarrassment of riches to have this many films at this festival, and ones with quality roles, but also that I’m actually employed at all. It’s a blessing in my industry. We’re oversubscribed and there are too many talented people who aren’t employed.”
I ask him if there any other real persons, alive or dead, whom he aspires to play in a film one day.
“Many, yes, but I’ve had quite a run on real figures, so it’s tricky to say no when they are as difficult and complex and rich and varied as the ones I’ve been asked to play, because I think that’s what draws all of us to their stories. They’re the extremes of humanity and that’s very interesting to watch and try and do.”
What he really longs to do, perhaps not surprisingly after the run of dark characters he’s been essaying, is to sing and dance.
“I’d like to play someone who can sing and dance. I’d like to do that. I’ve not done a musical. I’d also like to play a romantic comedy . . . there’s lots more stuff I’d like to do.”
Hmmm, perhaps he could combine the two, and do a biopic on Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire?
With Benedict Cumberbatch, as with Sherlock Holmes, no deduction is too wild to consider.
The request was simple enough, considering that Lee Groth Olson is the general manager of Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra: A person needs piano lessons, and they need to know how to play a couple of songs within a month’s time. Can you do it?
She agreed, knowing that the request from the production team for “August: Osage County,” which was filming the movie in the area in the fall of 2012, meant it was lessons for one of the actors to perform on camera.
But which one from the star-studded cast? Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts? Ewan McGregor or Chris Cooper? It was to be Benedict Cumberbatch, the British actor known for his “Sherlock” TV series and for his 2013 films including “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “12 Years a Slave.”
“A friend familiar with the play said the only person who plays piano and sings is his character,” GrothOlson said of Little Charles, by far the quietest and most gentle soul among the Weston family’s over-the-top characters.
“Once she helped me figure it out, and it was the person I just love from ‘Sherlock,’ I did a little shriek, but I kept it inside. When the time came for the lesson, and there he was at my door and I led him into the piano studio in my front room, I tried really, really hard to not be a drooling fan. I mean, he was to be my student.”
GrothOlson served as his instructor for about two weeks over 10 lessons, sitting down at her piano and playing a pair of songs from which the director would choose the one for the film.
In the text of the prize-winning play by Tulsa native Tracy Letts, Little Charles is said to be sitting next to the woman whom, unknown to the rest of the family, he is in love with. “I wrote this for you,” he says. “(He plays, and quietly sings a gentle but quirky love song …).”
The song chosen for the movie, “Can’t Keep it Inside,” was one that Cumberbatch (who had some previous piano experience) learned beside GrothOlson in sessions lasting up to 90 minutes at a time.
“That’s just him, and it’s really gorgeous. He can sing.”
She visited the film set and sat down (unexpectedly at a split keyboard organ rather than a piano) to play Cumberbatch’s song “for a recording of the song, just in case they needed it,” she said. “I was nervous, because it was a bit strange, as I had to play in front of about 30 people, as they asked everyone to be quiet, from all the crew members to the people outside raking leaves, so we could make the recording.”
When Cumberbatch sat down at the organ, he acted out his scene and played “Can’t Keep it Inside” 14 times seven times with the camera aimed in one direction, and seven more times with the camera in a different position.
“There was only once that I had to say anything to him, because he was that good,” GrothOlson said.
And yet, she couldn’t help herself from having a bit of nervousness when she finally saw the movie at a November premiere at Circle Cinema for those who had helped with the film’s production.
GrothOlson has a habit, developed from her many years of piano teaching and then the later recitals by her Bartlesville-area students.
“I always hold my breath during their songs,” she admitted. “And during the movie, there I was again holding my breath when Benedict started playing even though I knew what was coming but the teacher in me just couldn’t let that go.
“Benedict really was such a sweet gentleman, just no pomposity about him. He was just a hard worker, and very much a humble student, willing to learn, and I’m amazed at his ability to learn so quickly.”
Lucky ‘fangirl’ wangles a dance with Cumberbatch
During the filming of “August: Osage County,” producer George Clooney was seen dining at Biga and Juliette Lewis rolled a few balls at Dust Bowl Lanes in Tulsa.
Ewan McGregor tweeted about his many backroads Osage County bicycle adventures, and director John Wells was caught downing gourmet hot dogs at Pawhuska’s Prairie Dog.
But who was that dancing with Benedict Cumberbatch? That was Maria Gus, executive director of the Bartlesville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
To set the scene: The “August: Osage County” crew and cast were invited one night to Frank & Lola’s, a popular restaurant in Bartlesville, where all were living during the film shoot. The production had rented out the eatery for a special dinner and a live performance by Oklahoma rockabilly star JD McPherson.
As a liaison between the filmmakers and Bartlesville, “I was invited to that event, and so was my friend Mary Beth Babcock (the owner of Tulsa’s unique Okie-centric retail store Dwelling Spaces), who I attended school with in Bartlesville and who had provided the cast members with these great gift bags full of things that make Oklahoma great,” Gus said.
“As I was pregnant, I wasn’t drinking any alcohol on this evening, but I was told that I could drink all the fizzy soft drinks I wanted, so I may have been on something of a sugar rush.”
Why does Gus mention this?
“(Benedict) arrived, and I was trying to take a sneaky picture of him, but I waited until he was done with his soup,” she said, chuckling. “A little later, I really wanted to dance, and I’d been swing-dancing with my mom, and then something in my sugar high told me I should go ask Benedict Cumberbatch to dance.”
She saunters over, the music from McPherson’s concert driving her to his table. Perhaps Cumberbatch has heard a line or two before in a bar, but he had probably never heard a pregnant Oklahoma woman approach him and make this kind of statement: “You look like you want to dance.”
“And he says, ‘You’re right, I do want to dance!’ and so we go dance, and I turn into a complete dork and say something like, ‘I’m really good at this.’ I have no idea why. But then he says ‘You are good!’ and it was just so great.”
As they finish dancing, Gus is joined by her friend Babcock, and she decides to go for it: a “selfie” request.
“He was just so great, and my friend is there, and everything is telling me that I’ll never get another chance to ask for a photo like this,” she said. “He said, ‘Sure!’ to the photo, and it was just perfect.
“I think it’s important that you know that as the liaison between the film production and the community, I was very professional while they were here,” Gus said with a laugh. “But in this situation, I turned into a fangirl.”
Oz ComicCon took over the Adelaide Showgrounds this past weekend, giving geeks ample opportunities to indulge in Q&A sessions with voice artists, actors and animation artists, as well as spending up big on the multitude of stalls selling merchandise, prosthetics, clothing and more. Of course, Adelaide won out over the Perth event in a huge way, with Benedict Cumberbatch stopping by for the first of two special Australian appearances.
Closing out the Q&A sessions on Sunday, Cumberbatch drew a huge crowd in the Ridley Pavilion to the point where there was another room set up for people to view the session via simulcast. We were lucky enough to gain access to the man (and by ‘access’, I mean three rows back from his stage in a crowd of many) and were able to gain some thoughtful insights into a career that is currently one of the hottest/most talked about at the moment. From the onset, he’s charming, eloquent, hilarious and not afraid to take the piss out of the audience as much as himself. Here are some of the big things we learned from BC. Benny C. C-Batch. Or, as he would like, ‘Sir or Lord Cumberbatch of London’.
Benedict is not on social media. He’s been tempted, though.
When asked if he was aware of the widespread response to the initial screening of “The Empty Hearse” via social media, Benedict is quick to point out that he doesn’t maintain an online presence. Benedict noted that he has been tempted in the past however, whether it’s been to correct a review or misrepresentation, or to lend his support online to a certain need or charity, but he’s always drawn himself back from jumping down that rabbit hole.
“I get that it works for a lot of people…I’m just not one of those people.”
Where was he when the episode went to air, though? Watching it with his girlfriend at the time with Martin Freeman at Steven Moffatt and Sue Vertue’s house, naturally. When shit hit the fan online and fans around the world collectively lost their minds, he laughs and acknowledges the mania.
“They were like, ‘You’re trending!’ and I’m like, ‘What?! What the fuck does that even mean?!”
The famous U2 photobomb & ‘Ellen DeGenerate’ – BC on his Oscars experience…
First question out of the gate was something akin to ‘what possessed you to photobomb U2 at the Oscars?’. Apparently, an old friend of Benedict’s suggested he do it for shits and giggles and so…he did it.
“I didn’t do it because I needed the publicity…I did it to make my friends laugh back home and all of a sudden, it was on the news the next day!”
He praises Ellen DeGeneres‘ work as the Oscars host, though reveals in the same beat that she’s probably partly responsible for his drunken state seeing as she loaded him and other actors up with mini bottles of vodka on the red carpet before the ceremony even began. “Ellen DeGeneres or ‘Ellen DeGenerate’ as I called her by the end of the night…”
Like everyone else, Meryl Streep brought out his inner fan.
Working with an amazing cast on August Osage County was an experience Benedict is still notably gobsmacked over, but working alongside Meryl Streep (“She’s an epoch defining actress…”) was obviously a life moment where he proved that he was again, like the rest of us. On meeting her for the first time, he stutters “My parents are big fans of your films…but I am too, that’s not a generational thing!”
Benedict prefers Q&A settings over most other established fan interaction.
“I much prefer this if I’m honest, even over the photos and autographs…”
Clearly wanting to give every fan who he’s interacted with the time of day, Benedict admits that he enjoys this kind of Q&A environment over the many photo and autograph sessions that he’s taken part in – only because there is nowhere near enough time for him to sustain normal conversations with people when he’s got his head down and signing his name or having less than a minute for a photo with these people who have paid a lot of money to meet him.
Benedict and the Sherlock crew made Una Stubbs cry.
On playing pranks on the set of Sherlock, BC admits that there were some that were carried out, though the one that comes to mind was picking on the legendary Una Stubbs by unearthing an old advertisement she danced and took part in many years ago. Apparently she was so overcome when she discovered they’d found it, that the joke (and maybe the sight of Benedict imitating her?) went in the completely opposite direction.
“She burst into tears! Obviously that was not our intention!”
“Listen a lot.” Advice for younger actors working on perfecting different accents.
Benedict also advises young actors to not be afraid of trying on different impersonations in getting used to affecting different accents, getting a good dialect coach (obviously) and also using a dictaphone to record different sounds to practice with. He praises his coaches who he worked on during 12 Years a Slave and other films in helping him become comfortable with his dialogue and finding his ‘voice’, as it were.
Don’t ask him to say anything in his Smaug voice.
He won’t do it.
“I’m not a performing monkey…or dragon, I’m sorry!”
Tom Hiddleston is one of Benedict’s influences – cueing a rousing ‘awww’ from the fandom.
Benedict lists many personal influences, from his parents to past school teachers and headmasters, to fellow actors he’s been able to work alongside with and others who he’s specifically looked up to. Upon his brief mention of Tom Hiddleston, the crowd goes wild (just do some googling of the two of them…), but he’s quick on the ball there, waving his hand at all of us: “Oh stop it, I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about these real actors. You should be squealing as much for Rory Kinnear as much as you should for someone with the initials ‘T.H’.”
His Hamlet run was announced so far in advance so there’d be enough time for people to get used to the idea.
Set to appear onstage in 2015 as the iconic Shakespearean character, Benedict acknowledges the popularity of film/TV actors heading back to the stage and points out that he made this announcement so far in advance as to give people (‘the culture’) time to work up to it. Given there have been quite a few ‘Hamlets’ over the past five to ten years, by the time Benedict takes on the role, people will be like, ‘Yes, he is the Hamlet of this time’.
He takes on fan responses, but also tries not to let the wide opinion affect his portrayal of a character.
When asked if there are any challenges posed to him or how he prepares for a portrayal of some of the characters he’s been able to tackle over the past few years, Sherlock in particular, Benedict acknowledges the huge weight that comes with such characters as they have such a loyal fanbase behind them already. Using Sherlock as an example, he says that while the fans play a significant part in how the show is formed (‘Of course it does, otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here…’), he also says that he tries not to base his performances on what everyone else thinks.
“We were reinventing a wheel that was so perfect in it’s original form…” he says of the BBC’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, and that the different directions they’ve been able to take the stories which have prompted some quite divisive responses, is all part of the show’s success.
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Some of the biggest names in Hollywood currently have started their careers on television
Cumberbatch was a successful theatre actor in England. Hollywood was a distant dream. And then Sherlock happened. The TV show in its first season (despite only consisting 3 episodes) created a sensation worldwide, and Cumberbatch topped all list as the best reprisal of Sherlock Holmes, a character that over the years has been portrayed by so many legends and stars. Post the first season of Sherlock, Benedict was offered to be represented by the best agents in Hollywood, owing to the exposure that Sherlock gave to his talent. He has had a staggering dozen odd movie releases that feature the best ensembles and the best directors. His releases include the Oscar nominated Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar nominated and commercially successful Warhorse, Star Trek: Into Darkness where he played Khan, The Hobbit, followed by The Fifth Estate where he played Julian Assange, then came the The Hobbit: Desolation Of The Smaug, then came the Oscar for Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slave, where he played one of the few positive characters in the movie and his last release was the Oscar nominated (yet again) August: Osage County, where he shared screen space with stalwarts such as Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts. The combined worldwide grosses of the above releases are in the reign of a billion dollars plus. Phew!
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An older article, but fun…
31 December 13
A third series of Sherlock, three new films and the world on his shoulders. The man who’s cheated death more often than his famous alter ego is just getting started…
Depending on your point of view, Benedict Cumberbatch has almost died on five separate occasions. The first (hypothermia) occurred when he was a baby. The second (bomb explosion), when he was a student. The third (dehydration and starvation), when he was on his gap year. The fourth saw him taken hostage, tied up, bundled into the boot of a car, driven to an unknown location, forced to the ground on his knees and the cold muzzle of a gun trained on the back of his head. He never heard the shot of a bullet, but then, of course, he never would have.
By that point, he was an actor. But none of the above is fiction.
And yet, when people think of Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s likely the only near-death experience that comes to mind is the fifth one, the one that didn’t actually happen – at least, not to Cumberbatch. It’s the one at the end of the second series of Sherlock, where the 37-year-old, who will be seen in no less than three Hollywood films in the next two months, leapt from the top of St Bartholomew’s hospital, trademark Belstaff greatcoat flapping in the wind, and seemingly plummeted to his death – only, of course, to be seen to have cheated it.
But talk to Cumberbatch himself and he will also tell you there is a deeper reason for it all – for the career that, despite mainstream success coming in his thirties, has not for one moment seen a lull, a break or slowdown of any kind; a kind of non-stop career sprint that has included 14 theatre productions, 17 TV roles, 30 films and, really, he’s just getting started.
The three films he’s in this winter – as a kindly slave-owner in the red-hot Oscar favorite 12 Years A Slave; as fearsome dragon Smaug in tent-pole blockbuster The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug; as an unemployed screw-up opposite Meryl Streep in August: Osage County – come after a summer in which he outshone the Enterprise crew as super-villain Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, and gave an uncanny performance as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate. Then there’s the new series of Sherlock starting next month, the biopic of code-breaker Alan Turing (The Imitation Game), which he’s currently filming, Hamlet on stage and, after that, the lingering hope of the rebooted JJ Abrams-directed Star Wars (“There’s a possibility, of course there is – JJ knows how much I’d love to be part of it”).
As his good friend Matthew Goode, a co-star in The Imitation Game, says: “I remember him coming to our house after he’d just finished something at the National Theater and yet another film, and my wife said, ‘How are you Ben?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, um, I’m all right, I mean, I’m unemployed at the moment…’ He’d been unemployed for two days!”
After recalling the fourth time, he will put it more plainly: “The afterburn, the follow-on stuff from that experience, is impatience. And I think that might still be ongoing. About me trying to cram a lot into my life.”
To put it another way: Benedict Cumberbatch might be one of the few people whose post-traumatic stress has made him a superstar. The truth – as always with life, as often with Cumberbatch – is a bit more complicated.
His first memory is of staring at the sky. His parents – both actors – lived in a top-floor flat in Kensington, London (“bought in the Seventies for something like three grand”), and when Benedict would cry, they would carry his pram up to the roof and point him skywards. Then, he would become still. He would smile. And often, he would sleep. He remembers, still, the wonder he felt at this: “A vision of sky.”
His first word was helicopter. “They were the biggest things in the sky.”
It was around this time that he first cheated death. His half-sister, Tracy, from his mother’s first marriage, was babysitting him in the middle of winter. She put a crying Benedict on the roof to calm him for a moment or two.
When she ran upstairs, she found Benedict serene – teeth chattering, but still smiling, still in awe. He had to be thawed out on a radiator before his parents returned home (“I had turned blue”).
Still, he remembers his childhood as idyllic. Even when, at eight, he was packed off to boarding school.
“I was an only child, but I was very gregarious. I thrived; an amazing five years. But yes, eight seems a bit of a wrench. I don’t know if I could do it with a kid of eight.”
He started acting early. At the school nativity, he remembers, he played Joseph – and shoved Mary off the stage because she had forgotten her lines. “It was very unchivalrous.”
Confidence was never a problem. Nor was a belief in his ability. By the time he went to Harrow he was cast in most of the lead roles – including, as it was an all-boys school, Rosalind in As You Like It – and from there didn’t much doubt acting was for him.
“I think, going into it, I always had self-belief in my talent. You have to.”
It was at the end of his time at Harrow that Cumberbatch had a run-in with mortality for the second time. He was at home, studying for his A levels in his bedroom, when all of a sudden the whole flat shook from a huge explosion. The windows shattered, a dust cloud enveloped him, his ears rang. “I just thought, ‘F***!’ I ran through the flat. My mum and dad were saying, ‘Are you all right? Are you all right?’ I said no – I couldn’t hear out of one ear.”
When he went to Manchester University to study drama, he had a blast – girls, drinking, clubbing. Pills? “I was a student in Manchester,” he says with a laugh, by way of an answer. “But, uh, I’ll take the Fifth.” Yet he soon overdid it: “I got very ill in my first year. I got glandular fever. I had to calm down a bit. It was my body going, ‘What the f***?'”
After he graduated, he decided to take a gap year, teaching English in Tibet. And that’s when he had his third near-death experience. He got lost while hiking with friends. Armed only with a biscuit and a piece of cheese between four of them, he remembers walking across outcrops lined with ice and down semi-frozen rivers, “nearly breaking our necks”, poking yak droppings in the hope they were warm – “to see how far we could be from some kind of civilisation”.
He remembers, finally, breaking through the tree line, falling on his knees near the home of a Sherpa shepherd and “making the universal hand-to-mouth gesture of food”. He remembers getting a meal of spinach and meat, and the dysentery he got straight after eating it. He remembers it as the best meal he’s ever had.
But it was the fourth of his near-misses when he really thought he was going to die.
Interviewing Benedict Cumberbatch is a bit like being a matador, but one trying to influence the direction of a train.
We meet in a pub at the end of Cumberbatch’s road in Hampstead, north London, just below the Heath, where he owns the top two floors of a Victorian house. He is wearing dark-blue jeans, white T-shirt, purple pea coat and a smart grey flat cap, which, when removed, reveals a short back and sides propping up a neat quiffed wave of hair, breaking left to right.
It’s not that he’s rude, you understand – he’s unfailingly polite, funny, generous with his time and wonderful company. It’s simply that, when he begins a sentence, you’re locked in for the paragraph, and if you try to interject, often he’ll just keep talking while you talk.
As Goode, who has known Cumberbatch for more than a decade, will tell me a few days before the interview, “He gives his time and his thoughts, but he likes to follow a point through to the end. But I love that. And it probably stands his acting in good stead – he’s able to get from point A to point B and finish it with extreme clarity.”
It is also, I think, down to a feeling he has of being misrepresented by the press, and it’s only by giving the exact line, his exact position, without distraction, that he can hope not to be misquoted.
Partly, perhaps, this stems from the confected “row” that erupted in the tabloids last August when he told the Radio Times that he felt “castigated” for his privileged background.
“All the posh-baiting that goes on,” he said. “It’s just so predictable, so domestic, so dumb.” Cue more castigation.
For the record, Cumberbatch has this to say about his social standing: “I’m an upper middle-class kid. I know that’s counted as posh, but then I know people who I would call posh, and I don’t talk like them.”
And, no, he’s not leaving for the United States any time soon.
This was not the only run-in Cumberbatch has had with the press. In fact, his cuttings file is littered with occasionally tetchy exchanges with interviewers. Even a recent cover story in The Hollywood Reporter – which proclaimed him the key player of “The New A-List” – was awkward, beginning with the sentence: “I am 45 minutes into an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, and frankly, it’s not going well.”
“It was very irresponsible of them to do that,” he says. “It’s like, what are you going to gain from my opinions? Oh, I see, you’re going to turn it into a piece that makes me sound like a big schoolboy who thinks that people who break the rules should be punished.”
It’s also probably no coincidence that this, too, circled back to a veiled dig at his social class.
We speak, on and off, about his true thoughts on politics, whistleblowers and terrorism in greater detail than could be included even in a profile of this length, but suffice to say his position is, like most people’s, not black and white: he understands the reality of whistleblowers, and why the relevant governments seek to punish them. But at heart he’s a liberal, and wouldn’t want Manning punished. He’s not a security- expert, but understands the complex balancing act between civil liberties and protecting the population. I tell him it’s an utterly reasonable, balanced position to take, and one I share.
“And yet, the minute you do that, you’re accused of sitting on the fence,” he says.
While filming the third series of Sherlock, meanwhile, Cumberbatch held up a piece of paper to the paparazzi hovering nearby that read: “Go photograph Egypt and show the world something important”. Then, later, a four-page treatise he’d written about civil liberties regarding the Guardian and the government’s attempt to muffle the paper. Yet it was the Guardian once again – this time via Marina Hyde – that stuck the boot in, referencing his class with a piece headlined, “Benedict Cumberbatch’s vital mission to educate the hoi polloi”.
“I was really shocked with what was going on,” he says, “so I just thought, if this culture is so fixated on me, I may as well use it to ask questions. I wasn’t trying to trash popular culture. I don’t belittle the appetites of people who just want to see shots of Sherlock.”
He sighs. “I guess that’s my nearest flirtation with social media, and if I get misinterpreted in print, or if the perception of me is edited in print, then this is clear: I’m holding up the words.”
As for the article: “The Guardian really does have its cake and eat it. Their offices are being raided for these hard disks, and I find it extraordinary they [ran] that [piece] as well.”
Benedict Cumberbatch worries a lot. I suggest, in fact, he might worry too much.
“I know. And I am getting better at that. I remember something happening during the filming of Sherlockand someone said, ‘You’ve got a thin skin.’ And it was like, ‘I’ve done it again. I’ve f***ing done it again.’ I mean, I do [have a thin skin] when something is said at my expense. But I’m learning. Regret is too big a word, but I’m learning.”
And yet there is a clear and wonderful flip side to all this concern of his, which is unbelievable enthusiasm. As much as he seemingly worries about everything, he’s excited and thrilled about everything else.
He’s excited about the coffee we order (the barman gets a lengthy grilling on what exactly is a flat white); by how this magazine works; by wild swimming in Hampstead Heath; by the burgers we order; even, as we leave the pub – him to stroll home, me to unlock my single-speed racer – by my bike (he recognises the make of frame, the bike nerd in me is impressed).
Seeing all these enthusiasms – and these are just the minor, slightly unexpected ones – I can’t help but think two things.
First, the follow-through of rampant enthusiasm is often naivety, and I understand why his Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman says he’s easy to “screw over” (“He’s sweet and generous in an almost childlike way. I could take advantage of him playing cards”), or how Simon Pegg convinced Cumberbatch while they were filming Star Trek Into Darkness in a nuclear facility that he needed to wear a special face cream to protect him from radiation; he obliged, and even became convinced it was why he kept screwing up his lines (“Guys, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve got a real headache. I think the ions were getting to me”).
But mostly, I feel, compared with Cumberbatch, like someone going through existence with the contrast dial turned down. To him, it seems, everything is neon bright. The barbs may sting more sharply, but his sun must shine that much brighter.
It’s not hard to imagine how this sensitivity – both bad and good – feeds into his acting. He feels more, notices more, hears more. It’s in his nature – he’s a human tuning fork. When he was a child, he says, he used to carry around a Dictaphone wherever he went, recording anything he found of interest, trying out voices, practising sounds. It didn’t last too long, but only because he became the Dictaphone. For every person he quotes during the three hours we spend together, he can’t help but drop into a pitch-perfect impersonation of them, body, voice and all. It’s uncanny, not least because this cast list includes Madonna (“She said, ‘You’re the one with the strange name.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am – Madonna‘”), Meryl Streep (“She just said, ‘Well, I love what you do'”) and Ted Danson (“It was a pre-Oscar party and he just screamed across a crowded room, ‘Oh my God! F***! It’s Sherlock! You’re Sherlock! Oh God!'”). It occasionally feels like I’m getting the best one-man show in the world.
On the Graham Norton show he did Chewbacca fromStar Wars. Harrison Ford, sitting next to him, almost jumped out of his seat. “He’s got a remarkable ear,” says Steven Moffat, the co-creator of Sherlock. “He can pick up people seriously fast. He could do me. He could do you. When he got into trouble a short while ago for saying he was pigeon-holed as posh – he can do it all, that’s all he meant. And yet he gets pigeon-holed for parts because he is, let’s be honest, the son of Timothy Carlton – a posh boy.”
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This May, the landlocked city of Minneapolis will be Sherlocked, and under a Smaug alert, because Benedict Cumberbatch will be making his first fan event appearance in the United States at Wizard World Minneapolis Comic Con — or, as it will now be known, comic-Khan.
Convention organizer Wizard World (OTCBB: WIZD) has confirmed the English actor will appear Saturday, May 3, at the Minneapolis event, held May 2-4, 2014, and will be available for autographs and photo opportunities.
Cumberbatch is perhaps best known for his portrayal as super sleuth Sherlock Holmes on the PBS and BBC One series Sherlock, which recently aired its third season. He has staked a claim in the mainstream, and in nerd circles, for blockbuster roles as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, and as both the dragon Smaug and the Necromancer in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. But his resume additionally includes more dramatic roles in Hawking, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Fifth Estate, August: Osage County and Best Picture Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave. And his name is routinely mentioned in rumors about J.J. Abrams’ new Star Wars movies.
However, as well-known as he is for his acting career, the “accidental superstar” — as T, The New York Times Style Magazine just dubbed him — is also a beloved one-man sensation. It seems a significant slice of Tumblr alone is occupied by his fandom. Whether it’s the meme comparing him to an otter, his leg-kick Top Gear photo, his Chewbacca/Alan Rickman impersonations, the dramatic reading of R. Kelly lyrics or the Cumberbatch name generator, lately he is winning the Internet – and all of pop culture. Just last week at the Academy Awards he photobombed U2 on the red carpet, which launched Cumberbombing. Then there are the “Cumberbitches,” a fan segment with a 132,000 Twitter followers (the actor dislikes the term, and finds it”subservient and demeaning”). And lest we forget, there is also a Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book to rival Ryan Gosling’s.
Will the actor’s presence lead to a large turnout of the “CumberCollective” to Wizard World’s Minneapolis event? It would seem likely — especially if he is cast in Star Wars and it is announced before the convention. Those productions are set to begin filming in May, which could dominate the calendars of any actor involved for the next few years.
Even if he isn’t the next Jedi or Sith, the last time Cumberbatch appeared at an American con was via pre-recorded video message for the Sherlock panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2013. And that obviously didn’t include the possibility for autographs or photos. So it doesn’t require Sherlock Holmes to deduce there will be a lot of fans prepping for an unexpected journey to the Twin Cities.
See the official Comic Con website for more info…
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In the peculiar-looking, former cross-dressing Shakespearean actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Hollywood has found an unlikely leading man.
Benedict Cumberbatch was in mid-monologue, holding forth on the dangers of the surveillance society, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was meant to be promoting his latest movie, whatever that was (he has been in a lot of them lately). He talks superfast, so that when he paused, the effect was of a train driver slamming on the emergency brakes. “Why does anyone want to know my opinions?” he asked. “I’m not interested in reading my opinions.”
He has no idea. There are people out there these days who so love to hear Cumberbatch talk — who so love to watch Cumberbatch exist — that they do not care what he does, as long as they get to observe him doing it. Somehow, along a career consisting of highly interest-ing but generally non-megastar-making roles (most recently, the lead in the BBC series “Sherlock”; Khan, the wrathful villain in the movie “Star Trek Into Darkness“; the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, in “The Fifth Estate” and the voice of Smaug, the very bad-tempered dragon in the latest “Hobbit” movie), Cumberbatch has progressed from being everyone’s favorite secret crush to one of the most talked-about actors in Hollywood.
His celebrity manifests itself in unexpected ways. When Cumberbatch, who is 37, appeared on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” Fallon noted that more people were waiting in the standby line than for any other guest that year. He was reportedly tweeted about 700,000 times in 2013. Last fall, he appeared on the cover of Time’s international edition. Although he has not been a romantic lead in any big films, and although he says he looks like “Sid from ‘Ice Age’ ” and although he once declared that “I always seem to be cast as slightly wan, ethereal, troubled intellectuals or physically ambivalent bad lovers,” there are numerous websites devoted to the subject of his romantic prowess, e.g.,“Benedict Cumberbatch — Fantastic Lover,” a compendium of clips set to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” that has been viewed more than 490,000 times on YouTube. (These are mostly posted by his army of female fans, who call themselves “Cumberbitches” and who use the hashtag “Cumberwatch” when they tweet about his activities.)
His appeal is manifest, yet hard to pin down. His name is odd, Hogwartsian, suggesting both an Elizabethan actor and a baker whose products are made with rustic ingredients no one has heard of. Tall and lean, he has an other-century look about him, with his long, narrow face, his mop of crazy hair (he keeps it shorter off-duty) and bright, far-apart, almond-shaped blue eyes that on-screen can play intelligent, ardent, manic or insane, depending on the job. In “Sherlock,” he looks like the sort of person who has a stratospheric I.Q. and an abysmal E.Q. but is dead sexy with it; at the same time, if you were to remark on his resemblance to an otter, you would not be the only one.
When he sat down with a cup of coffee in a Camden pub last November and began to discuss electronic surveillance, the government, his favorite movies, his career, the rabidity of “Sherlock” fans and how coffee affects him (it makes him talk even faster), Cumberbatch had just come off an extraordinary run of work. “The Fifth Estate,” in which he perfectly captures the slippery nature of Julian Assange — free-speech hero, treacherous colleague, possible megalomaniac — had just come out. Over the next two months, three more of his films would be released: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” in which he gets to intone things like “I am death” in a creepy dragon voice; “12 Years a Slave,” in which he plays a sympathetic slave-owner; and “August: Osage County,” in which he has a small role in an ensemble of superstars like Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep.
The Time cover had just hit the newsstands, and Cumberbatch was slightly freaked out. “It’s one of the more bizarre levels of success,” he said. At first he thought it was fake. “Someone sent me a photograph of it and I thought, ‘Some fan has got hold of a photo and done one of those neat apps where they impose your head on something,’ ” he said. Also, he had had an exciting experience on a British talk show, when Harrison Ford, a fellow guest, emerged from his taciturnity to announce that he loved him as Holmes. This has been happening to Cumberbatch a lot lately, fellow actors declaring themselves fans, such as when Ted Danson saw him through a crowd of stars at a pre-awards party recently and began shouting “Sherlock!” A few days earlier, he had wrapped his most recent movie, a biopic of the British cryptographer Alan Turing. Cumberbatch talked for a long time about the tragedy of Turing’s life and about what has been a series of very intense roles, heavy on iconic fictional characters and real people. “I am so ready to play a really dumb character,” he said.
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