‘Sherlock’ and ‘Star Trek’: Benedict Cumberbatch lights it up

May 09, 2012 | 6:36 a.m.

London-born actor Benedict Cumberbatch, best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes on the popular BBC show, will portray the villain in the sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" film. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Cumberbatch played young British aristocrat Edmund Talbot in the 2005 miniseries "To the Ends of the Earth." The series was nominated for several BAFTA awards. (BBC)

Cumberbatch, third from left, joined James McAvoy, Alice Eve and Elaine Tan in the 2006 film "Starter for 10," about students at Bristol University. (Giles Keyte/Picturehouse)

Benedict Cumberbatch played Paul Marshall in "Atonement," a 2007 movie based on the novel by Ian McEwan. The film won an Oscar, two Golden Globes and two BAFTA awards. (Universal Pictures)

In another period piece, Cumberbatch played William Carey, husband to Scarlett Johansson's Mary Boleyn, in 2008's "The Other Boleyn Girl." (Sony Pictures)

Cumberbatch and Anamaria Marinca starred in the 2008 miniseries thriller "The Last Enemy." (Box TV/BBC/PBS)

In 2010, Cumberbatch acted in "The Whistleblower," a drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, who served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia and exposed a sex scandal. (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Cumberbatch's performance as the Baker Street sleuth alongside Martin Freeman's Dr. Watson in the "Sherlock" TV series has catapulted him into the public eye and earned him several awards nods, including BAFTA and Emmy nominations. (BBC/PBS)

English actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the TV series "Sherlock." (PBS)

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Victor Frankenstein opposite Jonny Lee Miller's Creature in Danny Boyle's National Theatre Live production of "Frankenstein" in 2011. The two actors took turns portraying the monster and his creator. (Catherine Ashmore)

Benedict Cumberbatch, left, played Maj. Jamie Stewart alongside Patrick Kennedy and Tom Hiddleston in the 2011 movie "War Horse." (David Appleby/DreamWorks)

Benedict Cumberbatch discusses a shot with director Steven Spielberg on the set of the 2011 film "War Horse." (David Appleby/DreamWorks)

Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Peter Guillam in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." (Jack English/Focus Features)

Benedict Cumberbatch played opposite Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." (Jack English/Focus Features)

Benedict Cumberbatch attends the British Independent Film Awards in London in 2011. (Joel Ryan / Associated Press)

If the title character of television’s “Sherlock” ever went looking for Hollywood’s Holmes, it would be the quickest case in the history of scenery-chewing sleuths.

That’s because Benedict Cumberbatch — who plays a modern-day version of fiction’s greatest detective on the British import now airing Sundays on PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery!” — lives in a vintage Venice wood-frame house that sits less than two blocks from the sleek offices of Robert Downey Jr., the American movie star who keeps it Victorian on the big screen.

“It’s just right over there,” Cumberbatch said with a nod of his chin as he sat at his dining-room table. “I should go throw eggs or do something. I’ve never met him. I think he got a few [press] questions and then after a few more he was like ‘Who is this kid Cumberbatch?’ “

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the TV series “Sherlock.” (PBS)

You won’t hear that question in Britain, where “Sherlock” is a full-tilt prime-time sensation and, with its brilliant but quirky misanthrope, can be thought of as the metric conversion of “House,” although the detective’s caseload concerns the newly dead of England instead of the recently sick in New Jersey. The show, created by “Doctor Who” veterans Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (and, working separately, Arthur Conan Doyle), costars Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, an army doctor who was injured in Afghanistan and finds himself as the only true friend to the eccentric “consulting detective.”The show is playful (there’s much humor, for instance, about the perception that Holmes and Watson are a gay couple) but it’s not as proudly daft as “Doctor Who.” Holmes also doesn’t spend as much time smiling at people.

“If he’s charismatic, it’s an accident of who he is,” Cumberbatch said. “He’s an odd entity. He’s sociopathic and there is a vicarious thrill you get watching someone who carves his way through bureaucracy and mediocrity like a hot knife through butter.”

The second season finds Holmes himself under the magnifying glass, Cumberbatch says.

“He’s a deconstructed and more vulnerable character who is easier to relate to and care about,” the 35-year-old actor said. “But it’s a slow learning curve. He’s still staggeringly smart, violent, physically capable, irreverent, comically rude — to idiots or anyone vaguely in his way — and dangerous.”

Americans are getting clued into “Sherlock” — more than 3 million viewers tuned in to the second season premiere that aired on PBS this past weekend — but the import’s strongest domestic endorsement has come from CBS executives with their announced plans to film a pilot called “Elementary” that also puts Holmes in the here and now. Except the “here” is Manhattan, not Westminster.

Word of that new show sent Moffat into a tizzy (he had met CBS about an official stateside adaptation), but Cumberbatch projects only mild interest in the topic and has nothing but warm wishes for star Jonny Lee Miller (who co-stars in Tim Burton’s new “Dark Shadows”) as he looks for clues on American television.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein.” (Catherine Ashmore)

In a way, Cumberbatch is accustomed to seeing Miller as a sort of British-lit doppelgänger: The two actors starred in Danny Boyle’s stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” at the National Theatre and alternated roles each night, taking turns as the heretical scientist and the patchwork monster.

“I view it like any of the classical characters in the canon of Shakespeare or Chekhov, there will always be new interpretations,” Cumberbatch said. “I think Holmes is the fictional character who has been [in screen incarnations] the most. I’m 76th or something? People compare you to others and that’s fine, I can deal with that.”

Yes, but how long will this Sherlock stay at the scene of the crime? More and more, the actor is hearing the siren call of larger screens and a wider world.

There was, for instance, the call Cumberbatch received out of the blue from Steven Spielberg, who had seen the actor’s television work and wanted him for “War Horse.” That job led to a surreal moment on an awards red carpet when Spielberg introduced the actor to Clint Eastwood.

Cumberbatch got strong reviews for his work in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which featured the deepest British cast this side of Hogwarts, and it added to a film résumé that already included “Amazing Grace” and “Atonement.” Cumberbatch turned heads with the 2004 BBC drama “Hawking” too, finding the cosmic but also the connectible in the role of Stephen Hawking.

Moffat says that Cumberbatch — whose mother and father put together long careers in television and onstage — was a star just waiting for a spotlight when he arrived at his “Sherlock” audition.

“He was already one of the most admired actors of his generation and, within the industry, universally tipped for stardom,” Moffat said. “We were the lucky ones who gave him the breakthrough part. The challenge of Sherlock Holmes is to play a show-off, self-obsessed egotist and yet still be loved, and actually very few people have pulled it off. I may be prejudiced, but I don’t think anyone has pulled it off as well as Benedict.”

The next phase of Cumberbatch’s career will take him into Federation space and Middle-earth — in other words, he’s going to Planet Comic-Con.

Later this year, Cumberbatch will reteam with Freeman in New Zealand on the set of “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” the concluding half of Peter Jackson’s two-film adaptation of the Tolkien fantasy classic. It may be a bit tricky to recognize Holmes in this disguise, though; he will be voicing the Necromancer of Dol Guldur and then doing the voice and motion-capture performance for Smaug the Golden, the great dragon who serves the story as both its Darth Vader and its Death Star.

Working with Freeman is a joy, Cumberbatch said, and that began with their “Sherlock” audition. “I remember very clearly meeting for the first time because I auditioned with a number of actors – many fine actors among them — but he was the only one that raised my game,” Cumberbatch said of the Freeman, who may be stepping onto a career-defining platform with the Bilbo Baggins role.

Cumberbatch is also at work on a project that could transform his career with warp-speed whiplash — he’s playing the villain in the new “Star Trek” feature film, adding his name to a considerable list of actors that includes Christopher Plummer, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hardy and Malcolm McDowell. (McDowell is a particular favorite for Cumberbatch, who did a dissertation on “A Clockwork Orange” during his school years; Cumberbatch’s schooling, by the way, took him from the prestigious Harrow School  to the University of Manchester to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art –although he did take a year off to teach English in Tibetan monastery.

Benedict Cumberbatch discusses a shot with director Steven Spielberg on the set of the 2011 film “War Horse.” (David Appleby/DreamWorks)

The notoriously secretive director J.J. Abrams is keeping the film beneath a cloaking device, but the Internet is certain that Cumberbatch’s role is the tyrannical Khan — Ricardo Montalbán’s famed role on 1960s TV and the 1982 feature film “The Wrath of Khan.” Cumberbatch flinched at the topic, as if he isn’t allowed to hear the question, much less utter an answer.

Cumberbatch won the role based on an audition video that was shot and sent with an iPhone. According to Bryan Burk, Abrams’ producing partner on “Trek” as well as “Lost,” it was all about the scale of the talent, not the size of the screen.”Benedict has an incredible presence and brooding intensity,” Burk said Thursday. “To say he’s a welcome addition to the ‘Star Trek’ cast is an understatement; he’s an actor that truly captivates his audience.”Time will tell if Cumberbatch cracks the mystery of true Hollywood stardom. He’s gotten used to the uncomfortable attentions of a personal trainer and a nutritionist that helped him add the sinew necessary for Starfleet duty. His face grew dark, though, while talking about gossip pages back home that have portrayed him as a posh sellout living in the decadent sunshine and pounced on the end of a decade-long relationship with a college girlfriend.

Cumberbatch waxes on about the ambition and prowess of Hollywood crews and creators and peers and, with a sheepish grin, admitted working and playing hard in L.A.  have made him “tan and brain-dead.” The actor is clearly a deep thinker, though, he chases ideas down long, knotty trails of conversation, whether the topic is the California redwoods or the rainy-day genius of Thom Yorke .

Looking ahead, he said his goal is to steer away from typecasting and repeating himself (“I want to be able to play trailer-bound fatties in a Judd Apatow comedy”) and keep a balance in his own life and clear recollections of his path and past. He flipped up the locks of hair on his forehead where the skin is mottled in patches — a remnant of his days as a laboratory creation in “Frankenstein” and the makeup process that burned and ripped at his skin.

“I have actual acting scars,” he said. “That’s what they are … and the sunshine here just makes it worse if I’m not careful.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Comments


53 Responses to ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Star Trek’: Benedict Cumberbatch lights it up

  1. He's an amazing actor (on stage and off) with tremendous charisma. I hope he;ll dip his toe into the marvel arena just once. Maybe for Ant Man or Doctor Strange

  2. Guest says:

    Fans are going to go nuts for this new interview. They cant get enough of Cumberbatch. He's brilliant at comedy too which the interview didnt pick up on. Not many actors can do both superbly.

  3. Bethany says:

    I wish we had firm news about his next film Phoenix with Liv Tyler. Its a small indie film.

  4. @GenyDee says:

    I think the photo ALONE just broke tumblr… congrats, Sir! // nice article .. didn't know about the "Frankenstein" make up mishap and I just loved hearing the "brain-dead" comment … Europe needs him back!

  5. Do you realise that your website ACTUALLY AUTO-CENSORS his REAL name!!!!!! Cumberbatch Cumberbatch Cumberbatch Cumberbatch Cumberbatch Cumberbatch Cumberbatch. Seriously funny – I hope he notices. He'll LOVE it!

  6. helen says:

    It would have been good if the interview had covered future work like the BBC/HBO's Parade's End in which he stars with Rebecca Hall. Still thanks for the article.

  7. @jobtejas says:

    Someone should say something about "Phoenix" with lovely Liv Tyler indeed or I'll FREAK OUT!!! literally… The movie has such a great plot and improvisational dialogues. It will be amazing to see these two fairy-like creatures act together.

  8. dederants says:

    Glad to read any new interview with Benedict… he's always got a sound byte! I'd love to just sit and chat with him over tea and scones :-D

  9. Alex says:

    He lives in Venice ?

  10. Nice article. He's a great great actor, one of the greatest, and he's a good human being. Not to mention gorgeous. He will be a superstar within a year.

  11. I wouldn't have put Benedict and Judd Apatow together but now he's mentioned it I would love to see it happen.

  12. Bart says:

    Way to go there PBS giving us backwater Americans only 81 of 90 minutes of Sherlock. The edited scenes are available on YouTube.

  13. Saint Nothing says:

    And, as a bonus, an ad for California's lax possession laws. Next stop: a guest spot on Bill Maher's show? I rather look forward to that.

  14. Kkun says:

    Cumberbatch

  15. MJcat says:

    Saint Nothing – I believe that's a cigarette, if you were hinting that is something else. BC is a smoker.

    • Saint Nothing says:

      Then he should quit. Today. Note to anyone reading this, who might smoke more than a few cigarettes at 3AM, staggeringly drunk, on a street corner with a circle of likeminded hoodlums: Please quit. Today. Thank you, annoying and unsolicited sermon now over.

      • guest says:

        Agreed. Bit much when he said in the Sherlock 2 outtakes that smoking didn't agree with him and encouraged 'kids' to avoid it

  16. Trololo says:

    Cumberbatch ;D

  17. Jeff says:

    We have a new superstar in the makings. One I bet which will rival some of the greats.

  18. Luv says:

    The first time I heard about him was because of Atonement and I have really liked his work since then. I am. however, a little afraid of what hollywood could do to him, no offence meant.

    • Emily says:

      I agree–I'm a bit worried!

    • guest says:

      He does seem to have changed, although maybe only externally. He seems a bit of a fish out of water and I'm not sure that people really 'get' him. I bet having Simon Pegg around has been a big boon. Maybe he should invite Charlize Theron round for tea and chocolate Hob Nobs

  19. anne says:

    comeberbatch
    ?
    just testing :)

  20. mara says:

    he's playing at being a firebreathing dragon!, with the smoke.

  21. Emily says:

    Oh I love him so much.

    But has anyone noticed how different he looks since he went to Hollywood? He doesn't look much like Sherlock at the moment…makes me sad.

    • Irina says:

      Don't be sad. Benedict is an incredibly gifted actor. He can and he must be different. We will see Sherlock in his time.

    • guest says:

      He has changed or at least appears to have. I get the impression that US overwhelms him a bit and that he doesn't really feel comfortable there – he seems to be being molded into something he's not, or stereotyped or something. I don't think they really 'get' him at all – some of the stuff about him is parody frankly. I wish he hadn't done Star Trek – it just feels like a bad move. I expect it's an enormous relief to have Simon Pegg around – grounding.

      • GuestWho says:

        Hmmm….completely don't think that's what he meant in this interview. Interesting that people seem to love to twist his words to fit their own imagination and needs. He has mentioned several times how much he loves the range of work JJ asked him to do for the movie and he's completely enjoy his life in CA; works hard and plays hard; it's exactly the Cumberbatch way, enjoys and gets the best out of life. :)

    • guest says:

      Perhaps he could invite Charlize Theron round for tea. They'd make a good couple – you heard it hear first

    • Abi says:

      Why would that make you sad? Sorry to break this to you, but he's not actually Sherlock Holmes, you know.
      Perhaps people need to stop obsessing over a character he's played and appreciate his acting instead.

    • Lacuna1024 says:

      Also, he's wearing hair extensions for his Star Trek role and working out 2 hours a day to bulk up. Plus, Sherlock is just another role (albeit a great one), so I wouldn't want him to look like him all the time either. He's a chameleon and he's got a good head on his shoulders. I don't think he'll get lost in the hype. From the fan accounts of his recent NYC appearances, he seems very much as sweet and intelligent as ever. And he was said to have clearly favored his genuine fans when giving autographs (as opposed to people trying to collect autographs to re-sell online).

  22. Shanoya Jackson says:

    Cumberbatch. Cumquat. Cucumber. Cumbersome.

  23. Laurie says:

    I heard he received at least 5-standing ovations for his London theatrical role in the "Elephant Man". I can't imagine how amazing this actor was in this part–and so sorry I couldn't have seem him. Pleased to hear America has caught on–as I'm American–and I'm not concerned that he'll go the California typecast route with its' potholes–he's above that. A classic act on the foot-hold of creating legend. The total package. Complete "thumbs-up" on Mr. Cumberbatch!

    • Maxine says:

      I'm sorry, but do you mind if I ask about the source regarding The Elephant Man? I ask because it seems this play is not on his CV; could it be in a very early stage of his career? What I do know is that he and Jonny Lee Miller received standing ovations every night for their performances in Frankenstein at the National Theatre from the first preview to the last performance; the London theatre patrons won't often give standing ovations, let alone at the National, so that speaks volumes about their performances. I also agree with you regarding concerns that he'll be typecast as villains or damaged by Hollywood. He's intelligent enough to take care of himself and make the best career decision; it seems to me some of his fans have the overprotective tendency.

    • He never was in The Elephant Man. You probably mean Frankenstein.

  24. Van says:

    Laurie- I think you mean Frankenstein, where he alternated with Johnny Lee Miller as the Creature and Creator. And yes, I would LOVE to see it! Screenings of the play are actually being played in select theaters in June. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be released on DVD any time soon.

    I agree with everybody else, I really believe he is going to become a superstar. Perhaps even a legend! Only time will tell, but he certainly has the talent.

  25. MJKat says:

    If you want to see Frankenstein you many be able to see the performances they filmed by looking up NTLive. That's National Theatre's program to bring London theatre to other countries. I hear they are replaying these due to popular demand. I saw the production this way last year. Make sure you know whether you want to see it with Benedict as The Creature or the Dr. It was filmed both ways.

  26. Eric says:

    Here's your "smokin" fanfiction fresh from the oven – Benedict & Liv:
    I think this photo is more dangerous to your health than a cigarette ;)
    http://f.cl.ly/items/1H2b282g2K2p2a0c0X1r/IMG_014

  27. Kayanne says:

    Benedict had to bulk up a bit for his role in "Star Trek". I don't think, overall, he looks much different. He is 35 years old and has been acting professionally for 10 years and before "Sherlock" he was considered one of their best actors. As people who know him have said they think he'll have fun on Star Trek (which he did)(oh, and wait until it's out – you're really going to hear about him then) but something like Hollywood isn't going to turn his head. There have been a ton of British actors who have done movies made in the U.S.A. why would he not be able to.
    They will be starting the next Sherlock in early 2013 and will be seen..at the end of 2013. Oh..and this Fall (we hope) HBO "Parade's End" – 5 part series. English production.
    He's a great actor and he acts for the right reasons -he loves it and he gains knowledge with each one. He will do a role which he is interested in and will film it wherever it will be. He will continue to do stage work. Something he really doesn't like – Mediocrity – and so if he wants to do something you know it will be worthwhile.

  28. one of the finest actors you're ever going to see!! absolutely in love with the BBC Sherlock series, I thought he was stellar in War Horse and Amazing Grace and Hawking also.

  29. conansf says:

    Get rid of the cigs, dude. Live long enough to enjoy your fame

  30. blondeduchess says:

    can;t get enough of him?? my either so here's my tumblr for him kissablelickablecumberbatch.tumblr.com XXX

  31. April Alves says:

    He is truly amazing to watch. Every part he plays feels real; so much so that you forget it's just a movie. He has brought me to tears, the edge of my seat, and to the floor in laughter. I could certainly list all his wonderful attributes however, every one here is very well aware of them already. I can't wait to see more of him whether on the big screen or my living room tv. He's captivating and fascinating in every way. So glad the world is finally paying attention.

  32. Eowyn says:

    I would love him to have his Broadway debut soon. Please, Benedict! Next stop, Broadway!!!

  33. reverbiage says:

    Can we talk about Geoff's writing in this piece? It's spot on. He has the deep knowledge and appreciation of a devoted fanboy, but also the tongue-in-cheek, polished voice of a wry sociologist. Dig your stuff, Mr. Boucher.

  34. Girl says:

    I'd like to see him land the role of Christian in the 50 Shades movies. Now that, I'd watch.

  35. Agnes Thomas says:

    Benedict is a genius! I wish people would stop talking about how unconventional he looks. Benedict is georgeous. I noticed how he walks and carries himself. He walks. sits and stands like he was born to be a model. I wish my posture and diction was as good as his. I am an American and have read about geniuses since I was a little girl which was quite a while ago. The minute I saw him as Sherlock, I thought to myself this man is a genius. The British media and all the posh bashers need to think for a moment about this treasure they have known as Benedict Cumberbatch! It is quite obvious that he is highly intelligent, has worked very hard to hone his craft.
    I love all things British and appreciate the fact that the British love their history, their buildings old and new. I am alsoa lover of English literature and I hope to move to England one day and see with my eyes the beauty of England and her people. I do hope that Benedict's beauty as an actor, a person and a genius is appreciated. I really wish we as humans would stop tearing one another down. This man is going places that many actors only dream about.

  36. joescan54 says:

    Hopefully he's not playing Khan. No one could reprise that role convincingly.

  37. Gil says:

    This guy must have some kind of talent as a character-actor, but I sure don't know him. It's hard to play an arrogant smart-ass, egotist, like Robert Downey Jr. did when he played sherlock holmes…but
    at least he has a sense of humor. A "Dangerous, Violent, Socio-Path? He sounds more like hannibal
    lecter than sherlock holmes. I wish I'd seen some of his detective work. I do know freeman from the office. He carries weight because he can definitely do comedy, as well as serious stuff. I really don't think he will be khan…he would look retarded as khan, but if he does I hope he proves me wrong.

    • Sierra says:

      uhhhh ben is an AMAZING KHAN!!!!!!!! I realize when you wrote this you hadn't seen the movie (obviously), but even so you shouldn't doubt his acting abilities! Ben can literally play like ANY role he wants cuz he is just THAT GOOD! I've seen the new star trek movie, and i have to say, he looks VERY sexy as khan ;) not to mention he is so incredibly convincing with his deep menacing voice, composure, and every little smirk and gesture he makes fits khan's dark intelligence. He's just…….he has to be an alien. He HAS to be. He's too gosh darn perfect to be human.

  38. He's really handsome and great actor… BTW perfect article…

  39. guest says:

    i think he has quit smoking

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