Thursday 23 February 2012

Knack Magazine interview with Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch belongs to the absolute top of the acting world in his home country Great Britain since the BBC’s successful update of Sherlock Holmes. This year, with his parts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse and the in Belgium shot Parade’s End, he’ll win over the rest of the world. ‘Wisdom doesn’t come with age.’
By Steven Tuffin.
Sometimes it goes fast, very fast. Before 2010 Benedict Cumberbatch (35) was a somewhat unknown actor in his home country. Despite his roles in Hawking, Atonement and The Other Boleyn Girl, the big breakthrough hadn’t happened yet for the son of actor couple Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham.
That changed in the year in which he celebrated his 34th birthday, due to his title role in Sherlock, the BBC series in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective gets a huge update. Cumberbatch portrayed Holmes as a semi-autistic sleuth who uses modern day technology like smartphones and the internet to solve crimes.
In 2011 the actor’s success story continued. Together with Jonny Lee Miller he starred in Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Frankenstein. The actors switched roles every other performance, which meant that the National Theatre performance was sold out night after night.
Neither did his performance as sidekick of George Smiley, the, by Gary Oldman portrayed, spy hunter in the understated Oscar favorite Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy - which will premiere here February 8, go by unnoticed. And with the start of the second season of Sherlock on the BBC on the first of January, his status as Britain’s hottest actor only got validated.
International interest followed suit and the number of productions in which Cumberbatch can be seen in the near future is growing exponentially.
Later this year he’ll appear in Parade’s End, the (for the greatest part in Belgium shot) co-production of HBO, BBC and VRT adapted from the literary classic by Ford Madox Ford. And after that roles will follow in The Hobbit; Peter Jackson’s two part prequel to The Lord of the Rings and in the follow-up to J.J. Abram’s popular Star Trek reboot.
First up: Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. In the WWI drama Cumberbatch plays one of the many people who come across Joey, the miraculous horse that gets shipped from the idyllic English countryside to the European trenches and is a witness to the madness of the Great War. Although it’s not a big role, the rising star pulls out all the stops in his performance of a British army major. ‘Thanks for the compliment,’ Cumberbatch says laughing during our conversation in the imposing Claridge’s Hotel in London. ‘Laurence Olivier - still the great role model for all actors, I hope - once said: There’s no such thing as a small part. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Only with such an attitude can you make it as an actor. Believe me: during my first years on stage and in front of the camera I often felt like nothing more than a moving piece of furniture. I still always gave the best of me.’
You’re very humble. Is that because you had your big break at a later age?
Does wisdom come with age? Somehow I doubt that. Both my parents were actors, so I know how it all works. And when I was younger a drama teacher warned me about the pitfalls of success as well. Fame can be intoxicating and confusing, but it’s up to you to resist that. To be honest I don’t care for all the attention, first and foremost I’m an actor because I’m a great lover of theatre and films.
Your career at the moment must be like a dream come true - you even have fans who call themselves ‘Cumberbitches’. Is it all a bed of roses?
You won’t be able to tell by looking at me, but deep down inside I’m quite terrified for the ‘Great Wall’. I got directional pointers off Spielberg, the shoot of Parade’s End in your country was a fantastic experience and I’ll be working with top talents such as Peter Jackson and J.J. Abrams. It doesn’t get much better than that. There’s a big chance I’ll have to scale back next year. But let’s focus on the positive for now and by that I do not just mean my ‘bitches’. (laughs)
Tell us about working with Steven Spielberg
It was like a dream come true. One of the first movies I ever saw in the cinema was Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The moment when the Ark was opened and all the demons were released I’ll never forget. Of course I stood on set with trembling knees the very first day of shooting. Steven immediately calmed my nerves. His intensive preparation time makes one realise he’ll never ever lose control of the production. He’s been working with the same crew for ages and so has time to answer difficult questions of the actors himself. He’s simply the perfect general for a project like War Horse.
It was your first mega production, didn’t you ever feel a bit lost on set?
Oddly enough no. It’d make no sense to tell you that everything went down in an organic way - the production was too enormous for that to happen. But I didn’t feel like a tiny cog in a soulless machine for one moment. That’s Steven’s talent as a director right there. Despite the fact that he’s got everything planned out in detail he still leaves enough room for spontaneity. You have to, otherwise you’d never get shots like that beautiful sunset at the end of the movie.
If that hadn’t worked out during the shoot, he could always have opened his box of CGI tricks.
Bullshit! I understand that Steven is known as the godfather of popcorn cinema, but you can’t possibly compare him with the Michael Bays of this world. Granted, in movies such as Minority Report and War of the Worlds he used digital effects - without those he’d never been able to make those movies - but the shoot of War Horse was all about ‘old school filmmaking’. The project has become his tribute to classic Hollywood legends as John Ford and Michael Curtiz. These days everyone’s so used to CGI that they think they see it in every shot. An example: the sequence in which I together with three hundred soldiers charge into battle. ‘Wow, they pasted your head perfectly onto the body of the stunt jockey,’ an American mate of mine told me after having seen the movie. And that was after I’d been in the saddle for months to prepare.
Did you find the preparation to be easy?
Not really, it was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career. Before this I’d never sat on a horse before. Oh wait, I’m lying. When I was about twelve years old, my mother took me a few times to a riding school. I nearly died on the back of that animal back then - and it wasn’t much different during the first training sessions this time. I resembled one of those characters in Blazing Saddles or City Slickers. It took ages before I felt at ease in the saddle. Only after a few weeks I started to get the hang of it. After that it went fast. Horses are clever animals, they’re very intuitive. My horse knew it could go a bit further the more I learned. I became really addicted, as a human you won’t come any closer to the experience of flying than on a galloping horse.
Soon you’ll take your chances in the US. Did Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy co-star Gary Oldman warn you of the dangers of the Hollywood factory?
Gary didn’t keep any secrets from me when we worked together. ‘If you’re going to work together with the best of the best, you better ask as much questions as possible,’ I told myself. Though we never really talked about him moving to the US. You shouldn’t forget that Gary took that step when the British film industry was dying. There’s been a revival since then. Of course I’d like to live a few months a year in Hollywood, then I’d at least get a bit of sunshine. (laughs) But surrendering completely to the American way of life? No fucking way!
You having turned down the part of the iconic Dr. Who would seem to point to the fact that you’ve had it with the UK?
Not at all. Turning down the offer was incredibly hard. Not just because I’m an enormous fan myself, but also because he, besides James Bond and Harry Potter, is one of the few British TV and film characters that are known over the whole world. The reason that I turned down the role, is that I don’t want to be pinned down to one character. Of course I realise that lots of people see me as Holmes, but Dr. Who is a different kind of animal. If you take on that role your face will appear on t-shirts, lunch boxes and so on. I didn’t want all of that.
Geek projects like Star Trek and The Hobbit will be connected to all kinds of merchandise though, no?
Oops, now I’ll have to watch it. I’m not allowed to speak about those movies yet. I don’t worry about The Hobbit, in that one I play two parts, Smaug the dragon and the mysterious Necromancer. The first is a computer animated character, like Gollum in Lord of the Rings and the second I only voice. So I’d be surprised if one of them would look like me. About Star Trek I won’t say a word. J.J. likes keeping the fans on the edge of their seats. Why would I sabotage that approach?
Finally; did shooting Parade’s End leave you with some special Belgian memories?
Like I said, Parade’s End was a special experience for me. The character that I portray was very close to my heart. For the first time ever I felt I was playing a kindred spirit. Shooting in Belgium I found to be unique by the way. Despite your troubles I didn’t feel any tension between the Dutch - and French speaking crew members. Actually, I was amazed by the ease with which these two so-called different cultures worked together.

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