The film and theatre director Danny Boyle has sung the praises of Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, calling the 35-year-old actor "extraordinary" and "one of the leading actors in the world".
Boyle directed Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller last year in Frankenstein at the National Theatre. Their alternating roles as Dr Frankenstein and his terrifying creature have earned them a joint nomination for Best Actor at the 2012 Olivier Awards, the winners of which will be announced this Sunday, 15 April, at the Royal Opera House in London.
Talking to Radio Times for the new issue's Olivier Awards picture special, Boyle recalled the casting of Cumberbatch – who had just been seen on BBC1 in the first series of Sherlock – in the play.
"I didn’t really know him as a stage actor," Boyle said. "I knew what a fine screen actor he is. But there's a physicality involved in the theatre. It's not just about mannerisms or impersonation, which screen often is: it's about sustaining a narrative with mind and body. When I saw him for Frankenstein, that was the only thing I wanted to know. Did he have that physical capacity? And of course he does.
"That's why he's now what he is: one of the leading actors in the world. He's gone on to another division, which is movies at the moment. He'll have a great time. He's got experience, he's not a young ingénue being exposed to Hollywood. He'll make the best of it."
Going back to his first meeting with Cumberbatch, Boyle said: "We met and I asked him to do a few things and he was extraordinary in the room. He's as fit as a boxer, which you have to be for the stage. You have to have an internal fitness that allows you to carry the story so it never sags. He had this combination of the cerebral and the physical which you can see when you look back at his screen work – in Hawking, it's there. Frankenstein was a great one for using it."
So did Boyle sense at the time that he was working with someone who was on a rapid ascent to the top? The Slumdog Millionaire director recalled that he did feel that way, and that Cumberbatch took the dual role in his stride: "Any part when you're exposed on the stage is a challenge, you put yourself on the line," Boyle remarked, "but doing that twice and seeing yourself through someone else's eyes is a credit to his confidence levels. He was able to take it on. It's the world that has to catch up: [actors like Cumberbatch] are on a trajectory, which is natural, and we haven't laced our way into it yet but we're about to. I think the film world will see that now. That's the final part of his audience in a way."
Finally, in comments that will have Sherlock fans rushing to re-watch their series two DVDs, Boyle said Cumberbatch had taken a little of Frankenstein's monster back into Sherlock: "In the latest series of Sherlock, there were a couple of things he put in that were direct mimics of Frankenstein's creature. Those of us who shared it all, we spotted them – the audience wouldn't, and so they wouldn't be put off by it. When actors are on a roll it's a continuum. They channel everything incoming that's useful. Everything feeds into everything else."