wit and wisdom

The Wit and Wisdom of Benedict Cumberbatch

526144691SW081_The_Hobbit_T Photo: Getty

Since this magazine downed pisco sours with Benedict Cumberbatch — for a piece that accidentally inspired a meme — the actor has been cast as Marvel’s Dr. Strange, made out with Reese Witherspoon, and been nominated for both a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe for his work in The Imitation Game. In the World War II historical thriller, he plays British cryptographer Alan Turing, who cracked an “unbreakable” Nazi code to help bring an early end to the war and who ended his life at 41, persecuted by the British government for being gay. Pundits believe an Oscar nomination is virtually a sure thing. On the occasion of so much good Cumberfortune, and in the spirit of the holiday season, we decided to revisit our original interview and give to you, dear readers, the gift of Benedict Cumberbatch’s many passionate words on many subjects that didn’t fit into the original article. Enjoy!

On Press Junkets
“I love talking about The Imitation Game, and three-minute slots is a really ugly way to do it. I’m shit at that. I would never be good at Twitter. When there’s actually somebody going like [wrap-it-up gesture], I’m fearing that, so I just keep talking and keep talking, keep answering, to give the journalist as much as possible, even if only 20 seconds gets used. But it’s exhausting and frustrating. Why the fuck can’t we syndicate interviews? I don’t mind the slog. I want as many people to get it and hear about [the movie], and for me to promote it. I just wish there was a more inventive or unique way of doing it sometimes.”

On His Fabled Dance-Off With Michael Fassbender
“Everyone’s called that a dance-off. We were dancing together, as grown men should. There’s no ‘off’ about it. We were dancing ‘on.’ We were together, in perfect male harmony. We were grooving around and dancing back-to-back. It wasn’t like, ‘You go,’ ‘No, you go,’ ‘You throw your shit down, I throw my shit down’ — there was no competitive streak to it at all.”

On Shakespeare
“I always like going back to Shakespeare. I really do. Even as a punter. It’s such an enriching vein of our culture to tap into. The more you scratch at it, the more you realize he is so brilliant in how multifaceted the language is. There’s just so many choices to make as an actor. It’s a bit like puzzles, there’s certain things to crack open. It’s all about facilitating a really, really rich understanding of the characters and situations.”

On Being a Sex Symbol
“I never take that for granted. It’s kind of an amazing thing. There’s lots of theories about it. It’s kind of extraordinary — the majority of the [fans] are really intelligent, sweet, supportive, funny … you know, it’s a tease. The thing of being public property is slightly odd. Nice people respect my privacy. It’s a really weird contradiction in terms of, we require an audience for a professional life and we require some kind of privacy or, you know, lack of attention in our private life.”

On Encountering a Particularly Blatant Fan-Photographer
“I was coming out of the car to go see a friend of mine at a concert, rushing a little bit, getting into a parking bay, and this one guy had been filming me. I turned around and he went like that [mimes talking on the phone], ‘Yeah, yeah, I know, yeah, yeah.’ I said to him, ‘Are you talking on the phone?’ ‘Yeah. I’m just talking on the phone.’ ‘Do you want to check the photograph you took?’ ‘What?’ ‘Do you want to check the photograph you took of me? Because if it’s not good we could take a proper one.’ ‘I don’t understand, I’m talking on the phone.’ And I just burst out laughing. I said, ‘I’m so sorry, you are possibly the worst actor I have ever seen. You’ve made me very, very, very happy, so it’s fine. You can have your moment with the photograph.’”

On the Sherlock Holmes Phenomenon
“None of us had any idea about what kind of success we would have on our hands, and it shocked all of us. That first night it aired in England, my God, I wasn’t really aware of this internet-TV culture, because I hadn’t really dabbled in a series or something with a potential cult following, like a Doctor Who or Downton Abbey or anything like that. When this sort of live, immediate, audience-internet reaction [to Sherlock] exploded, it was like being in a theater of millions of people. It was so immediate, the response, that it was sort of terrifying. And this thing of trending on Twitter — I didn’t really know what Twitter was until that night. That first sort of dawning of Oh, God, this is what we’re getting involved with was extraordinary. And I mean, it still bemuses me.”

On His Sexiest Role
“As Agent Classified [in Penguins of Madagascar]. I had a really good scene, though I think it’s been cut, where I danced with some animal and seduced them. No, that’s not true. I know that would make good copy, but it’s not true. He really fancies himself, which is deeply unsexy, in my opinion. But Richard III is incredibly sexy. And also Hamlet, to an extent. [Cumberbatch will play the latter role onstage in London in 2015.] He’s sort of pitched as squarely foul by the circumstances of the play, but something started I think maybe to happen with Ophelia. How far did that go?”

On Whether Holmes and Turing Are on the Spectrum
“I don’t think it’s that simple. Possibly Sherlock is. Sherlock’s a sociopath, and I think both of them are utterly conditioned by their circumstance. Turing wasn’t born with a stammer. He developed that from being brought up by foster parents whilst his parents were away in the diplomatic community. That would’ve made it very difficult for him to socialize with kids and use language in a conventional way and form friendships, because he would’ve been teased and bullied, which would have further compounded his fear of using language, which would have turned him more inward. I think it’s this fear we have of people we don’t understand. We immediately want to pigeonhole them as different. So, Oh, he’s just a troubled genius, isn’t he? I think it’s really quick shorthand to go, Autistic, Asperger’s. We’re really keen to do that. People always want to view scientists as outsiders because it’s beyond our understanding.”

On His Career Choice
“I didn’t necessarily want to be an actor. I toyed for a while with being a criminal barrister, until I realized that sort of at the point of no return that people were saying, ‘Go back now, because it was just as competitive, just as peripatetic, just as unpredictable, as a lifestyle, as a career choice, as career satisfaction.’ I would’ve loved the performance of court, the idea of persuading people, storytelling and all that. It parallels beautifully with acting, lots of frustrated, amateur dramatics going on in court all the time. I think lots of barristers literally perform in amateur dramatic societies and are very good actors. It’s a massive crossover.”

On Snowboarding
“I’ve gone three times this year. I went to Vermont. Stratton. And I went to what we call the Lump, which is just somewhere in Connecticut, north of New York. It’s Patterson, so right on the border of Connecticut and New York. They call it the Bump or something like that because it’s a sort of pathetic thing. But I loved it, four slopes. It’s great, just getting my turns back in and getting my balance and jumping. I’m not jumping-jumping. I’ve never done a half-pipe; I learned too late. I started when I was in my mid-20s. Already my center of gravity was too tall to risk airborne, frantic gymnastics over an icy half-tube pipe. [In Vermont] I had a great run, was just taking my earphones out, and sort of looked straight into the eyes of this couple, but I had my goggles on. And they were standing on the backs of their skis, going [high-pitched], ‘We love your work in Sherlock, we’re really big fans!’ I thought, Oh, the fuck, how did you know?

On Motion-Capture Acting
“Motion capture! [The Jungle Book’s] Shere Khan, all The Hobbit stuff, being the Necromancer/Smaug is all motion capture. Primarily, it all came out of the physicalized movement of the body in a motion-capture suit on a stage. That’s how we created the character, and that’s how the animators went about doing what they did with what I gave them. It’s so much fun. I want people to understand that it’s a really important art form and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a beautiful amalgamation of the special-effects world and acting, and it’s a proper, performance-driven craft. It’s not a sort of Frankenstein-ian monster to be feared; it’s to be celebrated. You have more room for imagination and expanding into realms you couldn’t possibly do if you were in a costume with makeup, and continuity with camera angles and continuity with eye lines and positions and lighting. It’s just ridiculous the amount of fun and freedom it gives you.”

On Why Sherlock Holmes Doesn’t Get Laid
“He’s asexual. He doesn’t want any, and it’s very purposeful on his part. I think he’s been burnt in the past. I think he also realizes he can’t beat female intuition; he can’t. So to embroil himself where he might be enslaved through adoration or sexual desire or any kind of power or chemistry to do with love is too big a risk for him. That doesn’t make him gay, and it doesn’t make him asexual. It means he’s purposely abstaining for the sake of his craft. Not something I do.”