Actor of the Week: Benedict Cumberbatch
This week’s Actor of the Week is a man who needs little introduction. His rise to household favourite seemed meteoric, going from relative unknown to A-lister in a mere five-to-seven year period - the utterly lovable Benedict Cumberbatch. Extremely talented, versatile and charismatic, Cumberbatch has it all, on and off screen.
Cumberbatch’s parents were both actors, so, while it was not a foregone conclusion he’d become an actor himself, it’s still not a surprise. Before studying drama, he had an arts scholarship and also taught English in India.
2004 saw Cumberbatch get his film breakthrough, starring as Stephen Hawking in the BBC TV film Hawking, depicting the life of the genius professor who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, but changed the face of science in spite of his illness.
The beginning of his aforementioned escalation came in 2010, when he starred alongside Martin Freeman in the BBC’s rehash of the Sherlock Holmes storylines, Sherlock. Despite each episode having a one and a half hour run time, they were not films, but they simply couldn’t go unmentioned by myself for two reasons. Firstly, down the fact this was what put Cumberbatch on the map, as mentioned. Set in 21st century London, Sherlock begins by bringing Holmes and his sidekick, Dr John Watson, together, and subsequently has them solving all sorts of mysteries. Cumberbatch is excellent in his take on Holmes, bringing so many fantastic characteristics to the table, such as charm, wit, sarcasm. The thing about Cumberbatch’s Holmes that stands out the most for me is his ability to reel off how he solved a mystery, seemingly without breathing. Cumberbatch will go off on one in excruciating detail, listing fact after fact, at speed, and almost never comes up for air. It’s almost difficult to keep up with him at times, but it adds to your love of the character. It’s this scattiness that I really enjoy, as the crimes all differ, but Benedict’s Holmes has the same approach to each one, and the underlying feeling as the viewer is awe. The second reason Sherlock needed to be mentioned was due to the dynamic between Cumberbatch and Freeman. This is what happens when you bring two fantastic actors together in such intimate circumstances. Both compliment each other tremendously, each having different traits to the other, thus bringing a lot to the table as a team. The humour between the two and the way they bounce off each other is a real joy to behold, and is a masterclass in professionalism as a result. If you haven’t seen Sherlock, it should be promoted to the top of your list instantly!
Having burst onto the scene with Sherlock, Cumberbatch found himself cast as Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and, as a result, worked alongside two former Actor of the Week winners in Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. With such quality on board, it is little wonder that this film went on to receive three Oscar nominations.
Benedict went on to achieve an Oscar nomination personally for his role in 2014’s The Imitation Game, where he played mathematical mastermind Alan Turing. The Imitation Game is set during World War II and sees Turing and his team try to decode the Enigma machine, which was a machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages. Cumberbatch delivers a masterful performance as Turing, portraying a troubled and stubborn man to perfection. He is difficult to work with, as he can’t help but see himself as superior to those on his side. He was troubled because, in his youth, he developed feelings for his best friend Christopher, but sadly lost him suddenly to tuberculosis. Not only did this loss crush him, he had to keep his homosexuality secret because in those days it was, quite wrongly, considered indecent and criminal. Cumberbatch evokes such empathy at times, even in spite of his character’s harsh approach to those around him, and this is something to be applauded as you can feel multiple things at one time upon viewing.
Another role of his I really enjoyed was that of Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. I was never a ‘Trekkie’, but I thought the Star Trek films were very well done. As a non-Trekkie, I was just able to enjoy them as standalone films, without having any preconceptions regarding any one character. This was the reason I was particularly fond Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Khan. In Into Darkness, Benedict also worked with another previous Actor of the Week winner in Chris Pine. Cumberbatch delivers a knockout monologue in this film. He is talking about his race whilst imprisoned, and the emotion and anger is visible and excellently displayed. You can watch that speech below.
Further proof, if any was needed, that Cumberbatch is one of Hollywood’s big hitters, is that he has starred in two massive franchises, in The Hobbit trilogy and now the Marvel universe. In The Hobbit trilogy, he starred as both Smaug and The Necromancer. He was excellent as Smaug, as he only provided the voice, with Smaug being a dragon, but he did so with such ferocity and I loved every second he was on screen, and I felt he was the highlight of an otherwise generally disappointing trilogy. In the Marvel universe, he stars as Dr. Strange. He has done so in Strange’s standalone film, and will also be in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War.
Benedict Cumberbatch has had a career of many hits, most certainly since 2010, as mentioned. Having already garnered an Oscar nomination, he is an actor, I feel, is destined to land one, as he just oozes quality. Thanks a lot, Benedict!