BENEDICT Cumberbatch’s profile is rising. Having had acclaimed but low-key roles in BBC drama Hawking,Amazing Grace, The Last Enemy, Atonement, War Horse, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the actor’s turn as the intrepid detective in Sherlock, a modern day adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series, has won him accolades and fans worldwide.
He is set to get even more attention now that he is playing the villain in JJ Abram’s follow up to the Star Trekreboot, Star Trek Into Darkness (click to view the official trailer of the movie).
The son of actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham, Cumberbatch was educated at Brambletye School in West Sussex and had an arts scholarship to Harrow school. As a child he was involved in numerous Shakespearean plays and made his debut as Titania Queen of the Fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream at age 13.
After school he took a gap year to teach English at a Tibetan monastery and went onto study drama at the University of Manchester and then the London Academy of Music and Drama Art.
Cumberbatch was in a relationship with actress Olivia Poulet for over 12 years which ended in March 2011.
He will next play Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder in the highly controversial film, The Fifth Estate.
Q: You’re becoming a huge star. Are you being mobbed everywhere you go these days?
Well, I was mobbed at the airport in Japan, which was not my usual sort of thing; it’s not what I expect when I arrive at the airport. It was amazing, lots of fans turned out when we were recording this in Tokyo. Yeah, none of that is normal, is it? It’s fantastic and (laughs) I think it was because there were a few people who were interested to talk to me about everything to do with my life at the moment, and to let me know that I’m very big on the internet, which I have sort of got wind of, but it was nice, it was a lot of stuff.
Q: Was playing the bad guy an interest for you in this project?
Yes and no. I am very aware of cookie cutter, two dimensional villains and the English transition of an actor being from a different culture coming over and they are being like, “God, this guy does theatre and crap. We’d better give him the bad guy role and a cape and just make him be really horrible.” It was really the script, it was the pitch that JJ gave me a couple of scenes to audition with and he fleshed out the whole world of the rest of the script, and there’s a purpose and intention to his otherwise violent and pretty distressing actions that made it really intriguing. And I thought, “Well okay, there’s a purpose to this man, he’s not just the antagonist.”
Q: What did Star Trek mean to you growing up?
Not a huge deal. I watched it and I knew of it, and I’ve seen pretty much every generation of it and I’ve seen some of the films but I have never been an obsessed fan, I’ve never had that longing to be in the club, even a football club actually, but I guess it’s something to do with being an only child. I was very gregarious, but I think, I was never obsessed with anything, I just sort of bought the T-shirt.
Q: But you love Doctor Who, apparently?
I’ve got a lot of friends involved in that and I do enjoy that but again, you could stump me by asking me who played the second doctor, I wouldn’t know. I don’t have an obsession or fan knowledge and I bow and defer to those who do. I enjoy it, is what I would say. But as far films that had an influence that was sort of in the genre in this when I was growing up, I would say, well, I saw Buck Rogers as well as Star Trek on telly, and then film wise, I guess it was Star Wars really. It was Sci-Fi was as much as this is, because it was action thrillers based on other sort of models of filmmaking and all sorts of things.
Q: I read that your parents didn’t want you to be an actor?
No, because they just saw the pitfalls of it every day, and you don’t know where your next job is coming from and it’s unstable, into which they were having a child, me, and you want stability for your children. You want something better and everything that was bad about it for them, they wanted me to be free of for me, but I just kept on doing it, kept on doing it, at school and University and eventually my dad said, I said this before when I played Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, but actually, it was Salieri in Amadeus, and he said in a car park afterwards, we were saying goodbye and he said, “You are better than I was or ever will be, you will have a really good time doing this for a living.” And I cried and from that moment. I thought, “Okay, if I’ve got his blessing, then I’m going to do it.”
Q: Was that after you went to Tibet?
That was after Tibet. I didn’t even go to Tibet, I went to Darjeeling. I taught in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.
Q: Not many people get to do that. It’s pretty amazing.
It was. You can do it. There’s an organisation called GAP and anyone who is listening or reading, whatever this is going to result in, you can do it, and they are called GAP and they sort of foster relationships between children and institutions with school leaders who have years out between their eighteen exams that was in our country and going to a college or University and actually they came out and they gave a talk and I was just flabbergasted with this one, I could actually stay with monks in their home and watch them at work and at prayer and get the chance to teach them and interact with them. Why isn’t everyone from the school, and I was the only one who signed up for it, I couldn’t believe it.
Q: Why did you choose that? Most people your age backpacked their way across Europe for that year.
Yeah, I did a bit of that as well, at the beginning. And then when the money ran out, I just went back to working in shops and doing waiter jobs to build up to have the six months’ worth of money that I needed to live in India. And so I worked for six months in London, and that supported me when I was away. Why did I choose that? Because literally just because that was the talk I went to, and Tibetan culture always intrigued me, as had Buddhism. And the landscape as well, what I knew of it from books and films and Seven Years in Tibet, lots of incredible people came to talk to us in school when I was coming up. I was very, very lucky and I think somebody can relate to that story, I don’t think we all did, but someone connected to that story and talked to us.
Q: Did you attain your sense of zen?
Yeah, meditating and all that, absolutely, being able to be still and focus and you are putting words into my mouth, (laughs) but you are absolutely right, that’s exactly right. There’s an ability to focus and have a real sort of purity of purpose and attention and not be too distracted, and to feel very alive to your environment, to know what you are part of, to understand what is going on in your peripheral vision and behind you as well of what is in front of you, that definitely came from that.
Q: Does it trouble you that people see villain in you?
No, because I just played a guy called Little Charles in a film called August: Osage County, and he’s a 37 year old Oakie boy who lives above his parents garage, and can’t get his life or shit together, and has fallen in love with his cousin and it’s all a bit of a disaster. He’s very low status, vulnerable, very, very sensitive human being, and if you look at the back catalogue, it’s not all villains. Sherlock is an anti-hero, he’s a lot of complicated things, morally ambiguous, he’s sided with the angels, but I don’t think he’s one of them, but at the same time, he’s not a villain, and I resist that anyway.
Q: What is the latest on The Phoenix? Are you going to star in it?
I don’t know. I’ll have to go on IMDB and let that tell me.
Q: Is Sherlock coming back?
Yeah, I start again in March, I am also playing Julian Assange.
Q: What about for you, is this the last season?
Yeah, someone else is going to take over. Of course not, (laughs) it’s not like Doctor Who, he doesn’t regenerate. (laughs) – The Interview Feed