Interview by Jarrett Wieselman
The 35 year old was one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars thanks to a pair of sensational 2011 performances (in War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and now poised for next level-dom after snagging a lead role in 2013’s Star Treksequel, where he’ll reportedly play the villainous Khan! But before this Brit heads into outer space, fans can check him out in the second season of his sensational Sherlock re-imagining, premiering on May 6 on Masterpiece on PBS.
ETOnline caught up with Cumberbatch backstage before a special Sherlockseries two Masterpiece on PBS Q&A to talk all about this captivating character, what fans can expect from the ramped up second series and how his Hollywood dreams almost didn’t come true.
ETOnline: What excites you about this incarnation of Sherlock?
Benedict Cumberbatch: That he is the original detective — and can exist, despite all the derivatives, in a world that also has CSI: Miami. He still has the power to entertain us through the fact that he can turn anything into an adventure. Also, we’re doing the beginning of his story. We’re doing the fledgling relationship between him and Watson – this is the start, so he’s still learning and changing. We’re not seeing him as a finished mold.
ETOnline: Your chemistry with Martin Freeman (who plays Watson) is electric. Was that connection instantaneous?
Cumberbatch: He stepped into the audition room after a few other actors and he just elevated my game. He’s the one I wanted to play with. I knew he’d bring a level of reality and integrity and detailed performance to the character that meant I could do as little as possible to become as eccentric as possible. I could raise one eyebrow and seem like I was from another century. He gives me something for nothing in that regard.
ETOnline: The second series introduces Irene Adler, a classic Holmes character. What does she bring to this season?
Cumberbatch: They have this extraordinary relationship that’s a very f*cked up romance — it’s basically two predators circling each other. They’re equally willing to throw the other to the wolves and that’s exciting. But through that, something human is awoken in him. He sees himself as this impenetrable God, but through these episodes, Sherlock becomes deconstructed. It shows him that he simply can not operate in this isolated reality. He can’t be as good as he needs to be without letting the world in. That makes for a bigger, better and bolder series – we pull no punches in taking on the three main stories of Holmes cannon. All three have a different flavor: There’s love, there’s horror and there’s pure thriller mixed with hard-paced action. And when we do it right, the show is fearfully funny, really disgusting in its calculated coldness and also heart-stoppingly moving. That’s a great thing to do.
ETOnline: The show had a phenomenal response in England — what are you hoping for with American audiences with the second series?
Cumberbatch: In England, it’s quite an amazing thing to have 11 million viewers and all generations of one nation singularly focused on this show. All I can hope for is that we have a watercooler moment again — we have smart, loyal, intelligent, witty and opinionated fans. I’ve never had such an overwhelming response to a project I’ve done on the telly. I’m really hoping the States has a little bit of that. But we’re vying with a lot of popular American shows on [Sundays] for the next three weeks – Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Killing, God knows what else. It’s pretty spectacularly packed. So I advise people to put the ones they’ve been following on record because there are only three of ours — and it’s a f*cking great rollercoaster [laughs].
ETOnline: Is there anything you haven’t gotten to do with Sherlockyet that you’d like to try in series three?
Cumberbatch: I would like to do some more fight scenes. The great thing is they’ve already given me a fantastic canvas on which to have fun. Maybe I could ride a horse [laughs] – I love horse riding. Learning that skill set was one of the best things about working on War Horse. It’s quite a profound thing to feel that bond with an animal we once depended on for our lives. I’m not going all Avataron you talking about the bond – it’s not like I’m putting my ponytail to its tail, but there is a real connection there. When you see a good horseman, you’re unable to tell where the instruction is coming from. It’s like telepathy.
ETOnline: Speaking of War Horse, I didn’t expect this, but I cried for pretty much the whole of that film.
Cumberbatch: I have to really be careful who’s around me when I watch that film – particular by the point it gets to him running through the barbed wire. To view that human tragedy through the eyes of an animal who is devoid of any nationality or any of the criteria we as human beings have used to justify killing one another is a thing of beauty. It’s an innocent amongst it all, so it’s a desperately painful way to view war. It cuts me up and I can’t control myself from making funny sounds as I dive into my hands and eat my fist.
ETOnline: Was acting always the plan for you?
Cumberbatch: Nope. I toyed with being a lawyer for a while, but I just met as many people who were set up in that oversubscribed industry as acting, so I thought, “Why give up on the A plan?” I never had any [formal training] but I also didn’t sit back assuming my parents [both actors in England] would introduce me to an agent. Obviously that helped, of course that helped, but it was always about exploring opportunities they had afforded me by working incredibly hard to give me an education … so I could do anything but what they had done [laughs].
ETOnline: You’ve jumped between mediums and genres quite readily over the last few years. Do you have a career plan?
Cumberbatch: There is very much a plan. I want to keep on a roll of variety – that’s not just about scale but also medium. It’s really about quality of work and variety for me. I know that I’m living the dream ticket right now for most actors. You can’t plan these things but you can make certain decisions to ensure you get where you want to be. No matter what, I know I’m incredibly lucky