Benedict Cumberbatch’s body clock was out of whack. Having just arrived from London less than 24 hours before this interview at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, he had gone to bed at 10:30 the night before and woke up at 3:30 in the morning. Smiling, he said he’d had two breakfasts—“healthy” ones, he clarified.
Drinking coffee between replies to questions, Benedict has that natural British reserve. The glasses add to his erudite look but underneath the cool exterior lies another British quality—dry humor. He wore a shiny bracelet on his right wrist.
The actor, brilliant in “The Imitation Game,” sounded happily in love with his fiancée, Sophie Hunter. Asked about three things he is grateful for these days, the London native quickly said the first thing in his smooth voice: “The love that is in my life at the moment, naturally. It’s an amazing thing to find somebody you love, let alone somebody who loves you back in the same way and degree. Not everyone can do that in a lifetime.”
He added, “It’s a minor miracle, considering how busy we both are (laughs), that we met in this way. So, Sophie is someone I am incredibly grateful for and very excited about.” Sophie does have her own busy schedule. The Oxford University alumna directs avant-garde plays and operas, is an actress (she acted with Benedict in 2009’s “Burlesque Fairytales,” where they met) and sings (she has a French-language album, “The Isis Project”).
On the old-school approach of announcing their engagement with a notice in UK’s The Times last Nov. 5, Benedict explained, “[It] is a standard way of doing it in England. Maybe it’s old-fashioned but I would still have done it that way even if I wasn’t in this strange, heightened position, being a famous actor. I just tried and normalized something that was deeply personal to me.
“I knew the world would find out, obviously. But I didn’t want to publicize it beyond what I initially wanted to publicize it as, which is an announcement to my friends and family. Because, believe me, although I told as many people after the moment, I had to go back to playing Richard III (in ‘The Hollow Crown,’ a TV mini-series). I couldn’t spend all the time on the phone. It was a way of announcing it to friends and family and I suppose a quiet way for the world to find out about it.”
Thankful for health
Then he mentioned two more things he is thankful for: “My health and the health of my family—that I am still here chugging away. And the opportunities in my working life. Those are the three strong bases. It’s a bit of a golden moment for me and I am loving it. I am having a great time and I am very happy.”
He announced, “Well, touch wood (knocks on the table), I have given up smoking—that helps. I shouldn’t say that because if I ever have a cigarette again, it will be in the papers. ‘Oh, he lied.’ I haven’t smoked for a month now. I am dying for a cigarette right now. No, I am joking. I am fine.the three strong bases. It’s a bit of a golden moment for me and I am loving it. I am having a great time and I am very happy.”
“I try to eat healthy. I try not to eat too much late at night. I try to do some exercise a day, at least half an hour. Crikey, what other secrets? A few supplements are very handy. And I try to sleep. I am struggling at the moment because my clock is all over the place… but I get a lot of help, a lot of great people around me.”
He stressed the importance of some quiet time, especially now that he’s on a grueling schedule to gab about and promote “The Imitation Game” from London to LA to New York. “Even if it’s a 10-minute break to just meditate and see what the hell is going on in here (points to his head) after all of this. Because so much of what I am at the moment is about talking, communicating and everything is externalized.
“To take care of the inner traffic— and it’s very easy to forget about that in these heightened environments—I do that (meditate). I read novels or nonfiction. It’s healthy to keep up with your hobbies as well, but God knows I was better at learning a bit of French every day, a piece of poetry, or all the other things I promised myself in the few moments I could grasp.”
I congratulated him on the viral video where he took the imitation game challenge of MTV’s Josh Horowitz to mimic as many celebs as he could in 60 seconds. He impressively impersonated Michael Caine, Tom Hiddleston, Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson, John Malkovich, Christopher Walken—even Taylor Swift.
“I probably saw it the same time as you,” he reacted with a grin. “I had forgotten in the maelstrom of all of this that I had even done it. So I had to watch it on my phone in the car. I think I did all right, apart from Christopher Walken, which was really bad (laughs) but I corrected it.
“I am thrilled that people seem to enjoy the clip. It made me laugh. I hadn’t planned it. There were a couple of impressions I had done before but most of them I had never thought of doing (laughs) until he (Josh Horowitz) asked me to. I just jumped off the cliff and gave it a go.
“I started out in school with a Dictaphone, doing silly voices and impersonations of people in school to amuse friends,” he said about mimicking. “That, combined with a musical ear, is something integral to the art of pretending to be someone else.”
The 38-year-old said, “Obviously, what I do in my day job is not impersonation; it’s hopefully interpretation.” In Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game ” Benedict turns in another nuanced performance as British WWII cryptographer, mathematician and logician Alan Turing, who cracked crucial German codes but was later prosecuted by the British government for being homosexual.
No rivalry here
Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode costar in this biography-drama-thriller. “There’s nothing to impersonate with Alan Turing,” Benedict stressed. “There’s no footage, no audio recording. There are extensive literature and anecdotal evidence and discussion as to how he composed himself, moved, spoke—all of which were very idiosyncratic.”
On the buzz that he and Eddie Redmayne, terrific as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” will duke it out this awards season, Benedict said, “It’s not a rivalry. It’s friendship. People can whip it up as much as they like and we will just stand back and laugh. I will be the first person on my feet if he wins any of the prizes that he will rightfully be nominated for. I haven’t seen his work as Stephen Hawking, apart from the trailers.
Front and center
But I know, because of how much integrity he has, and how extraordinary he has been in every piece of work that I have seen him in, that it will be a masterful moment in cinema history. So I will be front and center screaming, applauding and delighting on any accolade thrown his way.”
Teased that he seemed not to like blank spaces in his work calendar, based on his long list of current and coming projects, Benedict demurred, “No, it just looks that way. But I am getting to the stage where it’s been such an embarrassment of riches. The kind of work I have been offered—it’s been very hard to turn down and say, ‘No, I need more breathing space.’
“It’s like what one of the characters that I play, Sherlock, says, ‘A change of work is as good as a holiday.’ That’s a paraphrase and, pretty much, it’s true. Different engines give you the feeling that you are doing something so different that it requires a different energy and are not exhausting.”
“I don’t suffer from being a workaholic,” he emphasized. Laughing, he said, “At heart, I am incredibly lazy. I love nothing better than to kick back, see friends and family and just go on a few more holidays. I did actually have quite a lot of time at the beginning of this year. I was going to be doing a film, ‘The Lost City of Z’ with (director) James Gray. That was put on hold because of problems with the location. Hopefully, it will start in spring next year.”
The Lost City of Z is James’ adaptation of David Grann’s bestseller. He will portray Lt. Colonel Percival “Percy” Fawcett, a British artillery officer, archaeologist and explorer who supposedly discovered a mythical city in Brazil’s Amazon jungles in 1925.few more holidays. I did actually have quite a lot of time at the beginning of this year. I was going to be doing a film, ‘The Lost City of Z’ with (director) James Gray. That was put on hold because of problems with the location. Hopefully, it will start in spring next year.”
Benedict pointed out that he loved his experience doing the voice of a wolf named Classified in Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith’s animated film, “Penguins of Madagascar.”
“Wolves are now my favorite animals,” he declared. With a grin, he said, “I spent a lot of time in Yellowstone Park preparing for the film. I was in a cave and I got involved with a pack of wolves. It was great. I embroiled myself in it. I became the Alpha male after about two weeks.”
With a chuckle, he quipped, “Then I had to back down a little bit when I realized that Christian Bale, Daniel Day Lewis and Tom Hardy were also in that pack of wolves.”
“I have always loved animals,” he remarked. “I have always wanted a dog but, in all seriousness, it would be very cruel on a dog right now to be in my possession because I wouldn’t be in its presence and I feel that I can’t properly look after it.”
In addition to his TV work, “Sherlock” and “The Hollow Crown,” Benedict will be seen next as Smaug/Necromancer in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” His next films include “Black Mass,” “Magik,” “The Yellow Birds” and “Jungle Book: Origins.”
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Benedict is a sought-after narrator of audio books. “I also love doing audio books because you can create an entire world which is full of pitfalls.” He deadpanned, “You get to page 80 and it says, ‘She announced in her rasping octogenarian Hungarian accent…’ and you go, ‘Oh no, I have been playing her as a 20-year-old ingénue!’”
“I still manage to do things,” he pointed out, amid all these projects. “I go to Grands Prix. I go to Comic Con in Australia. But, around that period, (early this year), I had a lot of free time and adventures.”
He is actively involved with the UK-based Liberty, also known as the National Council for Civil Liberties. “Human rights is a big thing for me,” he said. “I am very proud to be associated with Liberty and its work for human rights.”
When Benedict is at home, he just wants to relax. “You wouldn’t want to see what I wear at home,” cracked the man who said he doesn’t have a stylist but that he trusts his eyes and what he feels comfortable in, for public appearances. But he credits Spencer Hart, “Sherlock Holmes” tailor, for guiding him.
Benedict said that, otherwise, “It’s all about loose-fitting clothes. If you are trussed up in really sharp, tailored slim fit suits, the last thing you want to do is lounge about in them at home (laughs). I do what I think most people do. I get into tracksuit bottoms—they are lovingly geared to lounge about in.”