36 year old Cumberbatch is best known for his portrayal of the legendary character of Sherlock in the rightly acclaimed BBC series, which is currently filming its third season. In recent years he’s had parts in everything from War Horse to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and is a face you might recognise from smaller roles in Atonement and Starter for 10.
2013 is set to be the year the star reaches for the stratosphere, with a major role in StarTrek as well as dual performances set for Peter Jackson’sThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, adding to the fandom already ensured by Sherlock.
Here, he talks about everything from the motivations of his character to bulking up for the role, his favourite 80s TV shows, an insane audition piece and much more.
CLICK: Do you find it strange talking about the movie when people have seen so little of the film?
BC: Not really no. I think something that has a huge weight of expectation about it – this second instalment of JJ’s version so I think it makes absolute sense to give people a taste of the work we did earlier in the year and let them know there’s going to be a big film in the summer called Star Trek Into Darkness. I don’t think it’s that strange.
CLICK: So that’s enough information you think?
CLICK: Ever since you were cast there have been rumours around who you’re playing? Is that fun to watch?
BC: Yea its fine and rumours and speculation are all part of the game that fans play with this extraordinary world that is theirs. And it does belong to them in many ways. But I said it before and I’ll say it again – I really respect the idea that you can live in a world where most things are so oversaturated and overexposed too early and it’s nice to have a little bit of mystique. And I mean that about the whole of the film and everything that happens in it. And I just think, fair enough – I’m signing on for that because I appreciate that when I walk into a cinema. And a) it’s not patronising to an audience and b) you actually have the thrill of discovering what the film is about.
CLICK: Do you engage with the conversation online at all?
BC: Not really no, it doesn’t really help me.
CLICK: Well you know the truth, so why would you bother?!
BC: Yea! Though I suppose it could be entertaining if you enjoyed that sort of thing. But that’s for fans, it’s not for participants.
CLICK: Was there any secrecy on the set, with script pages blanked out etc?
BC: It’s interesting you’re the second guy who’s asked that. It’s not like Mike Leigh or Scorsese, does Scorsese does that, no… Woody Allen definitely does that where you only get the scenes as you go. No, not at all. He was very explicit about everything that I was in the world that we were making.
CLICK: So you’ve finally been revealed through a photo as a character called John Harrison. What can you tell me about him?
BC: Well I describe him as a ‘home-grown terrorist.’ He’s somebody who has the most extraordinary proficient ability as a warrior with close hand combat and weaponry. But also with psychological warfare – like a master chessman he can… or I should say chess player, chessman could be a piece I guess! He’s a tactician with the most extraordinary kind of mind and ability to manipulate a situation and get people to trust him and do his bidding almost actually, a Hannibal Lecterish quality I guess. There’s no tricks involved, it is purely about knowing the person and the dynamic that they’re part of. And that means that within the range of acting I got to do I had the great boy/man thrill running around and doing a lot of live action stunts, with wire work and carefully choreographed and rehearsed fight scenes and chases. And that’s the great thing about the film – there’s lots of live action and stuff that is not CG. It’s very much real and gravitationally bound in some parts as well, and earthbound. And then on top of that, the icing of the cake and the real treat and meat of it as well was to have really juicy acting scenes as well.
CLICK: How do you respond to the rumours that the character would become Kahn or be Kahn?
BC: You know I think rumours are fun and it’s not something I engage with, it’s just something I respect. People have the right to speculate and that goes on from there really.
CLICK: You’ve talked about him as a sympathetic bad guy.
BC: I don’t know what character in recent film history hasn’t been. The more I say that the more I realise that doesn’t really distinguish him. But there will be a reveal in the… piece – I was about to say play! But it’s interesting that I was going to say play because there is an aspect of it where it is much more of a morality play, the kind of depth of story is much more in tune with the original series I think than had previously been the case in this type of genre film. But anyway that’s detracting from what I was saying which was… what I said about being a terrorist. I think I definitely touched on this in front of you guys this morning [a press conference]
CLICK: I missed that actually.
BC: Oh did you? I’m sorry. Christ do you want me to describe the 9 minutes of footage as well?!
CLICK: No I saw that!
BC: Oh ok! Well basically I believe like modern terrorism, and there sadly a lot of parallels that make this very relevant. It’s not that the means may be disgusting, the level of violence and death and destruction and distress caused. But often the intentions are noble – and I mean that in the broadest sense. It’s an underdog fighting a superpower. It’s a minority. And elements of that superpower can get corrupted; in this case it’s Starfleet. And he believes in what he is doing and hopefully at the point where that’s explained it might garner some sympathy.
CLICK: But he’s still clearly the bad guy.
BC: He’s still a bad arse, yea!
CLICK: I don’t know if you were a Trek fan in your past?
BC: Not really but I kind of got a really latent Trekkie kick out of seeing everybody brought together again in the first film. I love those scenes, love them. Our introduction to Scottie was the most extraordinary I guess because of the circumstances and with Leonard Nimoy being involved as well. But I loved that beginning when he’s getting onto the shuttle and the barfight when he’s right next to Bones and passing him the whiskey. It’s just really charming and chimed with this sort of thing that made me realise that I did take in a lot of this when I was younger on the television. And I remember really clearly what slot it was in – BBC 2, before the news and I used to watch it. But not obsessively. I think the only thing I obsessed about as a child was probably watching The A-Team, Knight Rider and Baywatch, as I’m quite proud to admit. That was a bit later! But I genuinely have never had an obsession, even about those – though I did want to be in The A-Team! I did really want to have a Kit; I would love to have had that car. And was a bit confused when I saw Michael running around bare chested but not that confused when I saw Pamela Anderson not bare chested but doing her thing. [pause] Lovely.
CLICK: And when you saw the 2009 movie was there ever a sense in your mind that you’d like to do one?
BC: Well yea, because it was a movie of quality. But it’s the same if you ask do I like sci-fi – if it’s a good film it’s a good film, it doesn’t matter if it’s a romantic comedy or a sci-fi or a thriller or a quiet character study. It really doesn’t matter, I don’t have a favourite genre – it’s limiting, both as an actor and as an audience. It’s really fun that at the moment there’s so much quality in every regard I think, every genre.
CLICK: And how did you prepare for getting involved in this massive universe?
BC: I worked off the basis of the script and JJ’s remit and the writers and the compact that you have to create a world and then give it to people when you’re finished. Because anything outside of that fan expectations or anything like that, you could worry yourself into paralysis.
CLICK: What was the casting like?
BC: Casting was crazy. I did it on my iPhone. Basically we were heading towards, like we are now, this little Judeo-Christian cult called Christmas! And they don’t really obey that so much in Hollywood and they were on their Crackberrys and demanding it yesterday and I said everyone was on holiday, with their families, doing what Christmas is all about! And they said it just couldn’t wait – they’d wanted to cast at the end of November and various people they’d met hadn’t quite worked out. And I think Damon Lindelof, the main writer, is the guy I really owe my job to. He showed Sherlock to JJ and that was it and then said very sweetly recently in my earshot that that audition was kind of a formality. If had known that I wouldn’t have tried so hard, thanks JJ! But I did the audition and it was very strange because I had to do it on iPhone and it was very late at night and I’d had other bits of technology that let me down and couple of friends that at my mum and dad’s in the country not being able to help me out. And I literally got home and begged my best friend who just said ‘why didn’t you ask me in the first place?’ So he got me into the kitchen and his wife had the camera atop of two chairs and I was crouched down to get the right angle with a light on the sideboard! I mean it was very, very Heath Robinson [a maker of eccentric machines] but it worked! [laughs] There were even moments where I was sort of [whispers] ‘shit did we wake him?’ Cos my godson who’s his firstborn was asleep in the back room and saying ‘should I be quieter’ and he’s like ‘its fine, its fine’. There are probably some subtler takes…
CLICK: Does it still exist; will it be on a DVD someday?
BC: Who knows! That’s a question for JJ. Maybe…
CLICK: You mentioned Sherlock there – you obviously take it as a compliment that he saw his character in that.
BC: Not the character so much but just the range of stuff that I’m asked to do in that series which is great. So I think it was as much about Sherlock’s mercurial… I mean these are not comparisons to the character but to see an actor go through the mercurial mood swings of Sherlock. Because I don’t like repeating myself and I wouldn’t have done this job if it was just Sherlock in space, kicking arse!
CLICK: That’d be ok though! I’d like that.
BC: [laughs] Lots of people would I think. No it’s a very different set of circumstances. This is all from him [JJ Abrams] so you’ll have to ask him but he saw a range that he thought could carry this role.
CLICK: I was curious – sometimes you test for chemistry in a romantic movie
BC: Of course
CLICK: Do you test for chemistry with a villain and a hero?
BC: I don’t know, maybe. It didn’t in this instance but I’m sure it does happen. I think the fact that I was of Chris’ era and age and pretty much standing, although he’s a tall man. We’re not too far off one another as far as contemporaries go. I think it’s a good thing because there’s an awful lot of this character that’s a shadow play of Kirk, and Spock as well. I mean he really uses that, to great effect.
CLICK: You’re coming into a large existing cast, was that daunting at all?
BC: Well I was a little bit star struck, in awe of them. Genuinely I didn’t quite know how to engage with them at the start! But I soon found out they were actors and not film stars – really collaborative and easy going and ridiculously good fun to the point that sometimes I had to just isolate myself because I was not supposed to be having fun in the scene, not that I’d had enough of their antics! I loved their antics. But I literally, one day in particular, but often before a scene I’d just walk around a corner and get myself together because I was in opposition to them. Which was hard to do but we had an awful lot of fun, on and off the pitch. It was terrific. I know it’s often hyperbolic to say it was wonderful but it really was a lovely family really. And JJ’s always about that. From his own family but also from the working environment he creates and the character interactions as well – it all kind of bleeds into one. I think that’s what makes you care about the spectacle.
CLICK: And which actors would you have interacted with the most?
BC: I don’t have favourites, that’s an outrageous question!
CLICK: I mean in the movie!
BC: Well I have the most amount to do probably with… no there’s a fair share.
CLICK: This is a more physical role than you’ve done before, how did you get ready for that?
BC: Well a lot of my prep, you were asking about script prep and character research – obviously the terrorism but very much the physical aspect of it as well. I was cast late so six days after casting; the others had a few months to train. So I had to hit the ground running, I got Patrick ‘P-NuT’ Monroe, who works with Tom Hardy who’s a friend of mine and I met him on Tinker Tailor. Not Tom, the trainer. And he helped me go up from a 32 to a 48 and eat 4,000 calories a day for a good few weeks. It was a long time of overeating. It was about size and breath and musculature and ability rather than weight so I never really measured my weight and I never lifted a weight. But I did a lot of callisthenic exercises, using my own body weight as resistance and his body weight as resistance – he’s built like a very strong outhouse! But I was doing upside down wall handstands by the end, pushing up with my head. And I could do one handed press ups as well. I got really strong and it fed into the work which was pretty rigorous – lots of choreographed fight scenes and chase sequences. Real live action sort of thrills. So that’s a good thing about the film that’s so often you think in space it’s all going to be fake. All of us, I mean Zach in particular as well – I’ve never seen him do as much in a film before. And Chris – we were eating like Trojans when we weren’t on set, punching each other or running around the place. So it was a lot of fun but hard work.
CLICK: I did want to mention The Hobbit…
BC: Well there’s not much for me to say about it so far. Have you seen it yet?
BC: That’s what I mean, I mean as far as my role goes, I could definitely talk about the work I did in what’s to come I can’t talk about the results because I haven’t seen them.
CLICK: You’ve got three big villains on the go – here and two in The Hobbit sequels. Are you drawn to those particularly?
BC: No it’s just the way it’s worked this year. But I also play little Charles in Osage County with an incredible cast and from the Olivier award winning play. He’s a very lost soul, generous and romantic – from Oklahomer [does an accent] and status just really low and different. But I like to mix it up. It’s a great route into Hollywood and it’s a really fantastic privilege to do that for JJ and Peter [Jackson] but I’m not making a habit of it. It just happened that way.
CLICK: Finally, what can we expect from Star Trek Into Darkness?
BC: I think a really, extraordinary immersive cinematic experience that is tied together by three dimensional characters as much as IMAX and 3D. That has great heart and soul and intelligence and wit to it, as well as thrills and spills.