Interview by John Hiscock in The Mirror
Yet a series of high-profile roles both on television and in the movies has earned him a growing legion of female admirers…much to his own amazement.
“It’s interesting and it’s something I’m processing,” says newly single Benedict, sounding rather like Sherlock Holmes, the role he made his own in the BBC’s updated version of the Conan Doyle stories.
“It’s new to me and I’m sure I’ll get used to it and find a way of dealing with it, but at the moment, it is quite odd.
“Do I like being thought of as attractive? I don’t know anyone on Earth who doesn’t, but I do find it funny. I look in a mirror and I see all the faults I’ve lived with for 35 years and yet people go kind of nuts for certain things about me. It’s not me being humble. I just think it’s weird.”
Judging from his career, Benedict has a happy knack of being able to adapt to most things. He picked up a best actor award for his take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the National Theatre and will be returning in a new series of Sherlock opposite Martin Freeman as Dr Watson.
And he is blazing a trail in Hollywood with a starring role in the upcoming Star Trek 2 after appearing in Tinker Sailor, Soldier Spy and War Horse.
In Star Trek 2 he plays the tyrannical Khan alongside Tom Hardy, Malcolm McDowell and Alice Eve, daughter of actor Trevor, as well as Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty.
The film is sure to be a box office hit and cement Benedict’s place on the Hollywood A-list. Yet Benedict, who split recently from girlfriend Anna Jones following the break-up of a 10-year relationship with Olivia Poulet, does not believe it will help his pulling skills.
He says: “I’m not confident in social situations, just going up to someone in a bar and saying ‘hi’ is going to be even more difficult because they won’t know the real me. They will just know me as a fictional person I play on the screen.”
Benedict’s knack of portraying a certain vulnerability in his characters stems from genuine insecurity. He has said the most hurtful thing he ever read about himself was in a blog describing “the talentless wooden acting of arse-named, horse-faced twot Benedict Cumberbatch”.
And he says the part of his body he dislikes the most is “the size and shape of my head,” adding, “I’ve been likened to Sid the sloth from Ice Age”.
Steven Spielberg suggested him for the Star Trek role after they had worked together on War Horse when Benedict had played Major Stewart.
He was hired on the back of an audition video which was shot in a friend’s kitchen on an iPhone.
He says: “I was pretty strung out so that went into the performance.”
Details of the new Star Trek film are a closely guarded secret and for Benedict it was his first experience of working on big-budget blockbuster.
He says: “I literally got off the plane and went straight to the studio.
“They were due to start shooting the film in five days and I walked into a room full of designers, artistic directors, editors, directors of photography and about five producers. I was terrified.
“I was jet-lagged and must have looked as white as a sheet with dark rings round my eyes but it was an amazing, amazing experience working on the film.
“We did crazy hours but it was wonderful to work with people my own age, all sharing an experience.
“I was the Brit abroad but everybody was incredibly supportive and welcoming. I had a really good time and I think it’s going to be a phenomenal film.”
Six-foot Benedict was born in North London. His parents, actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham, enjoyed long and successful careers in film and television and Benedict readily admits he reaped the rewards of their hard work.
“They worked incredibly hard and I was very spoilt,” he says straight-faced.
He was sent to Harrow which gave Benedict a good grounding in rubbing shoulders with the wealthy that later paid dividends when he was cast as a series of upper class characters.
He says: “I had a good education, but my parents weren’t that moneyed. Mum did a lot of commercial theatre and farces in the 1980s and 90s to make sure the school bills were paid.”
Initially, Benedict wanted to be a lawyer, a career choice that was strongly supported by his parents.
They were less amused when he told them that what he really wanted to do was follow them into the acting world.
His determination to silence their doubts became a powerful motivating factor. Benedict says: “They wanted me to do a grown-up job and be a barrister. But they understood my decision.
“I was at university playing Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus when my dad told me, ‘You’re better than I ever was, or will be. You’ll have a good time doing this. I’m going to support you’.
“It was a huge thing for a father to say to his son. It was very humbling and moving. One of the reasons I get out of bed in the morning and try to do my best each day is to make them proud.”
Benedict took a year off after university teaching English in a Tibetan monastery before going to the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Starring roles in TV dramas such as Silent Witness and Cambridge Spies followed and he became a widely sought-after actor after appearing in the TV biopic Hawking about the early days of the physicist.
Then came roles in Atonement alongside Keira Knightley and James McAvoy and The Other Boleyn Girl with Scarlett Johansson.
Benedict’s home is still in North London and he plays five-a-side football whenever he can. But he would be more than happy to return to Los Angeles. “I’ve had a fantastic time and I’ve made some fantastic new friends,” he says.
“My home’s in London and my family and friends are all there.
“But I’m a nomad at the moment with no dependants, so I’m quite happy to pack a suitcase and travel wherever I’m asked to go.”