Not typecast, I can play an idiot too: Benedict Cumberbatch

  • AFP, London
  • Updated: Feb 06, 2015 17:56 IST

He made his name playing a physicist, won a global following as a brilliant private detective and has BAFTA and Oscar nominations for his role as a World War II maths genius. But ahead of the BAFTA awards in London on Sunday, Benedict Cumberbatch rejects the idea that he is typecast.

The 38-year-old British actor, who has a best actor nod for playing codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, insists he can and has played idiots. "If anyone's got any other stupid people I can play, let me know," he said while being quizzed about his latest incarnation as the troubled intellectual. In the movie, Cumberbatch harnesses the astonishing energy he showcases in hit TV series Sherlock into the obsession that Turing had with cracking the Nazis' Enigma code machine.

He puts in a mesmerising performance as a brilliant, tortured man who helped bring forward the end of World War II but ended his life in despair after being prosecuted and then chemically castrated for being gay. S Barry Cooper, a maths professor who has written a book about Turing, said Cumberbatch "deeply inhabited Turing's story, encompassing all his brilliant insight, struggle and 1954 suicide".

Cumberbatch said Turing "got under my skin", and is a passionate defender of a man he said was a "war hero" but who was treated deplorably by the country he served.

Cumberbatch is not classically handsome but has remarkable allure -- entire fan sites are dedicated to his cheekbones -- and in 2013 was named Empire magazine's sexiest movie star. He has an army of followers who call themselves the "Cumberb*tches" although, with the good manners instilled by his expensive Harrow boarding school, he prefers to call them "Cumberpeople".

But despite working solidly since graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, he has never sought out the typical 'leading man' roles.

Cumberbatch first caught the attention of the critics a decade ago in a TV biopic of wheelchair-bound theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. It is a role that fellow Briton Eddie Redmayne has reprised for the big screen in The Theory of Everything. He is up against Cumberbatch at the forthcoming Oscars as well as the BAFTAs.

His next big break was Sherlock, the BBC's sharp remake of the detective stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, which turned Cumberbatch into a star overnight. He portrays Sherlock Holmes as a manic, obsessively intelligent man with few social skills, a performance that has won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination.

Since then, Cumberbatch has barely been off our screens, with parts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years A Slave, August: Osage County, and even The Simpsons. The Fifth Estate, where Cumberbatch played WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was something of a flop, although his performance was well-regarded.

Once described as having a voice like a "jaguar hiding in a cello", the actor also played the dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and stars in the upcoming movie Penguins of Madagascar.

Cumberbatch found his calling watching his mother Wanda Ventham on stage. "It was like looking behind the curtain and seeing how a magician does his tricks -- and it thrilled me," he told one interviewer. His father Timothy Carlton is also an actor and the couple played his on-screen parents in Sherlock.

Cumberbatch is now starting his own family, having recently announced his engagement to Sophie Hunter and that they are expecting their first child.
But he shows little sign of slowing down -- another series of Sherlock is in the pipeline and his much-anticipated Hamlet opens in London in August.
While he is clearly having a moment, Cumberbatch is determined not to be taken in by the hype, repeatedly insisting: "I'm in it for the long game."

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