Accept No Imitations: The Career & Appeal of Benedict Cumberbatch.
By Charlotte Birch.
Fast becoming the nation’s sweetheart and a bona fide national treasure, man-of-the-moment Benedict Cumberbatch is everywhere right now – and that’s just the way we like it. As he attends the New York premiere of his latest film, The Imitation Game, with new fiancee Sophie Turner – their first public appearance since the announcement of their engagement earlier this month – we take a look at the career and appeal of a most unlikely heartthrob.
Say the name “Benedict Cumberbatch” and there’s a good chance most people will immediately think “Sherlock Holmes”. It is a role he has completely reinvented, moving the character away from the more stereotypical character that has been seen from those before him, on both stage and screen, with his Sherlock modern yet carrying an endearing eccentricity, not to mention bringing with it a certain amount of sex appeal. Cumberbatch’s own parents have even been brought on board, cameoing as the super sleuths mother and father. Playing the iconic role of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective has certainly gained Cumberbatch much critical acclaim, an army of adoring fans (affectionately known as the ‘cumberbitches’), international fame and a slew of awards, but while it’s easy to think of it as Cumberbatch’s career defining role, a closer look shows he’s been chipping away at the career ladder for many years.
Born in 1976, in London, his first career steps could, perhaps, be classed as the typical British actors path, playing guest characters in TV’s Silent Witness, Spooks and Heartbeat whilst also taking his turn starring in various theatre productions such as A Midsummer Nights Dream, As You Like It, and Romeo and Juliet.
But in 2006 came a scene stealing turn in Tom Vaughan’s Starter for 10 as Patrick Watts, something of a self-righteous know-it all. His skill at portraying upper-crust characters did not go unnoticed. Political thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy gave Cumberbatch a chance to give a dark and dastardly performance in Peter Guillat, whilst in War Horse he shone in his role as nice-but-dim Major Jamie Stewart. Some might say he’s been typecast – and it’s a role he plays oh so well! – but then came 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. The role of the villainous Khan was shrouded in so much secrecy that expectations were sky high, but he delivered, his twisted portrayal conveying an essentially broken man under a wildly unpredictable exterior. Benedict’s performance garnered much praise from both critics and audiences alike.
Cumberbatch charts a highly-successful navigation between small and big screen, his working paths crossing with the same actors time and again. There’s his Starter For 10 classmate, James McAvoy, whom he starred alongside in Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwen novel, Atonement, a film which also saw him team for the first time with Keira Knightley. They reunited on screen for The Other Boleyn Girl, and now, of course, they appear together in The Imitation Game, the story of mathematician Alan Turing’s work in cracking the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Soon, we shall hear, if not see him, in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, as he once again gives a voice to the dragon Smaug, the nemesis of one Bilbo Baggins, played by none other than Watson himself, Martin Freeman.
And what a voice! Besides film roles in which he has lent his distinctive vocal talents to not only Smaug but to the Penguins of Madagascar, he’s also brilliantly voiced Alan Rickman on The Simpsons, as well as providing narration for documentaries such as Curiousity. We’ve heard him on radio, most famously voicing Young Rumpole in Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders. He also has something of a singing voice too. In the Oscar nominated August: Osage County he lent his voice to perform ‘Can’t Keep it Inside’. And then there’s those celebrity impressions…
Video: Benedict Cumbercatch Performs ‘Can’t Keep It Inside’ in August: Osage County.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s career is going from strength to strength, and shows no signs of slowing down. After a recent stint on stage as Frankenstein and with the recent release of the London Film Festival’s opener The Imitation Game, plus the imminent arrival of the final Hobbit blockbuster, and those Penguins of Madagascar, he’s one very in demand actor.
A fourth series of Sherlock is in the pipeline, and then there are some very persistent rumours of him playing the title role in Marvels Dr Strange.
He is also to be honoured with The Variety Award at this year’s British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs), in recognition of his achievements to help focus the international spotlight on the UK.
Maybe it’s the oh-so-British mix of reserve tempered by self-deprecating humour, or his choice of heroic characters, to which he brings a cerebral charm – and certainly there’s that voice – but maybe it’s because in this day-and-age, where so many celebrities are famous simply for flashing various parts of their anatomy and falling out of nightclubs in the wee small hours, Benedict Cumberbatch really is the most unlikeliest of heart-throbs: a gentleman.
Speaking at the New York Premiere of The Imitation Game on Monday night, on being asked how he felt about breaking so many hearts, Cumberbatch told reporters: “Fine in the sense that I made one person’s heart, the most important person’s, happy.”
The Imitation Game is in cinemas now.