Highly acclaimed for his powerful performances on television, film, and stage, Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the most celebrated actors of his generation. With roles in two upcoming superhero movies, Cumberbatch talked to us about the trajectory of his career, his greatest challenges as an actor, and who he is off screen.
1. What was it like growing up with such a unique name?
It was hard. I knew that the other boys at boarding school were going to make fun of me, so I would introduce myself as “Bendydick Cummysnatch” or “Bungleshit Dumpsterass” to deny them the satisfaction of making up their own nickname. Then they would feign offense and insist that they only wanted to be my friend, so I’d go even further by demanding that they call me “Breadaddict Plumpycrotch” or “Pringlechip Combostash.” Yet they’d continue to claim that they had no plans to bully me. “Mangleslit Stumpygash!” I’d scream. “Candlestick Monstermash!” But it was no use. They’d apparently made up their mind to call me “Ben,” and the taunt stuck.
2. You received critical acclaim for your portrayal of Stephen Hawking in the BBC movie Hawking. Could you discuss the challenges of taking on such a demanding role?
It was a difficult one, but it helped that I was lucky enough to meet the actual Stephen Hawking. He came to the set, and I asked him, “What is something I can do to really capture the essence of who you are?” He told me that the main thing I needed to do was pick him up and carry him over to the craft services table. So I did that and kind of hovered him over the shrimp-cocktail platter for a good 40, 45 minutes while he swallowed shrimps whole. Then he told me that if I really wanted to capture his character, I should give him 100 quid and also a hand job. So I gave him all the money in my wallet and a hand job, and once all that was done, I asked him if there was anything else I could do to get into his character. He told me to go do his laundry, then he flipped me off and fell asleep. Learning from him and being able to soak in his wisdom was one of the greatest honors of my life.
3. In 2004, you were abducted and held at gunpoint during a trip to South Africa. What did that experience teach you?
It taught me that when traveling abroad, never flash your Willie Mays rookie card in public.
4. You have roles in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War. What’s it like to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
It’s a lot of pressure. I’ve had fans before, but never like this. Now people come up to me all the time and say, “Excuse me, can I borrow $6 for the bus? I’m trying to catch the bus,” or, “Sir, I’m so sorry, but I’m trying to catch the bus to Grand Rapids and I’m a few dollars short. I need to get to Grand Rapids tonight.” It’s really cool to see how the films connect with people, whether it’s, “Wow, are you Doctor Strange? I’m trying to get to my daughter’s high school graduation in Grand Rapids and I lost my credit card and I need to get on this bus—can I borrow some cash? I promise I’m good for it,” or “Are you heading towards western Michigan? Can I ride with you? Please god, say yes.” It’s been wild!
5. Which character of yours are you most like in real life?
Like me, Sherlock is from England, but there are a couple hints that he has also been to France, so it’s not exactly a perfect match.