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Hollywood Confidential

Published: Thursday December 4, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday December 4, 2014 MYT 2:07:51 PM

Detective, dragon, superhuman, penguin – is there nothing Cumberbatch can't do?

Benedict Cumberbatch talks about his voice, defends his Cumberb****es, and gushes about how much in love he is with fiancée Sophie Hunter.

To play one, you have to be one. And talking to Benedict Cumberbatch, you truly are in the presence of genius.

In The Imitation Game, he plays Alan Turing, the father of the computer, a performance that could earn him an Oscar. He’s that good, and surprisingly he’s even better when meeting up with the Hollywood Foreign Press in New York, where his response to questions is mindbogglingly brilliant.

The son of actors, Cumberbatch has been toiling in theatre for half of his 38 years and only recently became a household name, thanks to his take on Sherlock on TVI remember the first time I interviewed him, I joked: “With a name like Benedict Cumberbatch, you’re not likely to play a working class hero.”

He agreed. But in retrospect, I think we were both wrong: There's nothing he can’t do.

Cumberbatch recently made headlines when he unexpectedly announced his engagement to London theatre actress and director Sophie Hunter, in the classified section of the London Times

Nonchalantly he answers: “That’s a standard way of doing it in England, an old-fashioned way maybe, but I would have done that even if I wasn’t in this strange, heightened position that I am as a famous actor.

“It was intended to normalise something that’s deeply personal to me. I knew the world would ultimately find it out, I didn’t want to publicise it beyond what was intended as an announcement to my friends and my family, and I suppose a quiet way for the world to find it.”

Are you OK with being mobbed by fans who call themselves Cumberb***hes?

My fans are incredibly smart, self-regulating, intelligent, witty, creative, inspiring, young and determined people, and actually young in spirit. They are all ages. They are both sexes as well. And as far as what some of them call themselves, early on it was a catchy phrase. 

They weren’t intentionally belittling themselves or their sex by calling them that, so I suggested we come up with a slightly softer name for a collective noun of people who like my work. So that was the idea behind it. But as long as they are enjoying the work and who I am as a person, that’s all that matters. So whatever they want to call themselves is fine.

Obviously smart even then, how precocious were you as a kid?

I wasn’t a maths genius but I loved building things, model cars and things like that. I wasn’t a huge Lego freak, but I had friends who were, so I used to play with some of their stuff. But I had very broad interests as a kid. I don’t remember being a complete geek. I still am fascinated by science. The fact that we just landed something on a comet, millions of miles away, fascinates me on a level that is profound because it is part of our daily life.

Christmas is just around the corner. What does Christmas mean to you?

It means I stop working and I am with my family in one place, and with my fiancée now, so I can’t wait. I am very much looking forward to it. It’s all about family. For me, the presents and all the rest of it are just icing on the cake. The real present for me is just being with my family.

Doing the comic voice-overs for Penguins Of Madagascar, is that as much a challenge for you as acting?

It takes a long, long time to do an animation film. It’s an incredible process; very, very drawn out, but I absolutely loved doing it. I love comedy and I have done some in my past, although people keep on wanting me to do more.

I loved doing something lighter and flexing a different muscle. There’s also a lot of comedy in Sherlock, and I do a radio comedy called Cabin Pressure which is great fun. So I do mix it up, not maybe so much with movies. I would love to do a comedy, a slacker comedy or a romantic comedy.

The voiceover you do in The Hobbit movies, is that a completely different challenge?

Radio, Penguins and The Hobbit are very, very different animals, no pun intended, because Smaug (which he voices in The Hobbit) came out in motion capture, and the movement completely informed the voice, and informs the fantastic work that WETA did, digitalising this incredible, animated dragon.

You seem to have been working non-stop these past few years. Do you have a problem saying no?

It looks like that and I am getting to the stage where it’s been such an embarrassment of riches. With the kind of work that I have been offered, it’s been very, very hard to turn down and say no. I suppose I need more breathing space. Like one of the characters that I play (Sherlock) says: “A change of work is as good as a holiday.”

That’s a paraphrase but pretty much true. Different engines and energies give you the feeling you are doing something so different that it requires a different energy. The truth is I’m not a workaholic. At heart I am incredibly lazy and love nothing better than to kick back, see friends and family, and just go on a few more holidays.

Surprisingly, you have been a fashion model for Spencer Hart. What do clothes do for you?

I don’t have a stylist. I don’t have a single advisor. I depend on my eye and what I feel comfortable in. I have been guided towards that by Spencer Hart primarily, a wonderful tailor that I first came across in a fitting for Sherlock.

A lot of people want to dress me, which is very flattering, but it’s free advertising for them. I am not being paid to model their clothes, but they get the image of me wearing them which sometimes works out well for them, so it works both ways.

What are three things you couldn’t live without?

The love that is in my life at the moment naturally, and it’s an amazing thing to find somebody you love, let alone somebody who loves you back in the same way, the same degree. Not everyone can do that in a lifetime, and it’s a minor miracle considering how busy we both are that we met.

So, Sophie is something I am incredibly grateful for and very excited about. And of course my health and the health of my family, and that I am still here chugging away. Those are three very strong bases for making my life happy.

■ Philip Berk, eight- time president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, hobnobs with celebrities to report exclusively from Los Angeles. Penguins Of Madagascar is now showing in cinemas nationwide. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies opens in Malaysia on Dec 18.

Tags / Keywords: Benedict Cumberbatch, Actor, British, Sherlock, The Hobbit, Penguins Of Madagascar

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