An incredible ride for Benedict Cumberbatch

  • TV
  • Tuesday, 04 Mar 2014

How the actor portrays Sherlock Holmes.

BENEDICT Cumberbatch is one of several actors to step into the shoes of Sherlock Holmes lately (others include Robert Downey Jr in the Guy Ritchie films and Jonny Lee Miller on CBS’ crime procedural Elementary) in the BBC crime drama, Sherlock.

While Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is a little different from the conventional depiction of Holmes – he is young and doing his detective work in modern London – the Brit does follow in the footsteps of a very long list of actors (including Christopher Lee, Basil Rathbone and Michael Caine). Like millions around the world, Cumberbatch is also a fan of this beloved ficitional character.

In an interview transcript courtesy of BBC Worldwide, 37-year-old Cumberbatch gives an insight into the version of Sherlock he is portraying in the series, which also features Martin Freeman in the role of Dr John Watson.

Sherlock is a very special role for an actor to slip into. Did you do anything special to prepare for this role?

I always go back to the books because they are an endless goldmine of reference and character observation. Watson, for all of Sherlock’s critique of him and their relationship, is a very keen observer from a normal person’s point of view and of what this extraordinary person is, whether it his physical movements, mercurial character or mood swings, all these aspects are very well detailed. Beyond that I start to try and memorise things, to try and be a little more alert to things, whether it’s short or long term memory. I look at my diet a little more specifically which is very helpful for clarity of mind and a sense of being in his skin, having his energy. Also (it ties in with) his relationship with food because he does fast in the books. He sees food as an obstacle because it slows down the metabolism, it reduces the ability to have a keen, hungry eye. There’s exercise as well, I try to meditate if I can. The rest of it is just collaboration, whether it be with the directors, with Martin or the rest of the cast and crew, just getting back into the swing of being in this family.

Are there a lot of similarities between you and Sherlock?

You’d best ask the people who know me, like my mother or my girlfriends of old! There probably are a few similarities. My mum says I can be very impatient when I’m playing Sherlock. He’s a very intense character, and I don’t want to carry that around me. One thing I have noticed is that my memory does sharpen when I play Sherlock because of the amount of text I have to learn. Also I find myself looking at people’s shoes and body language and trying to deduce things from them. I do that because I have a professional interest. But I’m afraid I’m rubbish at it!

What are Sherlock’s human weaknesses?

I think his most human weakness is not understanding the strengths of being human. He tries to outplay what it is to suffer under the human condition. He’s trying to be godlike, to be above the everyday and sometimes I think he misses out as a detective because of not being able to interact on a human level, and John stabilises that. I think he doesn’t have too many weaknesses apart from that. I think it’s the things he lacks in his humanity that are his weaknesses. He can’t engage with love, a family, otherness. He has to work on his own. It’s very solitary and hard but I do think he’s chosen to ignore those feelings for a long time. I don’t see those as failings, I see those as choices. I think we all judge him on a paradigm that is based on our own experience of what it is to be human – we all over-consume, we all have a love for children or furthering our line. He’s trying to do something extraordinary with his time on Earth that separates him, not because he thinks he’s better but because he realises that in order to do what he has to do he has to be separate from what the rest of us do. So I don’t think this is a failing. He is different, but nobody who is different has failed in this life; I think to say that he has failings would be to castigate anyone who does not live by the status quo and that would be a terrible, prejudiced thing to say.

How difficult was it to play this new element of Sherlock?

It’s been a joy, actually. As an actor you crave a character to have a developmental arc and the wonderful thing about television is that it affords you that over a period of time as opposed to the contractions of the massive story arc of a novel in two hours of a film. But the writers are very alert to that and they know what our strengths are and wrote very much to them in the second season. With the new season they’re trying to test us and shift us in a new direction so yes, I’ve really enjoyed playing the differences and the challenges he faces.

How do you feel about the global success of the show?

It’s been incredible. The gob-smacking thing about it is people who have been icons to me forever have been coming up to me to say much they adore it. At the Golden Globes, for instance, Ted Danson from Cheers came running across the floor and said, “Oh my God, it’s Sherlock. You kill that!” and I’m thinking, “This is all the wrong way round!” It was the same when Meryl Streep told me, “I love Sherlock.” I thought, “That’s so wrong”. But I can get to right the balance by telling them how much I love their work and how they have been inspiring me and millions of others for years. But to have this meaningful interaction is amazing. Just to be afforded contact with the people who have inspired me is a very heady feeling.

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