Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch call themselves “Cumberbitches,” though Cumberbatch prefers “Cumberbabes.”
Cumberbatch, who is receiving the Variety Award at the BIFA ceremony Dec. 7, is referenced in Tumblr’s guidelines, which note that users may “marvel at the alien beauty” of the actor, but “can’t actually pretend to be Benedict Cumberbatch.”
Ah, but so many want to do both. “The Imitation Game” star is a force to be reckoned with. Not just thanks to his fearsome talent — but also because of his fans. By embracing his “alien beauty” and oh-so-British mouthful of a name, fans have helped him transform from cult favorite/social media darling into one of Hollywood’s more unusual bright lights.
It didn’t happen overnight; Cumberbatch has worked his way through theater, TV and film for more than 12 years. He only began to register internationally after the BBC gave Sherlock Holmes a new modern life in 2010 with “Sherlock,” a hit that also aired on PBS in the U.S.
But once (female) audiences tuned into the curly-haired, imperious, deductive genius, all bets were off.
“Fans are not as interested in the Central Casting hunk as entertainment executives want to believe,” says Danielle Strle, director of product, content and community for Tumblr, which gets hundreds of thousands of blogs and reblogs about Cumberbatch each month. “He’s got this really approachable look, and he feels like he could be your friend.”
“He’s on a unique journey,” says Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR. “Before, the concern was that audiences might be put off by the name, the accent, the nontraditional look — but guys like Cumberbatch prove this is not the case.”
Starring in a series whose creators (Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat) come from a different genre reboot (“Doctor Who”) that also has a rabid fanbase likely helped as well. The WhoLocks — a “Doctor Who”-“Sherlock” mashup — are even a thing.
“It may be easier for this kind of stardom to develop among sci-fi fans, where the love may take a while to go mainstream but is very rooted in a devoted populace,” says Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, author of “The Totally Sweet ’90s.”
Yet Cumberbatch’s wide appeal isn’t defined simply by traditional success indicators of critical acclaim and box office.
He’s been embraced by vocal fans on the Internet who create animated GIFs of his gestures, promote interview clips of his charming moments (such as pronouncing “penguin” as “pen-gwing”) and pair him up with images of otters who have similar facial expressions.
Such fervent attention from fans is nearly impossible to manufacture, which makes it all the more appealing.
Cumberbatch now joins a tiny group of young actors (like Jennifer Lawrence) who inspire their fans to post and blog and tweet year-round. But he gives his fans a lot to work with: he’ll be seen in “Imitation Game,” and heard in “Penguins of Madagascar” and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” as Smaug. “Hobbit” co-stars Martin Freeman, who also teams with Cumberbatch on “Sherlock.” It’s like a British actor Mobius strip.
Without talent none of this would have worked, but absent Cumber-mania it’s easy to imagine the actor as yet another of dozens of well-regarded British character actors who never threaded the Hollywood needle. Cumberbatch is what stardom in the new millennium looks like: International acclaim plus devoted, plugged-in fans.
Meanwhile, Strle is already anticipating Cumberbatch’s future in acting. “I can’t wait to see how great he looks when he’s old. He’s going to be such a wonderful, stately old man.”