Benedict Cumberbatch is featured on the December issue of Vogue Magazine, here are scans, and the article:
His Oscar-tipped performance in The Imitation Game is just the latest of Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant, versatile roles to win him an ecstatic following.
“I really, really love my job,” says Benedict Cumberbatch in the lush baritone that is one of his trademarks. “I love sets. I love crews. I love theaters. I love audiences.”
On this cool, oyster-gray London afternoon, the 38-year-old actor is a ray of sunshine. It’s a rare day off from his starring role as Richard III in the BBC’s Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown. He has already taken a robust morning run through Hampstead Heath (“I just love the look of the trees and the smell of the wood smoke”), and now, relaxed in a gray knit sweater and claret-hued jeans, he’s indulging himself with a lunchtime Bloody Mary and, though he’s been telling himself to avoid cholesterol, a main course of salt-and-pepper pork belly.
He has every reason to give himself a treat. After all, this is his time—the Cumberbatch Moment. Not only is his new film, The Imitation Game, a front-runner for the Academy Award (it won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a traditional bellwether), but he himself is a surefire Best Actor nominee for his touching, slyly funny performance as Alan Turing, a real-life genius who helped save England during World War II only to die alone and forgotten, a prophet without honor in his own land.
These days, everyone seems to want Benedict Cumberbatch. He stars opposite Johnny Depp in the upcoming crime drama Black Mass, is shooting a new season of Sherlock in 2015, and next summer will headline a production of Hamlet at the Barbican that is already the fastest-selling show in London history—it sold out 100,000 tickets in minutes. This is actually no surprise. Thanks to the Sherlock juggernaut, Cumberbatch has become a whole new kind of international heartthrob, one whose sexiness is defined by his intelligence. When The Imitation Game premiered in Toronto and London, his appearance was greeted by hundreds of screaming girls and women bearing posters they’d painted of him. “I haven’t seen that kind of female adulation since Orlando Bloom,” marvels Cumberbatch’s friend and costar Keira Knightley. “I didn’t expect that level of hysteria, but it’s wonderful.”
The Imitation Game is an exciting crowd-pleaser about Turing, a socially awkward misfit whom most everyone finds weird, arrogant, and off-putting. But he’s also a cosmic genius. It’s Turing who cracks the so-called Enigma code, which encrypted all of the Nazi military’s wartime messages. He’s ably assisted by a team of world-class cryptanalysts—“We’re like the Avengers,” jokes Cumberbatch—that includes Joan Clarke, a brilliant mathematician whom Turing champions despite the military’s sexist objections, and with whom he becomes intimate. She’s played with resourceful intelligence and warmth by Knightley, who became mates with Cumberbatch one summer when they shared a commune-like farmhouse while filming Atonement, and discovered a mutual pleasure in cooking and live music. They have a striking chemistry. “Because we really are friends,” Cumberbatch says, “we share this great shorthand. It made doing our scenes together a joy.”
Although The Imitation Game is set 70 years ago, it still feels relevant. For one thing, the team’s code-breaking equipment, known as the Turing Machine, was the prototype of today’s modern computer. “The algorithms Alan used during the war,” Cumberbatch says, “are still used in Google’s search engine.” Yet what gives the movie its sting is the heartbreaking fate of this lonely, decent man. Because his wartime work was marked top secret, the public never knew of his heroic achievements. More tragically, because he was totally unabashed about his homosexuality at a time when it was still illegal in Britain—Turing is today a gay icon—he was a target of police harassment.
“I felt a responsibility to show him properly,” says Cumberbatch. “Alan’s face should be on the back of banknotes like Darwin and Newton. It should be on the front of history textbooks and science books.”
With his big-brain forehead yielding to a softer, more labile mouth and chin, the actor has no peer in showing us the humanity of those who might otherwise seem like intellectual freaks (Sherlock, Stephen Hawking, Julian Assange). “I wanted Benedict for the role even before his name became so big,” says the film’s director, Morten Tyldum. “He’s a perfectionist—we spent a lot of time just finding the right voice—and I knew he could get to the core of Alan Turing, the fragility and the arrogance.”
In person, you grasp what a fine actor Cumberbatch is: He’s not remotely arrogant or fragile. Younger-looking than on-screen, he comes across as sweetly boyish, a quality that may belie his sophistication as an actor but helps seal the deal with his female fans. His words come in enthusiastic flurries—“God, I talk quick,” he says when I play back a moment of tape to make sure the recorder’s working—and you never quite know where his conversation may swirl. He exudes an aura of innocent, almost starstruck pleasure in his good fortune, as when he talks about the “bliss” of hanging out with Depp: “We rolled cigarettes and sat around and talked and talked and talked. He’s a friend now. Which is an amazing thing to think about.”
Now that Cumberbatch is riding so high, it’s easy to forget that, for nearly a decade before stardom hit, he’d already been a successful actor. Indeed, he was nominated for an award for his first stage performance, back in 2001. Before Sherlock became a certified hit, he had already starred as Stephen Hawking for the BBC and been cast in such big movies as War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and 12 Years a Slave.
“People kept saying he was the Next Big Thing,” recalls Sherlock’s cocreator Steven Moffat, “and I think Benedict was getting impatient for that moment to actually happen.”
With Sherlock, which debuted in 2010, it did. Actor and role merged alchemically. Cumberbatch instantly became identified with an irresistible hero who satisfies everyone’s fantasy of thumbing one’s nose at the world, especially authority, yet always being right.
“The BBC liked the choice, too, but with one proviso,” adds Moffat. “They said, ‘Is he sexy enough? You promised us a sexy Sherlock.’ Back then nobody thought of him as sexy—not even Benedict.” He laughs. “Who knew that he’d wind up being a sex symbol in China?”
He’s not kidding. When I was recently in Asia—where some Chinese people charmingly call Sherlock “Curly Fu”—people kept asking me, “Have you met Benedict Cumberbatch?” in the same awed tones with which they would’ve asked about Mick Jagger in the late sixties. He finds such adulation enjoyable (“I’m tickled pink”) and occasionally daft. Some fans ask him to sign pictures of otters, an animal he’s said to resemble—“It’s a great disservice,” he says dryly, “to a wonderful woodland amphibious creature.” Others simply melt in his presence. “I have boyfriends coming up to say, ‘My girlfriend is obsessed with you,’ and I say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ ” He laughs in delighted commiseration.
Although fans fear he may outgrow the show and quit, Cumberbatch is too smart to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially one he so enjoys. “If we can keep the quality up,” he says of the show, “I can’t imagine that I will ever get tired of being Sherlock. I’d love to play him as an old man.”
Meanwhile he takes enormous pride in tackling every kind of role. That’s one reason he signed on to Black Mass, a real-life crime saga in which he plays Billy Bulger, a Machiavellian Massachusetts political boss who, in a touch worthy of a 1930s movie, just happens to be the brother of Boston’s most notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger, played by Depp.
“Billy’s a Bostonian,” Cumberbatch explains, “and that’s a really tricky accent to do. The whole milieu of that film was alien to me, which is what was attractive about it. It was a big challenge.”
It’s his range that impresses Dominic Cooke, who first directed him in Rhinoceros seven years ago at the Royal Court and is now helming The Hollow Crown, a far grander production, complete with battle scenes that show off Cumberbatch’s abilities as a horseman.
“Benedict’s one of those actors who really can transform into something different,” Cooke tells me. “I went to see him in two roles, back to back. One was in Terence Rattigan’s play After the Dance, a very English role, uptight on the surface and filled with emotion underneath. Then I saw him buck naked on the stage doing something like modern dance in Frankenstein. I don’t know any actor anywhere who could do both things as well as that. They aren’t just different characters. They are totally different kinds of acting performance.”
In The Hollow Crown, which brings together all three of Shakespeare’s plays that include Richard III, Cumberbatch plays the villainous hunchback, from the point at which, as a teenager, he announces his murderous intentions, up to his dying cry of “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”
“It’s so much fun!” he says. “It’s lip-smackingly fun. Richard basically says, ‘Want to come on an adventure with me? Because I’m going to be doing some dastardly things and am going to ride it until the wheels come off.’ ” His Hamlet, too, promises as much brio as tragedy. “You lean into him not because you want to take care of the poor guy or because he’s an oversharing drip. He pulls you in because he’s very entertaining and has a great sense of humor. He’s very witty. The best Hamlets I’ve seen have been, without a doubt, the funniest.”
Part of Cumberbatch’s extreme good humor has to do with the fact that lately he has been seeing Sophie Hunter, 36, a lovely Oxford-educated theater director (and actress and singer) known for her avant-garde productions. They’ve been in a relationship for the past few months, not quite as secretly as they might have hoped. The papers published photos of them sitting at the French Open and walking in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden—“Everyone now is a pap,” he says, shaking his head. Although his romance with Hunter will doubtless break some teenage hearts, most of his fans should be relieved that their idol, whom they adore for his intelligence and complexity, is involved with someone worthy of their fantasies of him.
“I’m really, really happy,” he says of the relationship, “and I’m happy to say it.” He gives a smile so shy that I believe him absolutely.
“The wonderful thing about Ben is that he’s having a great time,” Knightley tells me with obvious affection. “It’s nice to see somebody getting what he always wanted and then really enjoying it.”
Still, it’s one measure of his good sense that he tries to keep his success in perspective. Rather like George Clooney, who also didn’t get big until his mid-30s, Cumberbatch took off when he was old enough to appreciate fame without being undone by it. He can be tickled by Oscar speculation but not enthralled by it. “I sometimes worry about the currency surrounding the furor—the Internet, the teens. I’m careful that it doesn’t obscure other things that I care about. When somebody says that I’m perfect for a role because it will get an audience, that immediately makes me cold on it.”
Indeed, when I ask whose careers he might like to emulate, he names actors who he feels have “gone the distance,” meaning they rose through the ranks, did decades of great work, and keep going strong—Michael Gambon, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy. . . .
“The adoration thing is amazing,” he tells me, “but it won’t carry on forever, and I want my work to carry on forever”—he stops, laughing at such grandiosity. “Or at least for the next 40 years.”