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On Benedict Cumberbatch

There is definitely something alien about Benedict Cumberbatch. This was exaggerated the first time we properly met. He arrived late, he often is, but with the flurry of apology that he means utterly, and sounds faintly bored of having to give so frequently. He was wearing his crash helmet and wet weather biker’s jacket. It was a modern style so had the moulded Kevlar pads and bumps that shaped his body like an exoskeleton.

He is immediately intelligent. He’s on his front foot and yet asking questions. One instantly gets the impression there is no depth to any conversation he is not willing to plumb.

Over the long casting period we discussed with him many times, which of our four leads he could play. What makes him different from most of the actors we saw was of course that he can play so many different parts. Again it’s the hint of ‘shape-shifter’ that gilds his gifts.

At first I was loathe for him to play James (thinking he may play another role). I felt that having become well known for playing Stephen Hawking so brilliantly he would be perceived as some sort of a “rent-a-cripple”… But there was something I needed in James that so few people could portray. And of course Benedict understood it immediately, which is why he is one of the great actors of his generation.

James is a hero. We have to love him. We have to understand why the boys love him and will go to the extreme they do with him… But he’s also a bit of a pompous dick.  I like to think this is what makes him believable. All these characters have flaws because we ALL do.

But it takes confidence and belief, total artistic commitment and an amazing lack of vanity for a young actor in his first real leading role to know that he can play this character on the edge of likability and get away with it.  Of course Benedict does.

The ability to play these complications is another matter. He is of course just a brilliant actor. All the boys were.  For me his most impressive ability, as I have said before, is to be technically brilliant, while all the while looking as though there is nothing but gut reaction going on. Watching him physically train to play James (He dieted, ran the cliffs and swam in the cold sea), and also delve into the meaning of every line in rehearsals, and then plot the effect of his illness on his body and mind as it would be in each scene (shot in the wrong order), while all the while being a joy to be around was impressive to witness. To see it as one performance in the final cut was remarkable.

He is rare even amongst the acting breed. If the character description says handsome: he is.  If it says Nasty: he is. Older: he is… Younger: he is. For this reason I just can’t wait to see what he will become.

Working with him was a delight. I learned so much. It was so often easy to see what he was like at ten years old. He’s a giggler, and a brilliant mimic and, like the other boys, he thought nothing of carrying kit up the steps from Barafundle Bay, even after having been on camera all day.

When we cast him in Third Star, his role in Sherlock was yet to make him the global star he is now. This of course did so well for us in to one respect and yet his schedule, by the time we released, made it impossible for him to do enough press. Fame had swept him up.  And yet, when we talk, I am really aware that he is enjoying it by revelling in the experience of the work far, far more than any of the perks of it.

One evening long after the shoot he called me to ask if he could come to my home to watch Have I Got News For You.  “Sure. Why?”

“Because I’m hosting it?”

I sat and watched him watching himself. He was thrilled that he “got away with it”, that his suit looked nice; that his memory of people laughing at the right times, on and off script, were real. He was edgy throughout and so relieved when it was over. It was strange to see him so effected by it at first– but of course I realised he was having to be himself. Like the great chameleons of the stage and screen, having to decide on a version of himself to go on camera was a risky business for him.

I’m not sure to what extent that was a turning point, but throughout that period I really felt he had to adjust to life as Benedict Cumberbatch in some way – and he found his feet.  Whatever personal doubts he had had, that were inaccurate, are far fewer now. Being really appreciated for what he does best has made him happier in his own skin… So he can spend the rest of his life enjoying wearing other peoples.

31 responses

  1. This is fantastic, very beautiful and genuinely nice to read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  2. I’ve yet to see anything in which he isn’t incredible and on top form. He’s one of those actors who, immediately after watching him, makes you want to scurry off and write characters for him. He literally could play anything, I think.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm

  3. A lovely piece to read, nice to learn a bit more about the character of James, and good to hear you had such a grounded and helpful cast. Really looking forward to watching Third Star.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm

  4. I must admit this article moved me to tears. Such a beautiful piece and one Benedict fans will treasure. I’ll also be treasuring the DVD when hopefully it drops through my letterbox early next week.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm

  5. Thanks for this little portrait of Benedict as a person (as opposed to as an actor, although as you point out those two are inextricably intertwined for him).

    September 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm

  6. Laura Grant

    This is such a lovely insight into what appears to be a lovely man. Thank you 🙂

    September 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm

  7. blyve

    This is such a lovely essay – those are by far the best words I read and heard to describe the incredibly talented actor and great person he is. And I wholeheartedly hope that your last paragraph will be true for him. He deserves it so much.

    September 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

  8. Ying

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on Benedict with us. It’s such a lovely piece; as the other poster mentioned, I was in tears reading the last paragraph as well.

    September 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm

  9. lauryn

    Lovely. I ordered Third Star yesterday, very excited to watch it!

    September 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm

  10. Wonderfully written blog, thank you so much so far. Can’t wait to see the film.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm

  11. Every time I read something like this it just makes me love him more (in an admiring, non-creepy/stalkerish way!) – if it doesn’t sound too weird it makes me want to hug him and not let go… I can’t wait to see Third Star again, I’ve preordered it and I may have to watch it the second it’s delivered!

    September 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm

  12. Lynnette Porter

    I’m in the process of writing a journal article about Benedict Cumberbatch, so it’s interesting to me that the reasons why I study his performances are the reasons why you valued him so much on your film. I’ve read lots of background pieces about his work ethic and approach to roles, but your comments are the most insightful. It’s gratifying to read that the qualities I admire in the actor are genuine and the man behind the role is as intelligent and down to earth as I had imagined.

    Your blogs are fun to read, but they also give those of us who can only dream about filmmaking a clear idea of what goes on. Thank you for your continued connection with Third Star’s fans. Your film is special to us, too.

    September 10, 2011 at 12:05 am

  13. Really nice article about such a great talented actor. And I like to read that he’s confortable and happy and still somehow normal and down to earth. And of course I can’t wait to watch the movie though I’ll have to find a way to get the DVD; the chances of this movie arriving to Mexico are really nonexistent I guess 😦

    September 10, 2011 at 4:53 am

  14. Cherish4

    A wonderful and insightful article on an incredible actor. Reading something like this makes me admire and adore Benedict even more.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  15. Pingback: October 5th 2009 « mug7

  16. Irina

    Потрясающий актёр – потрясающие сыгранные роли – я в восторге!!!!!!!!

    January 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm

  17. What an incredible man. My favourite actor.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm

  18. Reblogged this on Heiress 2 No Throne and commented:
    Wonderful blog about meeting and working with Mr. Cumberbatch

    January 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm

  19. >

    This is great. I watched Third Star last week, and it was absolutely brilliant. I’m glad that he is as genuine in reality as he comes off. He’s truly talented.

    January 28, 2012 at 11:07 pm

  20. Reblogged this on 清暉室|風流雲散 and commented:

    February 7, 2012 at 3:03 am

  21. Pingback: Getting Cumberbatched « Heiress 2 No Throne

  22. TheDebz54

    I’d love to ‘giggle’ with Benedict – was a joy that would be. Brilliant actor and lovely man.

    February 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm

  23. My friend died of carcinoma 4 years ago. She was 33 year old…
    And we were friends 28 years.
    It was hard to watch the movie, I cried.
    Thank you for the film!
    From Russia with love,

    March 12, 2012 at 8:32 am

  24. Reblogged this on Психологическая помощь.

    April 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm

  25. S.H.

    Thank you for the beautiful article about Benedict. He is really one of the greatest actors in his generation.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:50 am

  26. Dear Hattie, this blogpost is a true treasure for us, movie-buffs and fans of great art cinema. Your entire blog is. What makes this one stand out for me, is of course the fact that it focuses on Benedict Cumberbatch… you gave us some rare insight into this wonderful actor, whose abilities shine in his every role. Like you, we cannot wait to see what projects he will embark on next. He really is a rare gem even among the greatest of them all.
    I particularly would like to congratulate YOU on the brilliant work on the movie, it’s one of those films that will stay with you forever. I was deeply touched, so was my friend, we saw it a few days ago and we are still digesting the beauty and emotion…
    I hope you will work with Ben again. I would be thrilled!!!
    Krisztina from Hungary

    May 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

    • This is the blog of Vaughan Sivell – writer and producer of the film. But thanks for your kinds words!

      June 12, 2012 at 8:50 am

  27. Pingback: Benedict Cumberbatch - Page 3

  28. Melissa

    Mr. Sivell:
    I had the “misfortune” to watch Third Star last night. I say “misfortune” because I still haven’t really stopped crying. A very close friend of mine died five years ago from adult-onset leukemia a few months before her 28th birthday. I never had the chance to say goodbye to her. She was diagnosed and less than two days later she was gone; not nearly enough time for me to find out and fly across America to her side. We were supposed to have gone camping a few months later.

    I always thought that, if only I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her, perhaps losing her would have been less difficult. Third Star touched that hurt… this all sounds so sentimental while the best thing about your film is that it wasn’t. It was real life. I realize now that losing her could never have been easier. Maybe saying goodbye would have been even harder.

    But the best part of your film was the final words: “And, should you remember that it’s the anniversary of my birth, remember that you were loved by me and you made my life a happy one. And there’s no tragedy in that.” These words make me cry again just typing them. Yet they also give me peace. They are words my friend never had the chance to say. Thank you for giving me the chance to hear them.

    Best regards and best wishes,

    November 14, 2013 at 7:15 am

  29. Reblogged this on MedicateInk and commented:
    A rare piece on a then relatively unknown Benedict Cumberbatch.

    December 9, 2013 at 4:00 pm

  30. Teryn Gray

    This was an absolute joy to read, and the film was such a moving journey to watch. Beautifully produced, in my opinion.

    February 23, 2014 at 10:12 pm

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