The Cumberbatch tapes, #1: the birth of Sherlock

8 May


It’s three years since I spent a very enjoyable hour and a half above a pub in Soho with an emerging actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, interviewing him for a cover feature in the Saturday Times. Since then he has become a household name as Sherlock, got talent-spotted by Steven Spielberg for War Horse, played both Frankenstein and his monster for Danny Boyle at the National, voiced Smaug in The Hobbit, and now his angular face stares at us from a broken and burning London on the posters for Star Trek Into Darkness (above, click here for review).

Since the world obviously can’t get enough of this brainbox (he’s even played Stephen Hawking), geek sex-symbol and otter-impersonator, I’ve dusted down my interview transcript. Reading back over it I’m impressed, just as I was at the time, at how articulate he is. So I’m going to reprint extracts of our conversation entirely in his own words. Starting with Sherlock:

On the modern setting: “The challenges in a world where observation through surveillance, where detection through science, where publications and communications through media can all be turned against him make it a far more dangerous world for Sherlock to be in, so he has to be faster and ten times more practical than his Victorian incarnation.

“The idea is that Sherlock Holmes is the origination of all modern detectives, so to try and see whether he still has a workplace in the 21st century is a worthwhile experiment. He was a forerunner in forensic fields, he started experimenting with footprint and fingerprint analysis and bloodstain analysis and cigarette ash which he wrote monographs about, and he’s now in a world where all of that has been brought fully up to speed and where you have any number of brilliant maverick detectives who are brilliant at their job who have all been inspired by him, whether it’s Cracker, Tennyson, Rebus, who knock about with a bottle or some kind of addiction or personal quirk that means they’re slightly outside of their social realm. Luther is very similar, House is very much a Sherlock Holmes personality.”

Benedict speaks as though Sherlock is a real person, I say. “He’s real to me, yeah of course, it has to be. He is an icon, so there’s an element of him where he is a logo, and that is two-dimensional, and to escape stereotype you have to get some kind of understanding of who he is. So you do associate something very personable to him, and you start to think about him in real terms. And there’s such a massive wealth of detective stories that Conan Doyle wrote, he feels quite substantial. Abbey National or whatever bank it is still get letters to 221b asking for help with a missing cat or dead relative.”

On Martin Freeman as Watson (who of course is now also with Cumberbatch in The Hobbit): “I just adore him, we get on very well. He’s such a fine actor, and by fine I mean it in that very carefully beautifully nuanced way, he is a very delicate screen actor, and though he can do comedy at the drop of a hat he is achingly real as well as Watson, this man who is slightly lost in the civilian world, traumatised by his experience of war but also slightly in thrall to it, and missing the adrenaline of it. Also he’s an audience figure, an Everyman through which people can meet [Sherlock] this rather strange, modern Victorian Gothic, slightly character of the night, this slightly odd creature, this sociopathic, slightly autistic, slightly anarchic, maverick, odd anti-hero.”

See what I mean about articulate? Part two: Benedict Cumberbatch on his life-changing experience with the Buddhist monks of Nepal… Click here to read it. Part three: How spirituality helps his acting, click here. Fourth and final part: Spielberg vs Madonna, click here.

14 Responses to “The Cumberbatch tapes, #1: the birth of Sherlock”

  1. Yael May 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    This is great.

  2. dominicwells May 8, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Glad you enjoyed it! Benedict Cumberbatch was one of my favourite interviews. Come back tomorrow for more.

    • Yael May 8, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

      Will sure do. (: It’s fun to read his interviews and I’m sure to interview him as well.

  3. evillynn May 9, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Lovely interview. I really enjoy the depth of answers he gives questions, there is no set rehearsed response or simple trite answers. You really get an idea of what he is thinking and how his mind works. I always get the feeling listening to him that I would love to delve deeper into some of the things he has brought up in interviews, re Sherlock his stage work and his experiences. I look forward to reading the other installments of your interview.

    • dominicwells May 9, 2013 at 10:00 am #

      That’s very true. I think he’s not so well suited to the soundbite of TV, but a great conversationalist. Also, with most interviewees you have to take out the ums and ers and swearwords, but his sentences tumble out pretty much fully formed, as though there really is a Sherlockian brain in there ticking over at twice normal speed.

      • evillynn May 9, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

        I agree I dont think he suits soundbite TV at all. As you say I think he is very much a conversationalist. I would love to see him on a Parkinson type program, somewhere where he could embark on a conversation and round out all those ideas and thoughts he has mentioned in passing in interviews. Also most interviews on TV tend to be very focused on one thing, be it Trek or Sherlock, or as you say soundbite quick response interviews. He has started telling such interesting stories or went off on a tangent expounding on an idea and the interviewer cuts him short and we don’t get to here the finished thought.

        And judging by what I have read and seen I think your not far off with the Sherlockian brain. I think he is a very intelligent young man, there is a lot going on in that head of his.

  4. Let's call me Lily May 10, 2013 at 4:49 am #

    Reblogged this on Sane As I Am and commented: If I had to do an interview, ever, I think it would probably have to be heavily edited, because the mojority of sentences either wouldn’t make sense, or be mostly composed of “umms”. As evidenced by this written post, which starts (and ends) with umm.

  5. Let's call me Lily May 10, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    Hey, I hope you don’t mind me reblogging this, I’ll link back to the original article.
    I’ve heard/read some other discussions of his, both as part of the Sherlock Special features and things floating on the internet, and I agree with you – he seems to actually utilise the immense English vocabulary, rather than stick with the same (boring) adjectives. Wish I was that flowing; I can’t even sound like that when typing!

    • dominicwells May 10, 2013 at 11:19 am #

      That’s cool, thanks. Glad you like the interview. It seems to have struck a chord with a LOT of people!

      • Let's call me Lily May 12, 2013 at 6:29 am #

        I think it’s because well, for one, it’s not restricted to just one thing, so most people are interested in at least one aspect, and two: he really is very eloquent.


  1. • Cumberbatched Italy • Il primo fansite italiano su Benedict Cumberbatch » [Articolo] The Cumberbatch Tapes - May 13, 2013

    […] The Cumberbatch Tapes: #1 La nascita di Sherlock […]

  2. Why12 Years A Slave is already the film of the year | London, Hollywood - January 10, 2014

    […] Benedict Cumberbatch and regular Steve McQueen collaborator Michael Fassbender play, respectively, considerate and demented slave owners, and producer Brad Pitt gives himself a cameo as just about the only decent anti-slavery white character; but it’s Ejiofor’s film. His expressive eyes fill every scene, haunting you long after the film has finished. […]

  3. Amy's Tumblr (2) - January 20, 2014

    […] Benedict speaks as though Sherlock is a real person, I say.  “He’s real to me, yeah of course, it has to be. He is an icon, so there’s an element of him where he is a logo, and that is two-dimensional, and to escape stereotype you have to get some kind of understanding of who he is. So you do associate something very personable to him, and you start to think about him in real terms.” (x) […]

  4. What a piece of work is (this) man: Benedict Cumberbatch opens in Hamlet | London, Hollywood - August 5, 2015

    […] a metaphor for a rapid rise to fame. In Benedict Cumberbatch’s case, it is literally true. I interviewed the actor a week before the very first Sherlock was broadcast. He seemed pleased enough with the way they had […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: