Tag Archives: Martin Crimp

The Cumberbatch tapes, #3: The spirituality of acting

10 May

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Star Trek Into Darkness is wonderful, but though it’s a terrific ensemble piece, one actor stands out: Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays a villain with slightly superhuman powers, but it’s not so much the newly buff body and the action scenes that impress: it’s the stillness and calm he evinces before the storm.

In my in-depth interview with him, he explained where this stillness comes from. What follows, entirely in Benedict’s own words, is part three; read part one here, part two here, and my review of Star Trek Into Darkness here. The story so far: Benedict has been explaining how he taught some Tibetan Buddhist monks in his youth, and how they taught him more than he taught them…

“I also went on a retreat with a lama, several days of incantation to clear the mind and purify, along with a dozen other people. It was incredible, and I kind of floated out of there after two weeks. When you’ve been that still and contemplative, your sensory awareness is so heightened, sharper-focused, you’re taking in detail to the point where you have to pause a little bit, it was amazing.

“Stillness is an essential part of acting, so I already had a certain amount of focus in that beforehand, and I’d always been fascinated by the idea of meditation and what it meant. A still point is a very, very hard place to find, especially among the usual kind of pulped sheep pushed around by the blinking flashing world of modern technology. Sherlock Holmes is an interesting character, to get back on to that: he’s someone who has to push a lot aside, either by scraping away badly at a violin or just – there’s ways of shutting out white noise and one of these is he’s so rude to people, saying to shut up all the time…

“And I think there’s a real parallel; I think as an actor you have to be able to do that. I’ve had some pretty knockout moments, like on the press night of a play called The City by Martin Crimp, this phone rang for about five minutes. That took a lot of concentration!”

For the first time in a long while, there is a pause in the flow, followed by a semi-apology, not that one is needed – it’s been fascinating.

“This is a conversation fuelled by coffee, I’m trying to pack a lot in – I don’t speak like this all the time, because I have a relationship with other people that wouldn’t last! Though actually if you spoke to my girlfriend I think she’d say sometimes I do, and that’s why she’s like, ‘Wooooah!’”

The girlfriend was actress Olivia Poulet. Tellingly, a few months after this conversation, they ended their 12-year relationship. (NB: recent rumours of them being married or engaged are a hoax.) Let’s hope it wasn’t just the coffee that did it.

In the fourth and final part of my interview, Benedict discusses Doctor Who, Steven Spielberg, and a famous woman he gallantly doesn’t name (but I know who it is…) NOW ONLINE HERE.