Tag Archives: Star Trek Into Darkness

Pecs appeal: what The Guest reveals about Hollywood’s new stripping sexism

15 Sep

Ye gods, but Dan Stevens is gorgeous in new movie The Guest. You hardly recognise him from Downton Abbey: the puppy fat is replaced by cheekbones, the floppy fringe by manly stubble, the limpid blue eyes are now focused laser beams of energy. He needs to be gorgeous: the more interesting first half of the movie, before things go pear-shaped and daft-thrillery, is all about how he wins over a family, one by one – the mother through sensitivity, the father through beer, the young son through help with bullies. But does he really have to win over the 20-year-old daughter by stepping from a steamy bathroom in the skimpiest of towels? Those pecs! Those lats! Those abs! She swoons.

If Stevens becomes a star on the back of this, and he surely will, his personal trainer deserves 10%, along with his agent and manager. In fact, it’s a little surprising there’s not yet an Oscar category for that. And what’s interesting is how thoroughly gratuitous nudity in Hollywood has now been turned on its head.

Right into the ‘90s it was almost impossible to be an actress and not get your kit off, unless you were Meryl Streep. It’s why columnist Julie Burchill used to call acting a form of legalised prostitution. Even the respected auteur Robert Altman pressurised Greta Scacchi (unsuccessfully) to show off her celebrated bust in The Player, despite a prior agreement: “When it came to the day of the shoot,” Scacchi later recalled, “he told me ‘Get yourself on the set, take your knickers off and do what you’re paid to do.’” Demi Moore was paid a record $12 million to strip off in Striptease. Halle Berry is rumoured to have been given an extra $500,000 to show her boobs in Swordfish, though she denies any extra fee.

How times have changed in the new millennium. When Alice Eve gratuitously stripped in front of Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness, the backlash was huge, to the point where the scriptwriter apologised – and even then she only undressed to bra and pants. There is no expectation now that beautiful and talented actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence will have to get naked to get ahead. It’s one reason, aside from righteous indignation at the appalling invasion of privacy, that the recent hacking of nude celebrity pictures has aroused such interest: in the ‘90s, it would have been nothing people hadn’t seen before, on screens 40 feet high.

No such reticence applies to the male physique, and I blame Brad Pitt. When he took his shirt off in Thelma & Louise, revealing the washboard abs beneath the cheeky grin, it opened the doors for equal opportunities sexism. Since then, Matt Damon, Tobey McGuire, Will Smith, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Hugh Jackman, Tom Cruise, Gerard Butler, Ryan Reynolds, Channing Tatum… actually, it would be quicker to make a list of actors who haven’t had to bulk up and strip off.

And now, finally, there are signs that the more insidious sexism in Hollywood may gradually and grudgingly be coming to an end. It’s long been argued by movie execs, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, that films with women in the lead roles don’t make money. None, therefore, were made… so none made money. Bridesmaids in comedy, and in the blockbuster market The Hunger Games and Gravity (though its director initially had to fight the studio to get them to okay a female lead), have demonstrated the fallacy, and execs are, according to the New York Times, taking note.

There’s still a ways to go, and still a big disparity in pay cheques. But, in liberating Hollywood’s women, must we objectify Hollywood’s men? How long before aspiring male actors are simply reading for the part of “Hunky Boyfriend: must be prepared for Shower Scene”?

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The Cumberbatch tapes, #4: Spielberg v. Madonna

11 May

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This is the final part of my interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, told as far as possible in his own words. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and my review of Star Trek Into Darkness here.

On how he got the part in War Horse (above): “I got told that Steven Spielberg was a fan of my work! And that was just… I mean I can’t say it without laughing. I made one of the archetypal actor’s jokes when someone said Oh you must be having a break after this because you’ve just come straight from Sherlock to this play, and I said yeah, I’m going to definitely have a two-week break – unless Spielberg calls! And then Spielberg did actually call! I had to read the script, sign a confidentiality agreement, and that was it, he gave me the part.”

…And how he didn’t work with Madonna: “There’s another rather famous woman, who will remain nameless, she’s doing a film at the moment [putting two and two together, that woman was Madonna and the film was her directorial debut,W.E.], who demanded almost a dress rehearsal with her operating the camera. And, er, being an actor you jump through the hoops, and I came out going Wow… the difference between a confident director who knows what he’s doing and someone who hasn’t got a f***ing clue is just miles.”

On Doctor Who: For once, Benedict was reluctant to talk. When he finally came out with it, it was as though imparting some great State Secret. Matt Smith had recently taken over from David Tennant as Doctor Who, and I wondered, had Benedict ever been considered for the role? Long pause, then: “Possibly yes.”

That and Sherlock are quite similar roles, in some ways, I probed. “Aaaaaah… possibly. Well. The idea of Sherlock came along before David’s recasting, we did the pilot over a year ago, that was just about when David was going to announce he was going to stand down. And David and I talked about it, but to be honest, it had to be radically different from him, and I’m not sure I’m interested in doing something… you haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century before, and that was much more appetising. And Doctor Who is a ‘Bond role’ in the sense that each incarnation puts his own stamp on it, but I didn’t really like the whole package, I didn’t want to be doing school lunchboxes, I didn’t want to be known for that and nothing else.”

On meeting former Tory leader William Hague to prepare for the role of William Pitt the Younger: “It was great, a real privilege, I went to see where Pitt would have stood in the Chambers, I went to dinner with William Hague and talked about his book [about William Pitt], it was a fantastic evening, really special.”

Hague seemed too young to be a plausible leader at the time, I say. “Like a precocious Mekon, wasn’t he, like a possessed child. But he’s charismatic, very intelligent, very good company – he’s fit, focused, he doesn’t talk down to you, a very smart man. I’d like to see more of him, especially now he’s Foreign Secretary, it’s a great role for him. It is absolutely intoxicating being in the House of Commons, there’s such a feeling of power about the place.”

Finally, what does he think of Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes? “I really enjoyed it, it’s fantastic, he’s an extraordinary actor… but it’s really not Sherlock in my mind. He’s not Sherlock, he’s Robert Downey Jr!”

I’ve had some great feedback on Twitter (@DominicFilm if you want to Follow me) regarding this interview series. Benedict is lucky to have so many appreciative fans! Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Come back next week, when I will be reporting from the Cannes Film Festival.

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.

Star Trek Into Darkness – Three words: A. Ma. Zing.

10 May

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Nearly 50 years after Star Trek first aired on television, the new film, Star Trek Into Darkness, feels box-fresh and cutting-edge. I’ve just seen it on opening night in South London’s famous Ritzy cinema, where they served Romulan Ale in the bar and the staff – sorry, crew – dressed in uniform with Starfleet insignia!

The film can be summed up in three words: A. Ma. Zing. It starts with the most thrilling opening sequence since Raiders of the Lost Ark – Kirk dodging spears on an alien planet while Spock is dropped into the boiling heart of a volcano – and then it goes into warp-drive.

I hate reading spoilers myself, so I won’t give away the plot. And anyway what we love about Star Trek is the interplay between the characters, and that’s all here and played to the hilt. The Kirk/Spock bromance? Yup. Each would die for the other. Spock singing The Logical Song? There’s a great exchange between him and an angry superior officer: “That’s just a technicality!” says the officer. “I am Vulcan,” replies Spock calmly. “I embrace technicality.” And, in an argument with Kirk, “Reverting to name-calling suggests you are defensive and therefore find my objections valid.” Maybe you had to be there.

It’s hard to write an ensemble script. Marvel Avengers Assemble managed it (see here); so does Star Trek Into Darkness. Simon Pegg has a bigger, funnier role as Scotty; John Cho as Sulu stands in as Captain for a while; Karl Urban as Bones gets several of his patented “For God’s sake Jim, I’m a doctor, not a missile defuser” lines; and Zoe Saldana’s romance with Spock is now on the rocks. “Really?” says Kirk. “Are you guys fighting?” A pause to consider Spock’s cool logicality. “What’s that even like?”

But the stand-out is Benedict Cumberbatch. He has the stillness and physicality of a Zen Warrior, the deep, slow, sure voice of a man utterly convinced of his ability to “walk over your cold corpses”. He’s already conquered TV with Sherlock, and dipped a toe into Hollywood with War Horse. After this, his phone will be ringing off the hook. He is unquestionably Britain’s next A-list star. See here for my interview with Benedict; part 3 will be posted on Friday.

I said I wouldn’t talk about the plot. Without giving too much away, I will say that just as the ‘60s TV show fostered love and understanding between nations by having Asian, Russian, black (and alien!) crew members working together, women alongside men, so too Star Trek Into Darkness has a moral heart. It is a film about the effects of terrorism. And, with Guantanamo Bay still open and drone attacks causing high civilian “collateral damage”, the message is clear.

“There will always be those who mean to do us harm,” says Kirk at the end. “To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves.”

Discover more about Benedict Cumberbatch in my in-depth interview. Click here for part one. Click here for part two. For part three, click here. FINAL PART: click here

The Cumberbatch tapes, #2: My life with Buddhist monks

9 May

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Benedict Cumberbatch is loved, I’m sure, for both his body and his mind. In this extract, he explains how he developed both, from being car-jacked in South Africa to teaching – and learning from – Tibetan Buddhist Monks.

This is part 2 of my in-depth interview; click here to read part one on the birth of Sherlock. The following is an unedited transcript, all in Benedict’s own eloquent words:

“I love the outdoors, throwing myself out of planes, that sort of thing. In South Africa I went a bit nuts, went to the ends of the earth in Namibia and went on an adrenaline junkie thing in Swapismund where they filmed the new series of The Prisoner.

“That was after I got car-jacked, and I think was partly why I went on this adrenaline kick. Because when you’ve been forced to look into the idea that you die on your own you kind of go, ‘Oh, okay, well if I’ve got my own company at the beginning and the end of this life I might as well do a few crazy things with it under my own steam.’

“It was I suppose the polar opposite reaction to becoming agoraphobic and internalised and haunted… there’s enough of that in my work! I didn’t want that small incident in a big country to put me off the beauty of Africa, so I wanted to be part of the people again and not fear them.

“I’d always done slightly crazy things like getting lost on treks in the Himalayas when I was 19. In my gap year I was teaching English to Tibetan Buddhist monks in a Nepali home near Darjeeling.

“They were amazingly warm, intelligent, humorous people. Hard to teach English to. I built a blackboard, which no other previous teachers seem to have done. With 12 monks in a room with an age-range of about 8 to 40, that’s quite important – and the reward-punishment thing of sweets or no sweets, or game or no game, worked quite well. But they taught me a lot more than I could possibly ever teach them.

“They taught me about the simplicity of human nature, but also the humanity of it, and the ridiculous sense of humour you need to live a full spiritual life. There was a time when these two rabid dogs were all over each other, screwing in the back yard, and all of this laughter, ‘Sir, sir, quick, come, sir, sir, quick!’ and these two dogs were just stuck together, having sex, pulling like this, like a Pushmi-pullyu [the two-headed animal in Dr Dolittle], and the monks were just on the floor laughing at these sentient beings’ pain and ridiculousness, two of them a conjoined couple. And it was so funny, they threw water all over them, but before they did, they were like, ‘Kodak moment, sir, Kodak moment!’ Brilliant!

“Then we watched Braveheart, which is a f***ing violent film for Tibetan Buddhist monks to watch, and they were all going ‘wahey!!!’ They saw Scotland as being the oppressed Tibetans and the English as the Chinese.”

PART THREE NOW ONLINE: Benedict Cumberbatch on spirituality… and how the experience feeds into his acting career: click here. PART FOUR NOW ONLINE: on Spielberg vs Madonna, click here. Star Trek Into Darkness review here: “Benedict Cumberbatch is unquestionably Britain’s next A-list star”. 

The Cumberbatch tapes, #1: the birth of Sherlock

8 May

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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.