Tag Archives: War Horse

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.

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, #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.