The role that instantly made me a fan of Benedict’s was Frankenstein’s Creature in the 2011 National Theatre stage production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle. Every night, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict switched their roles playing Frankenstein and his monster and the version I say first (via National Theatre Live), was the one in which he played the Creature and Jonny was his creator Victor Frankenstein. I was mesmerized by Benedict’s intense and very physical performance! Since then I’ve been watching as much of his work as I can – even though that task is far from completed. Considering that the first entry at IMDb is for 2002, his filmography (including series) is impressive. Here’s a list of the productions I’ve seen him in, in the order of when I saw them, not when they were released (only two, I think, before I started to REALLY notice his genius):
- Four Lions
- NT Live: Frankenstein (both versions)
- Sherlock Series 1+2 (TV)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- War Horse
- Third Star
- Parade’s End (TV)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
- Star Trek: Into Darkness
- The Last Enemy (TV)
- Stuart – A Live Backwards (TV movie)
- The Fifth Estate
Now – what do I love about him? First of all, his deep voice and sophisticated way of speaking! I don’t really remember his roles in the first two movies on the list – shame on me – but other than that he seems the perfect choice to play highly intelligent and eloquent men. Well, of course, as Frankenstein’s monster he’s not so eloquent, at least at first, but he did also play the Creator who is. Best case in point, of course, is his interpretation of Sherlock Holmes (with Martin Freeman as John Watson) – in an interview he admitted that he has to speak faster that he can actually think – which I doubt (I do consider him to be quite intelligent), but which also shows that not many could pull this off as well as he does. That being said, it does not mean that he always merely plays himself or that he is typecast to always play the intellectual. His roles are quite diverse and he never fails to immerse himself completely in his roles. That’s how he manages to play both Frankenstein’s Creature and his creator absolutely convincingly – to the point that the best version would be with him in both roles. (I do not want to diminish Jonny Lee Miller’s talent – for instance, he brings a different, a little more violent quality to the Creature, but I still prefer Benedict.) His Christopher Tietjens is very different to his Khan. And I’m sure his portrayal of Stephen Hawking is just as true to the real man’s character as is his take on Julian Assange. He can play a villain (Star Trek) and a (reluctant) hero trying to do what’s right (The Last Enemy), an everyman (Stuart – A Life Backwards, Wreckers, The Third Star) and an aristocrat (Parade’s End), a soldier (War Horse) and a hacker (The Fifth Estate), a spy (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and a dragon (The Hobbit). Now, compared to some of the very good-looking favorites of mine (notably right now: Alex O’Loughlin), one couldn’t call Benedict conventionally handsome – and yet, there have been roles in which he has managed to get across a romantic or passionate spark. The chemistry between Christopher Tietjens and the young Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) in Parade’s End can only be seen a few scenes, but in these it is electrifying. Most surprising to me was the sexual tension in The Last Enemy between the character he plays there (Stephen Ezard) and his brother’s wife Yasim (Anamaria Marinca). So, even if in Benedict’s case it’s mostly his intellect and versatility that appeals to me, he can also be attractive on a more emotional level. Still, I don’t see him much in romantic comedies, but that’s just as well. Oh, I almost forgot: he can be funny, too! On November 2, 2013, the National Theatre in London celebrated its 50th anniversary by putting up a most breath-takingly funny and moving stage show, which wasn’t only broadcast live on BBC but also brought live to cinemas around the globe via satellite. Benedict Cumberbatch performed a scene from Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, where Rosencrantz is talking about what it must be like to be buried. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead…which should make all the difference…shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in the box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air – you’d wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box.
It was hilarious!