Benedict Cumberbatch digs deep for two challenging film roles
By CINDY PEARLMAN October 15, 2013 4:48PM
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate."
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM
TORONTO — Benedict Cumberbatch, 37, hits a glitch while telling his life story.
“I didn’t get my first professional job until I was 25,” says the handsome Brit. “I mean, I think it was 25. You need to check it out because I’m too jetlagged.
“You can look it up on the Internet.”
Wait. You’re playing Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame and you want us to believe what’s on the Internet?
Cumberbatch lets loose with a hearty laugh and says, “This is what I love about people from the Midwest. Sharp.”
After a summer hit with “Star Trek Into Darkness,” where he played Khan, he’s in two big movies opening Friday. In “12 Years a Slave,” he’s a “conflicted man” running a plantation.
And in “The Fifth Estate,” directed by Bill Condon, Cumberbatch plays Assange. “The journey was discovering a balanced, three-dimensional portrait of the man, and I do think the film is balanced,” he says. “I never wanted to get into a slogging match of if he was a good man or not.”
Where he’s not neutral is on the subject of WikiLeaks.
“I’m full of admiration for what he founded,” Cumberbatch admits. “Forget the controversy. A man like this is essential and the world is a better place. WikiLeaks’ founding principal was to expose information.
“I think the public has a right to know.”
Becoming Assange was a day-by-day struggle.
“He has softer features and I’m a bit angular,” Cumberbatch says. “I have a longer face; he has a rounder face.
To better resemble his subject, Cumberbatch wore prosthetic teeth and a device to create a fuller top lip.
“The hard thing was the contact lenses,” he says. “His eyes are blue and mine are greener, and mine change whatever light I’m in.”
The green-eyed rebel grew up in London as the son of actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham.
He began acting in elementary school, but not for the obvious reasons. “It was a control measure for me,” says Cumberbatch. “Like a lot of kids, I had too much energy. I would show off and be unruly.
“Acting was a method of making me take responsibility. I remember a teacher making me stand in front of the class and then saying, ‘There’s your audience. What are you going to do about that?’ ”
After graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, Cumberbatch made his mark on film in “Atonement” (2007), “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011), “War Horse” (2011), “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) and on the TV series “Parade’s End.” He also stars on the British series “Sherlock.”
His “Star Trek” director, J.J. Abrams, is making the next “Star Wars,” and rumor has it the filmmaker has a part for Cumberbatch.
“No offer,” the actor says. “Would I like to do it? Yes. J.J. knows where I live.”
Cumberbatch also stars later this year in the dysfunctional family drama “August: Osage County,” directed by John Wells and based on the hit play and screenplay by Tracy Letts. The film also stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and Juliette Lewis.
“Meryl was extraordinary,” he says. “The hardest thing with her is to actually act. You just want to sit and watch her. You want to be in the audience.”
Many fans want to be in his audience. The ladies who love him have called themselves Cumber-bitches.
What does the actor think about that one?
“They’re Cumber-collectors. The ‘bitches’ thing just wasn’t feminist,” he says.
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