Benedict Cumberbatch, tenant of other souls, by Angela Posada-Swafford

Pueden acceder al artículo original publicado aquí: Benedict Cumberbatch_Inquilino de otras almas_Diners

Ángela Posada-Swafford* DINERS magazine, Colombia, November 2013

*Note from the author: I am a science writer, not a celebrity journalist. But when I discovered Mr. Cumberbatch’s career, a lot of whose roles have been scientists, and notoriously difficult ones, at that, I decided to explore his work in depth. And it happens that in the process of collecting information for these profiles of him (the first one ran in Esquire Latin America in May 2013), I met and befriended some wonderful people who have also been inspired to do good stuff. So this is a way for me to thank you, Emanuela, and Margareta and Teresa and Lynnette and Nadja, and to celebrate new friendships, through an unwitting, and charming source.

Latin America is still getting to know Benedict. This is why many things mentioned here are familiar to people who are in turn familiar with the actor. But for Latin Americans a lot of this is very new. I am looking forward to the day when I can talk to Benedict about so many other things, science travel, current affairs…more a conversation than an interview, and publish it somewhere. Hope it happens sometime in any future.


Embodying Sherlock Holmes and Julian Assange, this British actor has become one of the most recognized and admired stars of today’s entertainment industry. A bit shy, hugely talented and quite versatile, he will be the subject of a lot more talk in the years to come.

BC in tansition

Benedict Cumberbatch in Transition is a fascinating and intensely researched analysis of the actor’s professional progress, written by Dr. Lynnette Porter, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona, Florida. The book, edited by MX Publishing in the United Kingdom, and translated into Japanese and soon to Chinese, also examines the difficult balance in the perception between the concepts of actor and celebrity.

I sit in the darkness of a theatre auditorium in Naples, Florida, immersed in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, presented by the National Theatre Live. It is a dense ten-minute scene, tough for any actor. Amid the minimalistic rhythms of lights and sounds, the “creature” made by the demented scientist is born through a latex membrane and falls to the ground, writhing painfully like a worm. Filled with a powerful, brute innocence, Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting fills my senses. Slowly, grotesquely, the new being questions his creator with a depth that is intensely physical, emotional and intellectual. The result is as visceral as it is unforgettable.

And one knows one is witnessing something rarely seen; and understands what Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrahms and Susanna White, among other movie, theater and television directors who have worked with him saw when they describe him as one of the best actors of his generation and his time.

Londoner Benedict Cumberbatch is 37, has the most fabulous Victorian name on Earth, and owns a fascinating face that stretches and contracts as though it were made of rubber: now it is smooth, and a nanosecond later it is crisscrossed by a thousand deep lines of expression. One minute he is really attractive, and then, by just twitching some hidden muscle, he is not any more. The feline eyes do their part, going through the entire electromagnetic spectrum of blues and greens, depending on how light and perhaps emotions hit upon them.

He was last seen on the big screen inhabiting the mind of activist Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, in The Fifth Estate. Months before, terrorizing the crew of starship Enterprise in Star Trek into Darkness. Next, he will be Hamlet in theatre; in film, exploring the brilliant mind of mathematician Alan Turing as he faced the Nazi cyphered codes; and, looking for El Dorado in the Amazon, during the failed expedition of Colonel Percival Fawcett, in 1925.

Even though the world came to discover him in 2010 through the magnificent BBC TV series Sherlock, which is already on its third season and is object of a ‘Beatlesque’ cult in the United Kingdom, Mr. Cumberbatch is far from being a new artistic phenomenon: for the past two decades he has been preparing himself intellectually, and he has logged more than ten years of professional work. If at the beginning he was one more good British actor out there, during the last three years he distanced himself from the squad, in such a vertiginous ascent, that he still finds it difficult to breathe the rarefied air of the ionosphere.

“I don’t know. I have no idea, it is a series of things, being insistent”, he says. “And allowing your work to speak for you.  Believe me, during my first years on stage and before a camera I felt like a piece of furniture. But I always gave the best of me.” His voice is thespian. Malleable. Rich in smoky nuances, surprisingly deep for someone his age. An instrument that serves as a bridge to connect the brutal extremes of emotions he is able to deliver in a couple of sentences.

“We all want to escape our circumstances, don’t we? Especially if one is an actor”, he has said before. “The imaginative process makes my mouth water. The most I distance myself from myself, the better. Being far from my comfort zone is the most intense fun I can have. From being this very stiff, inexpressive guy, in Parade’s End, to becoming a dragon, in The Hobbit, each role is incredibly different. It is the university of life. I could do it in front of five people, or in my parents’ living room. For me it is not the scale of the project, or the size of the audience, or wanting to satisfy them. It is this egoist thing of enjoying my job or inhabiting other people’s souls.”

Mr. Cumberbatch always speaks fast. And he always seems to have a great respect towards each question from any journalist, which he analyzes and crumbles into its smaller constituents. It is impossible for him to be punctual in his answers. And this is a good thing. It is always great to listen to any of his commentaries anywhere because of his deep knowledge of the English language. And it is also refreshing to hear those answers with a charm that fortunately he has not lost with the swift stardom –though it is understandable that sometimes he wishes he were the invisible man.

“I have always had this idea of constant betterment of the self. Knowing everything about this wine, and about the bird that is singing, and understanding the world that surrounds me, almost with despair,” he said once.

It is the same endless physical and mental energy he had as a child when his parents (also actors –his mother, Wanda Ventham, an idol of the British TV in the Seventies) thought it was a thyroid problem, and that continues- if barely controlled- in his adult life.

It is no wonder, then, that his rhythm of work is feverish: this year alone he has appeared in seven movies and series (from lead roles to small few minute-cameos); and he has six more in different stages of production. Refusing to be typecast in one single style, his chameleonic roles go from the non-human to beings of the future, characters of the past, fictitious and real, dead and alive.

His virtuosity and magnetism, which remind me of Alan Rickman, a clear influence, are undisputable. Each role, no matter if it lasts just a few minutes, takes the audience through an exquisite and unpredictable mix of emotions. Each gesture, word or stareare calibrated like tips of a laser beam in order to deliver more than just a simple interpretation.

Able to cry on cue, he ditches a character, mood or state of mind to enter another. With apparent ease, he changes tones and structure as a squid does with its skin, justifying his having won over half of the twenty-something awards he has been nominated for -BAFTAS, Oliviers, Emmys, Golden Globes.

It is like watching an Olympic athlete in motion,” said Star Trek, J.J. Abrahms. “I imagined he was going to be good at anything, but Benedict surpassed all my expectations by a lot. He elevated everything and gave each of his scenes a kind of gravitas and a huge intelligence.”

“It is kind of intimidating because one has the clear impression that he is more intelligent than you. That is hard on the ego,” John Wells, director of August: Osage County told Vogue. His film stars Meryl Streep, who has confessed to be a big admirer ofSherlock.

More than most actors, Cumberbatch excels at revealing the innerlife of any character he plays, making it multidimensional beyond words, in such a way that audiences can understand his thoughts and motivations,” writes Lynnette Porter in the popular book Benedict Cumberbatch in Transition.

An atypical, cerebral star that defies all characterization, Mr. Cumberbatch does not take anything for granted and does not prefer one media to the other. He chooses roles in radio, film, theater and TV more with the head than the heart, in order to guide his career, says Dr. Porter in an interview. More than being a method actor, his preparation for each role is one of immersion, and includes conversations and exhaustive readings of everything he finds about the topic and its time.

“I think the most interesting people, it doesn’t matter if they are heroes or villains have a series of emotional layers; they are grey, between good and evil,” says Mr. Cumberbatch, who has described himself as moody, a bit old fashioned, impatient, disorganized with schedules, smoker, shy in social situations and old before his time.

For this reason he has a special love for his gothic Sherlock and for the character of the good Edwardian aristocrat Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End. “I don’t believe in good and evil. That is the trick. As an actor I feel empathy with the character, but I also embody him understanding why he does what he does, no matter how despicable his actions might be.”

Controlled calm and social phenomenon

Something in the controlled calm of Mr. Cumberbatch’s body language contrasts with his warm and generous disposition towards his millions of fans, who crowd any scene he might be filming on the streets anywhere. That he is single, loves music (from jazz to rock SigurRos-style) adores children and reading them story books, only exacerbate the collective psyche.

That, added to his good actor credentials, his impeccable manners of fine gentleman educated in an elite school, and his air of unobtainable, otherworldly creature, have placed the alumnus of London’s Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in a unique position within the entertainment industry.

In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch is a growing social phenomenon. His internet fan base has collected over 45 thousand pounds during the past two years for charities that are close to the actor’s heart, and almost 90 thousand to produce the short A Little Favour, by his friend Patrick Victor Monroe.

The clothing and accessories he wears become instant hits. An example is the reindeer leather bracelet with pewter and silver braids sold by Swedish designer Margareta Lidskog, who works with the Sami artisans from Lapland in order to help preserve their Arctic culture. A friend gave it to him “for good luck” and he almost never takes it off.

“The result is that I have received orders from 20 countries on my SwedArt website, from thousands of fans who want exactly the same bracelet from the Scandinavian north,» says Lidskog. «Not since the Winter Olympic Games of Norway had such a large window opened to so many artisans of the millenary Sami culture, and Benedict is now a sort of unintentional ambassador.»

Recently he lost his bracelet and Lidskog sent him a replacement, which was ‘happily received’ and he wears it ‘nonstop.’

The phenomenon extends to an infinite number of Facebook pages. Perhaps the most respectful because of the way they pay homage to the actor’s artistic work are Cumberlord, the quintessential British man, run by Emanuela Borgatta, an Italian Professor of Literature; and in Spanish, Benedict Cumberbatch México, run by communicator Teresa Torner, who has taken upon herself to translate most of the good articles that appear in the English language press, in order to introduce Mr. Cumberbatch to Latin American audiences.

This is a lovely way for me to keep up with the latest news about my favorite actor – whom I’ve also been so lucky to meet twice”, says Borgatta, whose page has ballooned to over 7,200 admirers of Mr. Cumberbatch in just a few months. “And through the page, being in touch with so many people worldwide has allowed me to start a friendship knowing that we already have something in common.

In the summer of 2013 Borgatta teamed up with German artist Nadja Rödiger to craft a book of letters and art dedicated to the actor. Her Facebook fans contributed messages which were bound in an artistic volume with a lovely ‘art-decoish’ design of his name in pewter letters; then, both of them managed to hand-deliverit to Mr. Cumberbatch on the crowded Sherlock set in London.

«Did you make that?» he said while signing autographs, with his characteristic humility. «Amazing. I looked at the video of how you made it. Grazie tante. It is a very special thing. Thank you very much. Amazing.»

Paraphrasing behaviorist Judi James, to acquire the taste for Benedict Cumberbatch is like drinking good wine or biting a piece of Stilton cheese. “It makes you feel a little superior.”

Some recent productions where Mr. Cumberbatch has participated:

2008 – The Last Enemy (TV series)

2009 – Small Island (TV movie)

2010 – Van Gogh Painted with Words (TV movie)

2010 – Third Star (short)

2010 – 14 Sherlock (TV series)

2011 – Frankenstein/The Creature, alternating roles (theatre)

2011 – Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy

2011 – War Horse

2012 – Parade’s End (TV series)

2013 – Star Trek into Darkness

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

2013 – The Fifth Estate

2013 – August: Osage County

2013 – Little Favour (short)

2013 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.


First article written by Angela, Benedict Cumberbatch: Acting with Brains, can be found here.

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