Brainy = Sexy

The British actor Benedict Cumberbatch – Translation of the Film-Dienst article Brainy = Sexy by Felicitas Kleiner, 11/2013.

Translation by Carinnsche.

One close-up of Benedict Cumberbatch is enough to know that the Starfleet is facing a lot of trouble in Star Trek: Into Darkness. One look at his pale unmoving face with the irritatingly bright piercing eyes and a charismatic villain has effortlessly been established, who is going to turn out to be one of the most legendary Star Trek villains of all time, the genetically enhanced superhuman Khan.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch rose to fame rapidly in the past few years. His role in Star Trek is practically his membership card for the club of “Brit evil masterminds”, without which Hollywood’s franchise movies would lack their best villains. What qualifies him for this – aside from his strange eyes and the striking voice – is his ability to show an arrogantly aristocratic superiority that seems as if he managed to bring the British Empire’s ambitions for world domination into the 23rd Century. Even when Khan is wearing handcuffs due to having surrendered and therefore isn’t in a position of power, Cumberbatch’s straight posture makes Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) look like a limp dishrag.

But it’s impossible to reduce the roles that the actor, born in London in 1976, embodies to the image of superior “Upper-Class Britishness”: It is the disruptions and contradictions of the façade which make his roles interesting. This especially applies to the part which made Benedict Cumberbatch famous: His portrayal of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes in the BBC show »Sherlock« has attracted an extensive and avid fanbase. “Brainy is the new sexy”. This is what Irene Adler says to Holmes after being a witness to his brilliant deductions in the episode »A Scandal in Belgravia« which tells the story of their encounter as equal opponents in a game about truth, bluffs and mutual attraction. The attraction of Cumberbatch’s updated version of Holmes has recently been confirmed by the readers of »The Sun« who voted him Britain’s “Sexiest Man” for the second time. But this is not only due to his good looks. His face is what is generally called a “character head” – a not really harmonious accumulation of rough edges (the cheekbones), boyishly soft parts (the mouth, the slightly knobbly nose) and the pale grey-green-blue eyes. While he is good looking, it is not the rather apparent Brad Pitt kind of good looks but rather the quicksilver Tilda Swinton kind, which can easily revert to the opposite should a role require it.

Cool Logic and Obsession
The rather unflattering comparison of his physiognomy to Sid the sloth from Ice Age which Benedict Cumberbatch self-mockingly pointed out himself, is not what people usually have in mind when seeing him. His Sherlock Holmes is rather characterized by his manic energy and restlessness. This is due to both his tense body language as well as the dizzying machinegun like word salves with which Holmes delivers his deductions – as if he would implode if not able to release he torrent of words. What makes Holmes attractive is his dichotomy: the intermingling of cool logic and obsessiveness, of self-control and addiction, of superiority and subliminal instability. While Robert Downey Jr.’s flirtatious Holmes in the Guy Ritchie movies is more of an action hero, Cumberbatch’s version does not find the counterpart of its mind’s punchiness in its fists but rather in the sonorous authority of his voice.

The road to this star role led the 37 years old actor via the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art for his actor’s training and from there to many small and bigger movie roles for TV and cinema. In 2004 he garnered quite a bit of attention for a role in a BBC movie, which was similarly brainy: his portrayal of the physicist Stephen Hawking. Also impressive is his embodiment of the villain in the movie »Atonement« (2007) by Joe Wright: Benedict Cumberbatch plays a seducer/rapist who lets an innocent man go to jail for his assault of a minor. The character is a braggy man whose narrow-minded egotism can hardly be concealed by his boastful façade.

Since Sherlock he has been swamped with prestigious projects. This led to his appearance in Steven Spielberg’s »War Horse«, his part in the illustrious All-Star-Cast of Tomas Alfredson’s »Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy« as well as the lead in the National Theatre’s production of »Frankenstein« (director: Danny Boyle). Here Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller alternated in the portrayal of the roles of Doctor Frankenstein and his creature – an excessive bodily act of force as a contradiction to his embodiment of the “untouchable” intellectual Sherlock.

Even if the actor told of having had trouble to come to terms with people trying to define him by the Upper Class cliché in some interviews and saw his work in the USA as a liberation, it didn’t stop from accepting another gentleman-role in the miniseries »Parade’s End« (2012). He depicts a deeply conservative member of the landed gentry of York who built his believes on outdated concepts of honour before and during the First World War. He is mourning the old feudal system in a world that keeps on changing and is conflicted by what is happening around him – be it economically, socially or politically – but also by what is happening with himself. A signature role for Cumberbatch. But he took care not to be stuck with the gentleman image nonetheless.

Dragon, Necromancer and Data-Pirate
After his excursion into the Star Trek Universe his career should keep picking up steam. Tolkien fans can look forward to his next appearance as a villain: He served as CGI-Model for the ghostly Necromancer in »The Hobbit« and also lends his unmistakable voice to the Dragon Smaug in the next instalment. He is also part of the cast of Guillermo del Toro’s movie »Crimson Peak«. In Steve McQueen’s »Twelve Years a Slave« he is part of an illustrious cast among the likes of Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. In »The Fifth Estate« by Bill Condon he portrays the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. Both movies are estimated to hit theatres in late 2013. Till then the third season of Sherlock should also be finished – and Benedict Cumberbatch on everyone’s lips.

Arte strahlt am 7.6. und 14.6. die Mini-Serie „Parade‘s End“ aus, in der Benedict Cumberbatch die Hauptrolle spielt. Das von Tom Stoppard geschriebene, auf Romanen von Ford Madox Ford beruhende und von Susanna White inszenierte „Period Piece“ wird in sechs Teilen präsentiert:
7.6.: Folge 1-3 (20.15 h, 21.00 h; 21.45 h)
14.6.: Folge 4-6 (20.15 h; 21.00 h; 21.45 h)

UK-Import: Weitere Cumberbatch-Auftritte

„To the Ends of the Earth“ (BBC-Miniserie, 2005)
Cumberbatch als junger Adliger, der 1812 zu einer Reise nach Australien aufbricht.

„Stuart: A Life Backwards“ (2007)
Tom Hardy und Cumberbatch in einem Drama um einen Obdachlosen, dessen Abstieg ein Freund begleitet.

„The Last Enemy“ (BBC-Miniserie, 2008)
Verschwörungsthriller um ein aus Terror-Angst zum Überwachungsstaat mutiertes England.

„Third Star“ (2010)
Ein krebskranker Mann (Cumberbatch) unternimmt mit drei guten Freunden einen letzten Camping-Trip zur walisischen Küste.

„The Whistle-blower“ (2010)
Politthriler (u.a. mit Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn) um Frauenhandel in Osteuropa.

„Wreckers“ (2011)
Cumberbatch spielt einen Mann, der mit seiner Frau in sein Heimatdorf zieht – wo Geheimnisse aus seiner Vergangenheit warten.