“Star Trek Into Darkness” and its cast led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are earning generally good reviews. Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers hailed Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Khan, as “a villain for the ages—he’s really terrific.” On why he cast Benedict, considered one of the “it” actors these days, J.J. joked, “He paid me extraordinarily well.” Then he said, “We were only looking for the great actor. When we cast him in this movie, it was about a year and a half ago. He wasn’t the hottest actor yet. He was a guy who was on a TV show (‘Sherlock’). But we didn’t cast him at a point where he was this white-hot actor. He was just a guy who was the best actor.”
“Yes, Benedict has darkness,” continued the father of three children with his wife since 1996, Katie McGrath. “He has a light, brilliance, wit, sophistication, an imposing presence. He’s threatening; he’s physical. He’s also sympathetic. He does these things and makes it all look so damn easy. And the other actors … it was so funny. Every time we were doing a scene with Benedict, they were standing a little bit taller. He has a presence that is ridiculous and that voice, oh my God. There wasn’t a day working with Benedict that I didn’t think, this is insane. He elevated that moment. He made that thing that I thought was going to be really hard, authentic.
“He’s not like his character in any way, physically or emotionally, but he transformed himself physically. He was suddenly this wildly intimidating big guy. And he’s not. When you talk to him, he’s sort of slight. But in the movie, I spent a year editing him (Benedict’s footage). So it was like I got to see him every day. I got so used to him as that character. So when I saw him again recently, I thought, God, he’s so small, compared to how he is in the movie—he’s so epic. He is an utter chameleon who I think can do anything.
He’s one of the best actors I’ve ever seen, let alone worked with. He was able to bring all of these incredible nuances and attitude to a role that in lesser hands would not have worked remotely that well.”
He was an all-action Sherlock Holmes for TV and now he’s conquering Hollywood in Star Trek. Caitlin Moran joins the actor at his parents’ home for Sunday lunch
I don’t know if you remember, but some time last summer – between the end of the Olympics and the return of The X Factor – it briefly became the thing to have a go at Benedict Cumberbatch for being “a posho”.
However many times Cumberbatch tried to explain that he was “just middle class, really”, a sum kept being done, over and over: “Harrow education” + “called ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’ ” = “A man who wipes his bum on castles”. There was a series of catty columns about it, with headlines like “Posh off to America” and “Poor posh boy”.
The underlying presumption seemed to be that Cumberbatch was some dilettante princeling – stealing roles such as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, and the painfully repressed landowner Christopher Tietjens in Tom Stoppard’s Parade’s End, that would otherwise have gone to working-class actors such as Danny Dyer, or Shane Richie from EastEnders, and that this was all a great pity.
Of course, as with all these things, it blew over quite quickly – not least because it was superseded by the news that Cumberbatch had been cast in the new Star Trek movie, and was, therefore, about to become one of the most successful British actors of the past ten years. But I am reminded of it all today, in the back of a cab, leafing through a pile of cuttings on Cumberbatch.
“What a load of balls that was,” I muse. “The whole posh thing. What a load of old balls. What a funny old world.”
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I have been invited to lunch with Cumberbatch at his parents’ house in Gloucestershire. Star Trek Into Darkness is now about to open and this is the only day he has free to talk. I have made the great sacrifice and taken a train to Swindon.
The cab driver drops me outside the house.
“Here you go,” he says.
I climb out of the car, and stare at a gigantic, honey-coloured mansion, with immaculately tended lawns. Parked in the driveway are a black London taxi and a vintage silver Rolls-Royce.
Last night, Benedict had offered to pick me up from the station, saying he has a “loooooooooovely car”.
“Yes – you have, haven’t you, Benedict?” I think to myself, staring. “You’ve got a lovely pair.”
I crunch up the drive, carrying a massive bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, and shout through the letter box.
“Hello! I’m from London! I’ve come on holiday, to the countryside, by accident!”
Silence. I circle the house. The place is so big, I can’t work out where the front door is.
I decide to go to ask a neighbour for advice on how to penetrate the Cumberbatch estate.
I head towards a nearby crofter’s cottage.
Benedict Cumberbatch is standing in the doorway of the tiny cottage, in a pair of knackered navy corduroy slippers, watching my progress across the lawn – lavishly strewn with hyacinths – with some curiosity.
“What were you doing at Kate Moss’s house?” he asks, mildly.
Ah. Kate Moss. The working-class girl from Croydon made good. That mansion is her house.
The “posh” Cumberbatches, by way of contrast, live next door: three small rooms downstairs, three small rooms upstairs. Every available surface is covered in books, family photographs or owls.