Over the weekend, The Guardian published an EPIC interview with Benedict Cumberbatch to promote The Fifth Estate. I usually hate The Guardian’s celebrity interviews with a passion – their celebrity interviewers are almost always total snobs who spend the entire time making fun of their interview subject. But not so much with Cumby, although there’s not much room for the writer to be snarky because Cumby can TALK. And talk and talk. If no one stops him, he’ll just riff for whole paragraphs. Which means this piece is really long, so I’ve cut out some interesting stuff (sorry).
After receiving an email plea from Julian Assange, begging him not to do the film, Cumby emailed him back: “I don’t want to go into any great detail, but it took me four hours and the central thrust was: this is not documentary, this is not a legally admissible piece of evidence in a court of law, it’s not going to alter perception in a way that is actually politically going to damage you at all. People who will come to see this film will be savvy enough to see it as what it is; it’s a starting point, that should both provoke and entertain. It will be a talking point, but your life, your private life, your persona, is fatefully intertwined with your mission – it cannot not be now. And to be honest, I think the sort of general perspective on you is still echoing from the kind of character assassinations that began way back when, with the initial leaks, and that is now heightened by the accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, and so you’re known as this white-haired Australian weirdo wanted for rape in Sweden who’s holed up behind Harrods in some embassy. So the misinformation about you is already there. I said listen, this film is going to explore what you achieved, what brought you to the world’s attention, in a way that I think is nothing but positive. I admit to doing work because I’m a vain actor. I want to be able to say, yeah, I’m playing a lead in a film. That’s a huge career move for me. Yet I’m not acting in a moral vacuum. I have considered this, and whatever happens, I want to give as much complexity and understanding of you as I can.”
Researching Assange: His performance draws heavily on his research into Assange’s childhood. “I know it’s a Freudian cliche to go, ‘Oh well, when I was a kid…’, but, to be honest, it’s so profoundly true with Julian. To have been a child in a single-mother relationship, being pursued around the country by an abusive stepfather who was part of a cult – to be taken out of any context where he could discover who he was in relation to other people – well, to then become a teenage hacktivist, and evolve into a cyber-journalist, to me makes perfect sense. And he’s still a runaway today. I find that profoundly moving. He kept isolating himself. Every bridge he built, he burnt. And I understood why at times, because he is on a trajectory that’s different from other people. And, because of that, he can’t form those human relationships that other organisations have. And that is tragic.”
Some pragmatism: But before Assange and his followers get too excited, Cumberbatch turns out to be decidedly ambivalent about what WikiLeaks and other cyber-whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden are up to. He is alarmed by the revelations of mass surveillance by the NSA and GCHQ, and doesn’t like the idea of anyone reading his private emails – “It’s none of your business” – but then adds, “Oh, but you might have stopped me from being killed on a tube I took last Wednesday. If they are saving lives, how can we say that’s less important than civil liberties? You don’t have any civil liberties if you’re dead. Isn’t it hypocritical to say, we should know everything about you as a government, but the government can’t know anything about us?” Assange argues for total transparency for powerful institutions, and total privacy for individuals. “But if you are a private individual who’s packing semtex to kill people and destroy what we know as democracy for political purposes, then you’re more than just a private individual.”
On Chelsea Manning: “But he broke a law. He knew what he was doing.” Manning has applied for a presidential pardon, but Cumberbatch can’t see why Obama should grant it. “He did what he did out of a conviction that an alarm bell needed to be sounded. But his superiors might have been right to say to him, it’s not your position to be worried about it within the hierarchy of the military organisation, which is why he had to be sentenced. He took an oath, and he broke that oath.”
The Matt Damon thing: “I have to explain this whole thing about Matt Damon,” he laughs. “I’m a big fan of his, I think he’s great. I mention this in a phone interview, and the woman down the other end of the line goes,” and he adopts a silly, high-pitched American accent, “‘Really? Do you really like him? Really? Why?’ I was like, ‘Why? Well, um, because he’s a really talented actor, he’s done lots of great things in his life, I think he’s great. It’d be great to meet him.’ ‘You wanna meet him?’ ‘Er, well, yeah, I mean, of course it would be great to meet him and hang out.’ ‘Well, we could facilitate it!’ ‘Oh, OK. Great. Do pass on that I’m a huge fan. It would be great to see him.’” He pauses to roll his eyes. “Next day: ‘Benedict Cumberband’s Bromance With Matt Damon!’ You know,” he laughs, “it’s all that shit.” Does it drive him mad? “Well, sometimes. But mostly amused, really. You can’t get too tied up with it.”
Wrapping Season 3 Sherlock: “I felt very sentimental on the last day of shooting, thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to say goodbye to him again.’ He’s f–king hard work, always has been, but I love him, and I got sad that I wasn’t going to see him again for a while.” He won’t reveal much about the new series, beyond a coy, “Well, there’s a reunion that doesn’t necessarily go to plan. And there’s a bonding experience that throws Sherlock and Watson back together in a very firm way. And there’s a new union as well, in the shape of a marriage, which Sherlock takes part in, so we see that.”
Cumby also talks about how he marched in opposition to the Iraq War and how years later, he was horrified to read the WikiLeaks war documents. He also says he doesn’t want to speculate on whether Assange might be autistic.
Benedict also has a friendlier, less political interview with The Toronto Star – you can read it here. He admits that he’s late for the interview because A) he’s perpetually late to everything and B) because he “popped outside” for a cigarette. Halfway through the interview he starts sucking a (wait for it) maple sugar candy which he enjoys thoroughly. There was also a wonderful exchange about Cumby’s natural hair color – he insists he’s neither blonde nor ginger, saying:
“I’m not ginger… I’m auburn and there is a difference. I’ve got very good friends and relatives who are ginger and trust me, there’s a difference. And they ain’t ever gonna see the proof! They might say, ‘We saw it when you were the Creature in Frankenstein!’ (a stage play in which Cumberbatch appeared nude), but they didn’t, they didn’t! The Creature in Frankenstein had darker hair than me. That was one of the oddest moments of my life, applying makeup to that particular part of my body, but I have hair that is auburn. It’s got streaks of red in it, definitely. It’s also got streaks of bronze and lighter colours and darker brown colours. When I was a kid I was as blond as the young Julian in our film.”
I love that he speaks at length about his HAIR COLOR because seriously, the Cumberbitches have had some fights about that one. Also, is he saying that he has auburn hair down there? JESUS CHRIST, Benedict. Now I won’t be able to concentrate on anything else today. Cumby also says in the same interview, “I’d like to play someone who can sing and dance. I’d like to do that. I’ve not done a musical. I’d also like to play a romantic comedy . . . there’s lots more stuff I’d like to do.” Oh God. Singing and dancing Cumberbatch?! Tumblr would melt down, if it hasn’t already with all of the talk about his auburn dong muff.
Photos courtesy of The Guardian Weekend Mag.