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Interview: Benedict Cumberbatch

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Benedict Cumberbatch is earning rave reviews for his amazing turn in The Imitation Game, in which he plays Alan Turing, the man behind cracking the Enigma code during World War II.

Turing is something of an enigma in himself, with no recordings left behind of him available to watch or listen to. It's an enigma that fits being taken on by Cumberbatch, who is of course one of the most versatile and in-demand actors working today. 

Turing was also convicted for having sex with a man and was given a ‘chemical castration’ as punishment.

Clearly, this role offers a lot of emotive material for an actor to explore, and with that comes the weight of responsibility for Cumberbatch.

He was never going to underestimate this responsibility, though. Discussing Turing, Cumberbatch says: "The idea of getting a broader story out there, a broader picture of him to a broader audience is obviously something that does bear a certain weight of importance. It’s his legacy."

It is true that this film has thrust Turing’s story into the public eye in an age when many people have still not heard about him or have been taught about him in school. His is a story that highlights the intolerance and bigotry of our near-past; hardly one that those in power would seek to remember.

In recent years, however, as Cumberbatch goes on to say, this has started to change: "This has been an extraordinary decade for him because of pardons [Turing was given a Royal pardon in 2013 relating to his prosecution], because of his centenary, because of exhibitions and books and now because of this film.

"It’s part of a momentum. I hope to have him at the forefront, to have the recognition he deserves as a scientist, as the father of the modern computer age, as a war hero and as a man who led a complicated life in a time of disgusting discrimination."

For an actor trying to bring a major player in British history to life there must be a lot of pressure to portray him correctly but, as previously stated, there was very little for Cumberbatch to go on in terms of audio or visual recourses. Therefore for him the challenge was even greater: "There’s no medium of him. Ironically, considering what he was about - or maybe not, due to the secrecy – there is no aural, or video or audio, recording. So it’s a blank canvas to some extent. You’re toying with something you have nothing to bounce-off with as a reflection.

"I worked out from [writer] Graham [Moore]’s brilliant script and [director] Morten [Tyldum]’s research and what he guided me towards and people I was lucky enough to meet who met him or were related to him. And however long ago it was in their life story they gave me accounts that were helpful to personalise this extraordinary man whose achievements we know in a sort-of broad headline term, but be more specific about who he was moment-to-moment in our story."

Although due to the limitations, Cumberbatch points out, it is hard to tell what Turing was like, many critics are claiming his performance is Oscar-worthy - or will at least lead to some big prize recognition. So what are his views on the big Oscar game the race to the Academy Awards conjures up?

"Errrrrrrrrruuuggghhh.......’ he says, looking slightly embarrassed. "If it gets people to see the film, frankly this is really all I care about. It’s very early on, it’s very flattering of course, but there are a lot of other extraordinary films and performances that people haven’t seen yet or people are talking about, so it’s a far way off.

"If it creates an interest and what the fuss is about that’s fantastic, as our job as storytellers is made easier if there is an audience for our storytelling.

"More importantly for me, having had some experience with this extraordinary man, I really want his story to be known as broadly as possible and our film to be a launching point for more interest in him and a proper celebration of him."

There are inevitably parallels being drawn between Cumberbatch’s socially awkward portrayal of Turing and his role as Sherlock in the popular BBC series, but he isn’t too bothered by this: "I’m limited by who I am and what I look like, but at the same time they are utterly different people. He doesn’t swish around in a coat with curly hair illustrating how brilliant he is. He is a very quiet, stoic, determined; different and diffident hero."

He continues: "As far as another similarity in that he’s socially awkward, what you see is a whole evolution that is humanising, and that happens in some aspects to what we do with our version of Sherlock. But I didn’t read this and go 'Oh, this is Sherlock in tweed', fiddling around with valves and wires. I liked how uncompromising he was. That’s a strong trait I think, but that’s a strong trait in strong characters and they always have an attraction for actors of every variety."

After playing Turing, Sherlock Holmes, Julian Assange and Stephen Hawking, Cumberbatch is making a name for himself for playing geniuses of the modern world, and he isn’t unaware of this. "I have played stupid people as well!" he says. "I want to point that out. If anyone’s got any more stupid roles out there for me, great - bring them on!

He adds: "It’s a great honour to be asked to play someone like Alan Turing so the last thing I’m going to do is go "well, it’s a bit like Sherlock."

Does he get frustrated by such character comparisons? "I understand them," he admits. "They are frustrating but I understand them, of course I do. I too watch stuff!"

The Imitation Game (2014) is released in cinemas on 14 November 2014. Watch the trailer below:

 

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