Benedict Cumberbatch got to meet a major Sherlock fan at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Like many of us, Dionne Warwick spent her time in lockdown binging on TV shows to pass the time. That’s when she became “obsessed” with Sherlock, the breakthrough role in Cumberbatch’s massively successful career.
Warwick was finally able to meet her idol this weekend at the TIFF Tribute Awards Press Conference along with Jessica Chastain, Dune director Denis Villeneuve, Danis Goulet and Alanis Obomsawin. Cumberbatch will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor award and Warwick is the recipient of this year's Special Tribute Award.
Wow, who would have thought that getting cast as the world's most famous fictional detective would one day be the ticket to getting to meet Miss Dionne Warwick? Well, actually, it seems Benedict always knew Sherlock was going to change his life.
“I knew after that first meeting [with Sherlock producers] that everything was about to change," Cumberbatch told the virtual audience at his TIFF In Conversation With… event on Sunday. "It’s such an iconic character and what they were doing with it was bound to attract attention… I had that feeling: this is a very iconic role and if we got it right it was going to be a very big stage compared to what I’d had before.”
For Cumberbatch, who’d spent years working in live theatre as a classically trained actor, the success felt sudden and the Twitter fervor was even odder.
“There was this massive audience reaction online — which was the first time I’d really experienced Twitter,” he recalled. “I was walking out of the house to get my cab and I was half expecting paparazzi to be outside with cameras ready. It felt instant — an instant reaction. And a very lovely one.”
While the success appeared to come easily, the on-set work did not. Sherlock fans are familiar with the lengthy, rapid-fire monologues that this modern-day interpretation of the character had to present as his Sherlockian deductions.
“It was really hard,” Cumberbatch admits. “The volume of information that a modern Sherlock has to carry… a few slight deductions don’t really cut it if you have technology at your disposal. If you have modern mediums of research and a realization of how that works.”
That kind of work prepared him for the challenging award-winning roles he’d tackle next, like codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game or the title role in The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain, one of two films he stars in at this year’s Festival (the other is Jane Campion’s excellent The Power of the Dog).
What kind of acting challenges? As Louis Wain, a 19th century British artist, Cumberbatch was required to perform the feat of crying while underwater (??) and in The Power of the Dog, his rancher character has to roll cigarettes one-handed… while riding a horse.
“That had to be done in shot a lot of times with the wind and trying to keep in shot as the horse was bouncing around. What never got easier was smoking the damn things,” said the actor, who confessed he suffered from nicotine poisoning during the shoot. “I was sick. There was no filter… That was horrible. And the banjo…. It put me in a really bad mood.”
A mood, said Cumberbatch, that he channeled into his angry, mean, and frustrated character.
And while some actors immerse themselves in the role they’re playing, walking around in character for the duration of shooting, Cumberbatch says that for him, it’s important to differentiate how his character might be feeling and what he himself was feeling about his character’s circumstances.
He used Turing as an example, saying “I could not stop crying. I could not control the emotion. It was not his. It was mine reflecting on his predicament… I had a similar empathetic connection with Louis Wain as well,” he added. “There is certainly an area where you realize [the performance] shouldn’t be crafted, it should be authentic, but if you go into a place of grief outside of the containment of the drama that has nothing to do with the crew, storytelling or direction of the scene, it can get quite blurred.”
“It’s very odd what we do for a living,” Cumberbatch confessed.
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