I am full of admiration for young actors- Colin Morgan, James McAvoy, Ben Chaplin... I just marvel at them! People like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are brilliant, but they became a little bit of a parody of themselves. Marlon Brando was a revelation to us all, but now you look at and it seems a bit mannered. Whereas nowadays with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, there's no barrier between them and the camera; you can just read what they're thinking.
When I was about 25 years old, I worked with two very good actors. The encounters were brief, but I’ve remembered them both with great admiration. Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton both embodied qualities which one is fogyishly tempted to look at with nostalgia. Along with very considerable talent, they had elegance, glamor, wit, kindness and decency.
I didn’t know at the time that they were married or that they had a son of about 10 who was quietly gestating all the same attributes. And now, 30 years later, the boy has been let loose. He has taken the form of Benedict Cumberbatch.
His parents’ qualities are on rampant display. It’s rare to the point of outlandish to find so many variables in one actor, including features which ought to be incompatible: vulnerability, a sense of danger, a clear intellect, honesty, courage — and a rather alarming energy. I take no pleasure in feeling humbled, but there’s no getting around it.
I first really clocked him when he played Tesman in an Almeida revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in 2005. I wasn’t alone in spotting him. Harold Pinter, while greatly admiring Cumberbatch’s performance, told his wife, Antonia Fraser, that the actor would never make it to the top with a name like that. As Antonia says: “Whatever Harold’s great qualities, the gift of prophecy wasn’t one of them.”
I may add that, and I take some pride in this, Benedict Cumberbatch was my idea, you know, long before we had a show. And one day I was visiting Steven Spielberg’s set, one of the locations for War Horse, and there was Benedict, whom I’d never met. And obviously he was in uniform as he was playing an officer. And it was absolutely horrible because as far as I was concerned I was meeting Christopher Tietjens. But of course, he didn’t know anything about it. Then a year later he was doing it. So in a way, I feel we were blessed.
I remember another nice comment by Burke but if you googled both of them the results are a lot of posh vs working class actors! They are friends, press! His (not actually posh) mother and Burke are friends! They don’t hate each other!
There is also another by Angela Lansbury saying the UK should be careful because BC was too good and Hollywood will steal him. I couldn’t find it!
I didn’t really know him as a stage actor,” Boyle said. “I knew what a fine screen actor he is. But there’s a physicality involved in the theatre. It’s not just about mannerisms or impersonation, which screen often is: it’s about sustaining a narrative with mind and body. When I saw him for Frankenstein, that was the only thing I wanted to know. Did he have that physical capacity? And of course he does.
“That’s why he’s now what he is: one of the leading actors in the world. He’s gone on to another division, which is movies at the moment. He’ll have a great time. He’s got experience, he’s not a young ingénue being exposed to Hollywood. He’ll make the best of it.”
Going back to his first meeting with Cumberbatch, Boyle said: “We met and I asked him to do a few things and he was extraordinary in the room. He’s as fit as a boxer, which you have to be for the stage. You have to have an internal fitness that allows you to carry the story so it never sags. He had this combination of the cerebral and the physical which you can see when you look back at his screen work – in Hawking, it’s there. Frankenstein was a great one for using it.”
So did Boyle sense at the time that he was working with someone who was on a rapid ascent to the top? The Slumdog Millionaire director recalled that he did feel that way, and that Cumberbatch took the dual role in his stride: “Any part when you’re exposed on the stage is a challenge, you put yourself on the line,” Boyle remarked, “but doing that twice and seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes is a credit to his confidence levels. He was able to take it on. It’s the world that has to catch up: [actors like Cumberbatch] are on a trajectory, which is natural, and we haven’t laced our way into it yet but we’re about to. I think the film world will see that now. That’s the final part of his audience in a way.”
Finally, in comments that will have Sherlock fans rushing to re-watch their series two DVDs, Boyle said Cumberbatch had taken a little of Frankenstein’s monster back into Sherlock: “In the latest series of Sherlock, there were a couple of things he put in that were direct mimics of Frankenstein’s creature. Those of us who shared it all, we spotted them – the audience wouldn’t, and so they wouldn’t be put off by it. When actors are on a roll it’s a continuum. They channel everything incoming that’s useful. Everything feeds into everything else.”