Most of Benedict Cumberbatch’s adoring fans first learned of the hawkishly handsome Brit through his radical, brilliant reinterpretation of detective Sherlock Holmes on the BBC’s “Sherlock.” However, Cumberbatch’s pre-“Sherlock” career saw him embodying a number of famous literary characters, including a creepy pedophile in “Atonement” and a priggish debate team captain in “Starter for 10.”Not to mention the time he played both Victor Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster! With Cumberbatch returning to the big screen this winter as the dragon Smaug in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” let’s revisit his best book character roles.
Paul Marshall, “Atonement”
Cumberbatch’s roles have run the gamut from silly to serious–and he’s never shied away from the creepy. Everyone who saw “Atonement” can’t forget his role as predatory chocolate magnate Marshall, especially for the scene in which he lewdly instructs Briony’s ( Saoirse Ronan) underage cousin that, when it comes to chocolate, “You must bite it!”
William Carey, “The Other Boleyn Girl”
Continuing his skeevy roles, Cumberbatch played Mary Boleyn’s ( Scarlett Johansson) simpleton husband. When Henry VIII ( Eric Bana) invites Mary to court to be his mistress, William is all too happy to be cuckolded–because at least he gets to live in a castle!
Sherlock Holmes, “Sherlock”
Speaking of detectives…! It is impossible to now envision Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic sleuth without seeing Cumberbatch’s fast-talking, abrasive, oh-so-superior skills of deduction. Yet, it’s in turning Holmes into such an arrogant, detached figure that Cumberbatch also wins us over with his rare moments of warmth toward John Watson ( Martin Freeman).
There are so many GIFs I could put here, so instead I’m going to include the newest series 3 trailer (beware of spoilers).
Victor Frankenstein/Creature, “Frankenstein”
It’s not enough that Danny Boyle’s ambitious National Theatre production was broadcast to international movie audiences. Even more radical was the choice to have Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller–who, in another related twist, plays the American Sherlock Holmes on “Elementary”–take turns portraying both Frankenstein and his Creature. Several reviewerscited Cumberbatch’s Creature as the performance to watch, though The New York Times also praised his take on the less-sympathetic character of Victor.
Peter Guillam, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
In a spy thriller, you have to appreciate the actors who have the tricky job of playing the most layered characters. As Smiley’s right-hand man, Cumberbatch shifts between blind devotion and mounting paranoia over whether or not he can trust his boss.
While much attention has been given to Cumberbatch’s looks, it’s fun to sit back and enjoy just one aspect of his being–here, the silky, menacing voice of the dragon Smaug. (Though, it should be pointed out, Cumberbatch did do motion capture for the part, which comes through in Smaug’s toothy grin.) In the absence of Andy Serkis’ Gollum, he delightfully steps into the “ominous CGI creature” breach.
10. 12 Years a Slave
William Ford, “12 Years a Slave”
In Steve McQueen’s devastating film on slavery, Cumberbatch plays William Ford, the archetypal “slave owner with a heart of gold”: Though he plays into the slavery system, he gives Solomon Northrup ( Chiwetel Ejiofor) the best possible existence he could have before he’s traded off to the sadistic Epps ( Michael Fassbender).
“Little” Charles Aiken, “August: Osage County”
Moviegoers are flocking to Tracy Letts’ dysfunctional family drama primarily for the showdown between matriarch Meryl Streep and daughter Julia Roberts, but at least one review teases some fun for Cumberbatch fans, with “the revelation of an entirely new side of Cumberbatch (he’s about as far from [‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ villain] Khan as it gets here).” A man secretly in love with his cousin? Yep, that’s new, even for Cumberbatch.
Which of Cumberbatch’s literary roles is your favorite?