He can handle the trappings of fame, but why Benedict Cumberbatch asks does everyone need to know what’s to come? Here he talks about new film Black Mass and loving Hampstead Heath – but don’t expect him to give away too much
Benedict Cumberbatch sits upright in his chair and offers a playful glower. ‘You know, you guys are like kids who want to eat an entire box of chocolates,’ he chuckles exhaustively, ‘and then feel sick afterwards. There’s no magic or enigma, the way you come after it. If you didn’t ask so many questions, you’d have more to look forward to.’ The barrel-toned actor shifts uncomfortably and scratches behind his ear. ‘Although you wouldn’t be doing your job then.’
Make no mistake, Benedict Cumberbatch is weary of the questions. Mostly the spoiler types; what can we expect in the Sherlock Christmas special? Does he consider himself an Avenger after signing on for Marvel’s Dr Strange? When we last met in a dated suite in Claridges for the War Horse junket, attention was on his rumbled appearance in Star Trek 2. Three years ago and he was equally hostile to the queries.
‘I don’t understand why the shroud, the veil has to be lifted. This need to spoil everything for everyone.’ He pauses and grins, crinkling the soft lines round those sloping, staring pale eyes. ‘I’m coming across a right grump, aren’t I?’ It’s clear it is a whole new world now.
Three years since that last meeting and he’s transformed from a national treasure to a Hollywood megastar. An Oscar nom for Best Actor will do that to a guy, not to mention starring roles in blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave and The Hobbit.
And the London-born player is still as affable, courteous and genial as before. Though fame still sits uncomfortably. Less so now he’s a family man after marrying theatre director Sophie Hunter on the Isle of White this past Valentine’s Day and welcoming their son, Christopher, some four months later.
‘It’s such an odd thing to describe, it’s weird. Indescribable perhaps,’ he considers. ‘I don’t welcome it, but I don’t absolutely loathe it. It depends on the day. There are moments when you’re not having a good day and someone recognising you is the last thing you want. And then on other days, it doesn’t bother you. It’s a difficult sensation to describe, but ultimately I’m quite a private person.’
It’s a busy time for Benedict. He’s currently at the Barbican with Lyndsey Turner’s Hamlet earning reviews that squeal ‘sublime’ and ‘supreme’. Loyal ‘Cumberbitches’ (a term he’s none too fond of, incidentally) are flying from all over the world to witness his interpretation of the Great Dane.
There are six big screen releases to come including Gulf War drama, The Yellow Birds, motion capture adventure, Jungle Book: Origins, and Marvel blockbuster, Dr Strange. Fans are probably the giddiest for his return as Sherlock in a forthcoming Christmas special which sees Conan Doyle’s sleuth in Victorian London. The details stay firmly close to his chest.
The Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss creation was his breakthrough, anointed the star with hallowed ‘sex symbol’ status. He finds it all so baffling. ‘It’s a bit of fun, isn’t it,’ he says modestly, scrunching his nose, shifting the dimensions of his elongated features. ‘It’s a reflection of the work more than anything. It really is. No-one looked twice at me for how many years when I first started out in my career, so it clearly isn’t just about this,’ he points at his face.
Regally handsome in a navy blazer and faded blue shirt, casually undone at the collar, his next release, Black Mass, is a departure for the actor, who previously stunned as crucified codebreaker, Alan Turing in lauded The Imitation Game. A gritty neon saga, it centres on the criminal career of Irish mob boss, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his ‘unholy’ alliance with the FBI.
Benedict is Billy Bulger, Massachusetts state senator whose political career is aided and ultimately hindered by his brother (an effervescent, and unrecognisable, Johnny Depp) and his gangster handlings. As Benedict explains, it’s not so much a Goodfellas identikit as a tale of loyalty and family.
‘It’s this very personal story about Boston and these two brothers, so devoted to each other but heading in two very different directions,’ he explains. ‘A very powerful story that’s really stranger than fiction, it was a wonderful experience on so many levels; working with Scott [Cooper, director], working with Johnny, who’s simply astonishing to observe; working in Boston where we were so welcomed by the communities…’
Navigating the means streets of South Boston are a world from his home turf. He recently moved into a reported £2.7million four storey townhouse in North London.
Happily, it’s only a hop skip from his old stomping ground of Hampstead, where he previously owned two storeys of a Victorian property minutes from the high street, and his beloved Heath. ‘There’s something enchanting about those acres and acres,’ he wistfully explains. ‘Where a long walk or a swim in the ponds will somehow magic away any stresses or worries. There, gone like that. It’s a wonderful lung. Somewhere I hope to spend many years.’
Previously, Benedict could be spotted nursing the pungent shelves of Giacobazzi’s on Fleet Road or the farmer’s market at the bottom of Parliament Hill – and there are no plans to change his habits. ‘I love the discovery of Hampstead, the secluded laneways and bright doorways and shopfronts on way up Rosslyn Hill,’ he says, pausing and then adding: ‘Ultimately, I’d like to remain in the area, it suits me.’
Words: Stephen Milton
Black Mass is in cinemas on 27 November