by Greg Eno
First, if Benedict Cumberbatch existed in a different era, we wouldn’t know him as Benedict Cumberbatch.
He’d be Peter Lawford, or Gary Cooper, or Cary Grant.
Any Hollywood producer or press agent worth his salt would never let Cumberbatch, yet another British invader who is captivating female Americans, keep his given name. At the very least, the movie folks would have Cumberbatch use his two middle names—-Timothy Carlton—-as they Frankensteined another star.
Timothy Carlton—-now THAT’S a movie star’s name, right?
But this is a different time. Actors don’t use stage names so much anymore. Even if you’re Benedict Cumberbatch, which actually sounds like a villain from a Dickens Christmas novel.
No matter what you call him—-and his overwhelmingly female fans (notably my wife and daughter) have a boatload of cutesy nicknames for him—-Cumberbatch will likely be known as something else before long: one of the world’s greatest actors.
I’ve given Johnny Depp that honor, and I am sticking to that. But Cumberbatch, currently wowing moviegoers in Star Trek: Into Darkness, will at the very least be known as one of the 21st century’s greatest movie villains, should he pursue those roles.
This isn’t to say that Cumberbatch only plays bad, good. His turn as BBC’s Sherlock is proof of that.
Cumberbatch is 36 (he turns 37 in July). There’s no telling where he can go from here.
He has the good looks, number one—-albeit decidedly British in nature, with the high cheekbones and the tall, gangly flair. He’s got the thinness of Cary Grant, the hair of a young Michael Caine, the legs of John Cleese and the eyes of, well, he may be the first one to have eyes like that.
Cumberbatch’s eyes are almost another actor within the actor. I’m male and even I acknowledge that one can get lost in Benedict’s eyes like a waywardchild in a forest. The eyes can be cold and calculating. They can be introspective and even vulnerable. What they always are, are engaging.
Cumberbatch, in Star Trek, plays John Harrison, an apparent rogue Starfleet agent who has some sort of vendetta against his former employers. It’s a vendetta he displays with lots and lots of weaponry and ruthlessness.
Harrison is a driven, focused, determined man. Cumberbatch delivers Harrison’s lines with an ample serving of impending doom. With Harrison, the next atrocity is just around the corner, and you’re powerless to stop it.
By the way, there’s irony in the Harrison character, as it pertains to Cumberbatch, because there’s a funny name thing going on with Harrison in Star Trek that I won’t spoil.
Cumberbatch steals the show in Star Trek, and that’s starting to become commonplace for him.
He’d been acting in almost total anonymity in the states until American viewers found him on their BBC America channel of their local cable or satellite provider, playing Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, modern style.
As Holmes, Cumberbatch is quirky, gangly again, incredibly smart and completely unaware of his attractiveness. All he wants to do is solve crimes. To do so, it’s almost as if his Sherlock needs to divorce himself from normal human emotion. But yet it’s there, in subtle scenes—-Sherlock’s human side. It’s just not there all that often. More accurately, it’s only there when Cumberbatch wants it to be there.
That’s part of the greatness of Cumberbatch, the actor. All great actors have it—-the ability to call on different emotions, or emotions, period, in order to make any particular scene believable. In Cumberbatch’s case, it’s also his ability to call on lack of emotion—-that cold, calculated stuff—-to stop the audience in their tracks.
In Star Trek, we see a villain who’d just as soon cut out your heart and eat it than crack even a slight grin. John Harrison isn’t one of those bad guys who giggles and smirks and taunts his prey. He’s not the guy who looks like he belongs in a straitjacket. Rather, Cumberbatch’s Harrison has the concentration and focus of a heart surgeon, only he’s not there to fix your ticker, he’s there to suck it up to your throat.
Cumberbatch has lots of stuff in the works. His Wiki page lists four other projects all due out in 2013. I like that. The only thing better, for a moviegoer, than a good actor is a good actor who works a lot. Again, I point to Sir Michael Caine (whose real name is Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, by the way).
Keep your good eye on Benedict Cumberbatch. Lots of the media in the states like to think of him as “that actor with the funny name” (he gets asked about it ad nauseam). But those who have followed his career—-so far it’s mainly been the ladies—-know that this is the next big star in the making.
Soon the men will realize it, too. And the press will have a lot more to talk about than Cumberbatch’s name.
There’ll be his legacy, for one.