10 Actors to Watch 2011: Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch has played iconic characters real (Stephen Hawking, Vincent Van Gogh) and fictional (Sherlock Holmes). He portrayed Frankenstein on the stage for Danny Boyle and, earlier this year, an army major for Steven Spielberg in “War Horse.”

The 35-year-old London-born actor hasn’t unpacked his suitcase for about two years, maintaining a schedule that would drive a travel agent to distraction. After playing Holmes in the first season of the BBC’s acclaimed “Sherlock,” Cumberbatch arrived two days late to begin rehearsals for London’s National Theatre’s adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s “After the Dance.” Following the last performance, he arrived on set for “War Horse” on just four hours sleep.

Cumberbatch then went straight into playing a key role in the espionage film “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Then — with no break — back to “Sherlock” for a second season. After the final episode, he immediately segued into the lead role in the five-part HBO/BBC Great War miniseries “Parade’s End.”

“It’s been crazy,” Cumberbatch says by phone from London, though, of course, he’s about to leave for Belgium to film the trench battle scenes for “Parade’s End.” “And it was the same the year before. It’s great, though. No complaints.”

Naturally, Cumberbatch already has his next job lined up. Through motion capture, he’ll be playing the villainous dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.”

“I’ll be donning … well, probably not Andy Serkis’ sweaty wet suit … I’m sure they dry clean it,” Cumberbatch says. “Playing a reptile is something I don’t believe has been done before. I’ve already started working out, crawling around on my belly whenever I can without alarming people too much.”

That kind of challenge, be it on stage or screen, Hollywood or the BBC, makes Cumberbatch passionate about his life’s work.

“It’s been a slow burn for me,” he says. “I’m trying to make a career that will have longevity.”

Lucky break: Playing physicist Stephen Hawking in the 2004 BBC drama “Hawking.” “It’s the only drama that’s been done of his life. If it’d been a film, we might have been having this conversation when I was 25.”
Favorite film: “The other day I happened to catch Terrence Malick’s ‘Badlands’ again. The quality of stillness in the performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the framing of nature and the sudden explosions of violence in the film are poetic and masterful.”
Career I’d like to emulate: “Well, Gary’s done all right, hasn’t he?” Cumberbatch says of his “Tinker Tailor” co-star Gary Oldman.

10 ACTORS TO WATCH 2011:
Benedict Cumberbatch | Jean Dujardin | Luke Evans | Josh Hutcherson | Felicity Jones | Taylor Kitsch | Brit Marling | Elizabeth Olsen | Octavia Spencer | Shailene Woodley

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