Benedict Cumberbatch and Edward Norton on Dealing With the ‘Insanity’ of Fame

Benedict Cumberbatch has long had a passionate social-media following, but it was BBC’s “Sherlock” that made him a star. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a great actor, now starring as Alan Turing in Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game.” Edward Norton is among the few thesps to have scored an Oscar nom for his screen debut, 1996’s ­“Primal Fear.” He has emerged as one of the top actors of his generation, and pokes fun at that reputation in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s­ “Birdman.” The two talked about how they deal with the onslaught of attention that comes with stardom.

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Cumberbatch: I’m thrilled that what I’ve done is successful, and that it’s going well and people love it, but at the same time, the last thing I want to do is to sort of suffocate the space I had before to be able to do that. The perverse thing is that fame kind of drowns the air you need to create the thing that made you famous in the first place. You need your space; you need to be able to work at a ­certain pace — or just be an artist, really — rather than being famous. I’m still adjusting to finding my way around that.

Norton: Tennessee Williams wrote this essay called “The Catastrophe of Success.” And it’s sort of about, after “Glass Menagerie” or “Streetcar,” he had gone crazy. He found himself completely unable to write because of the amount of distraction. It’s actually a really beautiful essay about trying to recover your solitude. But it’s just such a different era now — the currency and the collateral and the mechanisms through which people talk about the work they do are so aggressive and fast-moving that they’ve almost changed the playbook.

Have you ever seen the Maysles Brothers’ documentary called “Meet Marlon Brando”? They followed Brando on a junket for a movie that he didn’t really like. And it’s this incredible portrait of a guy really, really trying to maintain a grounded authenticity through this completely insane process. You can learn a lot seeing what other people have gone through in a way.

Cumberbatch: Absolutely you can. I started to look to that a little bit. It’s really helpful to see how past masters have done it. Just understand that you can remain sane in the insanity of it all.

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