You may not know much about Alan Turing, but that’s about to change, if the cast of “The Imitation Game” has any say in the matter.
The stars of The Weinstein Company’s WWII drama were out in full force on Monday night, walking the red carpet at a special Los Angeles screening hosted by Chanel. The fashion house also hosted a lavish afterparty at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont; a candlelit, rose-strewn affair with charcuterie and oysters on tap.
“Alan’s got a lot to teach us, and a lot we need to celebrate and remember,” said Benedict Cumberbatch of his character — the genius mathematician credited with cracking the so-called “unbreakable” codes of Germany’s World War II Enigma machine. “It’s criminal how comparatively unknown he is compared to his achievements, and what he suffered in his 41 years on this planet.” Cumberbatch had to leave the event after the red carpet to fly back to England for his role as Richard III in “The Hollow Crown,” but made sure to speak to every member of the press assembled before departing.
Though the film was originally set up at Warner Bros. with Leonardo DiCaprio in talks for the role of Turing, Cumberbatch told Variety that “The Imitation Game” was the first project he’d ever tracked through the development process, waiting for an opportunity to get involved. “I just — like anyone who read the script — saw the merit [in the story]: A really beautiful, uncompromising, funny, savagely honest introduction to this character, and the combined, parallel story of breaking a code while breaking down who this man is. Just when you think you’ve got a hold of what the film is, that it’s some kind of crescendoing spy thriller, it takes you in a completely different direction, and, without giving anything away, becomes a very different film by the end. I loved that about it. And what an extraordinary, unique and challenging character to play — I’m kind of drawn to those. If there’s anything this film achieves artistically on its merits, I’m just thrilled that I helped celebrate him and his importance.”
For screenwriter Graham Moore, Turing’s story was intensely personal, while still dealing with universally relatable themes like isolation and repression. “I’ve known about him and his tremendous legacy since I was a teenager, and I hope that audiences get to know about him too,” he admitted. “I went to space camp; I was a computer nerd, and among computer nerds the world over, Alan Turing’s legend looms quite large. I’d dreamed of one day getting to tell his story on screen in this way.”
Moore had previously written a bestselling novel called “The Sherlockian,” based on a fictionalized mystery surrounding Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, which makes the casting of “Sherlock’s” Cumberbatch seem all the more fortuitous. “As a writer you can’t imagine you’ll get as lucky as to write for an actor like Benedict Cumberbatch,” Moore said. “Benedict possesses an incredible advantage as an actor because he doesn’t have to pretend to be an extremely smart person, he actually is an extremely smart person. And when you see on screen his mind constantly whirring and spinning behind his eyes, that’s because Benedict’s actual mind is whirring, constantly spinning, coming up with a million ideas a second, because he’s so smart. It’s a tremendous thing to watch.”
But Moore’s luck didn’t end there — his very involvement in the film came about in undeniably serendipitous fashion: “Every year, I would go to my agents and say, ‘hey, I really want to write about a gay, English mathematician in the 1940s,’ and they were like, ‘that’s a big Hollywood film!’ No, they didn’t say that at all, they said, ‘Please don’t ever write that; that’s a terrible idea for a movie — no one will ever make that,’ so I kept putting it aside,” he explained wryly.
“Then one night I was at a cocktail party at the home of Nora Grossman, one of our producers, and I said hi to her in the kitchen, I barely knew her, and I was like, ‘what’s up?’ and she said, ‘oh, I’m trying to be a producer. I’ve never done anything before, but I’m gonna try my hand at it and I just optioned my first book,’ and I said, ‘what’s it about?’ and she said, ‘it’s this mathematician; you’ve never heard of him.’ So she says his name and I instantly launch into this totally insufferable, 15-minute monologue of, ‘oh my god, I’ll do anything to write this movie; I’ll write it on spec; I’ll do it for free, I don’t care, just please let me be involved in this film — I think it’s so important.’ And so after a few weeks of harassment, she let me on to it and we got to make our film. The movie was financed independently. There were just the three producers, me, and the director in every meeting. It was an intimate film and we were an intimate team making it, and I thought that was so important to tell a story this delicate, and to pay tribute to Alan Turing the way he deserved,” Moore said.
Spreading the word about Turing has become something of a mission for those involved in the film, especially Cumberbatch, who noted that audiences seem to be responding to the mathematician’s remarkable tale. “The majority of the reactions that I’ve heard of afterwards, people are going ‘why the hell haven’t I heard of this man? Why didn’t I know this story?’ And I feel the same; he should be in history books as well as on the front covers of science books. He should be on bank notes with Darwin and Newton, he’s up there,” Cumberbatch insisted.
“He’s a war hero, a gay icon, and the founder of the computer age. He really is that important — he invented the idea of the universal machine, which still exists. Computers anywhere in the world, no matter what language you speak, operating the same system, that was his concept. The internet would’ve been a disaster for manufacturing and consumerism and computers if the universal machine wasn’t already in place as something that he’d implemented, because everything would’ve had to change… Now, when you put his name in Google, it links him with me, which I’m very flattered about, but which I had to apologize to his family about at the London premiere — it’s sort of the wonderful irony in a way, that’s the same algorithm that he used to crack the code,” he added.
But Turing didn’t crack the Enigma code alone; though he wasn’t much of a team player, the government assembled a number of code breakers to work the problem alongside him, including Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the only female member of the team.
“What’s interesting about Joan is that her story, her real story, follows exactly the same argument as feminism today,” Knightley noted on the red carpet. “What she was up against was a place at the table and equal pay, and it’s amazing how, of course women’s rights have come on a huge way since the 1940s but, the argument at the center of feminism today is still a place at the table and equal pay. So I thought that was very interesting.”
Goode — currently appearing in CBS’ “The Good Wife” — and Leech, who stars on “Downton Abbey,” hope that the film can affect positive social change, given the way Turing was victimized for his genius and his sexuality.
“A tagline of the film is that it can take someone different to achieve the kind of greatness Alan Turing did, and I think it’s too easy these days when someone is different, especially in a school environment, to shun them and make fun of them, and there are repercussions to that,” Goode noted. “Luckily, this man still fought his way through and was able to change the course of the world in many ways.”
Leech agreed, “I hope people recognize… what this man could’ve achieved. Rather than celebrating the fact that he was different, we persecuted him for it, and look what we lost.”
“The Imitation Game” hits theaters on Nov. 28.