Benedict Cumberbatch is ready for his closeup – as a producer as well as actor. His production company, SunnyMarch, is gearing up for the debut of its first drama, “The Child in Time,” which airs on the BBC this coming Sunday. Cumberbatch has the central part in, and produces, the TV movie, an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan about the disappearance of a 5-year-old girl and the impact it has on her parents.
Playing Stephen, a successful children’s author and the missing girl’s father, was a deliberate shift away from the title role in “Sherlock” that made him a global celebrity. “It’s a part that’s a million miles away from a lot of stuff I’ve done, especially the more famous one of telly,” Cumberbatch said. “That’s an appeal for me, to always be shaking things up a bit as far as expectations are concerned.”
Cumberbatch said producing added to the challenge of the project, which bows on flagship channel BBC One and will be shown later on PBS’ “Masterpiece” in the U.S. “It’s different when you’ve got a producer’s hat on because you’re there at the inception of the idea – in this case when an already finished script was delivered and talked about and worked on – and also thinking who would be right to direct it [Julian Farino]. I’ve never been at that stage before, so it’s intriguing.”
The actor said seeing his own performance in its early form was not part of the process he enjoyed. “It’s horrible, and if you’re front and center it’s really hard. I’m excited about the moment where I’m not in something – I can look at that with much more distance,” Cumberbatch said, adding that he is a harsh critic of his own work. “Trust me, the Internet is full of hate, but there’s nothing compared to the self-critic in your head for brutality. I’ve said it all before they have.”
The harrowing nature of the source material in “The Child in Time” presented another challenge for Cumberbatch, himself a father of two. “You have to take care of yourself in a way. It’s a very dark place to go to. When you’re literally breaking down for a whole day, it’s a very strange space to occupy, but that’s what the drama demands, and it’s a very human experience he goes through.”
Studiocanal bought into SunnyMarch last year and is distributing “The Child in Time,” a 90-minute program. Cumberbatch said he wants his production company to work across TV, cinema, and live events, and to promote diversity. “There’s a lot of other things we want to include at SunnyMarch, which we have got on our slate and fulfill the promise of diversity and giving a bolder place for women both behind and in front of the camera,” he said. “What I’m doing in the immediate future doesn’t reflect that because we’re trying to get it off the ground and do things that are a little more expected in their timber, and with me involved.”
Cumberbatch also leaped to the defense of Jodie Whittaker, who has been cast as the first female Doctor in BBC sci-fi series “Doctor Who.” “It’s an alien. Why can’t it be a woman, why can’t it be any gender? It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I don’t speak as someone who has the right as a fan to have an incredibly strong opinion. I just speak as someone who wants to see Jodie Whittaker’s performance as the doctor. I think she’s an extraordinary actress and wer’e lucky, culturally, to have got her to agree to do it, let alone any debate ensuing about whether it’s right or wrong.”
Asked whether there could be a female Sherlock, he added: “Why not? I don’t care. ‘Sherlockina’ is coming to you soon!”