“It gives you so much confidence because whatever you find in that work it comes through you and it just feels grounded in something very real inside yourself,” Campion told me Thursday at the AFI Fest screening of her new Netflix film, “The Power of the Dog,” at TCL Chinese Theatre.
In “The Power of the Dog,” based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, a wealthy rancher in 1925 Montana who grieves for Bronco Henry, his late mentor, best friend and probably lover. As Phil represses his feelings and queer identity, he lashes out at his brother (Jesse Plemons) and his new wife Rose, a widow played by Kirsten Dunst. He cruelly bullies Rose’s effeminate and quirky son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) before the two form an unlikely friendship.
“I think it’s a very deep project,” Campion said. “Phil’s character is so complex that I don’t think we would have done justice to it without that [dream] work… I don’t think I’ve ever been helped so much in my job than by the work I had done in this process… It’s very special.”
Cumberbatch said, “It’s something a lot of actors in this town use… It’s a tool. It’s not one I ever used before and Jane said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m game for a new experience, anything to sort of excavate this complex psyche. It was remarkable.”
What did Cumberbatch learn about himself in the process? “I learned about the kind of anxieties that you can have if you’re unwilling to share your vulnerabilities and what the behavioral patterns are as a result of letting fear be your motivation.”
Cumberbatch went full method during filming, never breaking from his character or Phil’s American accent. He also learned how to play the banjo and castrate bulls. “Everything you see in the film, I learned,” he said. “‘Learned’ is a big word. I did it and I experienced it. I did everything you see in the film.”