Benedict Cumberbatch is defending “The Power of the Dog” against criticisms made last week by actor Sam Elliott, who called Jane Campion’s Oscar contender a “piece of shit” in part because of its “allusions of homosexuality.” Cumberbatch stars in the film as a closeted gay rancher in 1925 Montana whose repression manifests in toxic ways such as making life hell for his new sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
“I’m trying very hard not to say anything about a very odd reaction that happened the other day on a radio podcast over here. Someone really took offense to — I haven’t heard it so it’s unfair for me to comment in detail on it — to the West being portrayed in this way,” Cumberbatch said during a recent BAFTA Film Sessions interview.
“Beyond that reaction, that sort of denial that anybody could have any other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born, there’s also a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still and toward an acceptance of the other and anything kind of difference,” the actor added. “No more so than in this prism of conformity of what’s expected of a man in the Western archetype mold of masculinity. To deconstruct that through Phil, it’s not a history lesson.”
Elliott criticized “The Power of the Dog” during an interview on Marc Maron’s “WTF” Podcast. The actor seemed bothered by how the film deconstructs classic Western archetypes such as cowboys. Elliott compared Campion’s cowboys to Chippendale dancers who “wear bow ties and not much else.”
“That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie looked like,” Elliott said. “They’re running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions of homosexuality throughout the movie.”
“These people still exist in our world,” Cumberbatch told BAFTA about his “Power of the Dog” character. “Whether it’s on our doorstep or whether it’s down the road or whether it’s someone we meet in a bar or pub or on the sports field, there is aggression and anger and frustration and an inability to control or know who you are in that moment that causes damage to that person and, as we know, damage to those around them…[There is] no harm in looking at a character to get to the root causes of that.”
“This is a very specific case of repression, but also due to an intolerance for that true identity that Phil is that he can’t fully be,” Cumberbatch added. “The more we look under the hood of toxic masculinity and try to discover the root causes of it, the bigger chances we have of dealing with it when it arises with our children.”
“The Power of the Dog” is nominated for 12 Academy Awards, making it the most nominated film of the year. The film will compete in top categories such as best picture and best director. The drama is now streaming on Netflix. Watch Cumberbatch’s full BAFTA Film Sessions interview in the video below.