Called history’s greatest Sherlock Holmes by Vogue and People Magazine, Benedict Cumberbatch’s work as the master detective has won him Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, winning the Critics Choice Award for Best Actor.
As Sherlock Season Three begins its run on US TV, the eclectic and very busy actor stopped by the TV Critics tour to speak with us about the new season.
There have been other great actors who have played Sherlock Holmes, I’m thinking of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, and they got tired of it and found it overwhelming in time. Do you feel there’s a danger in that for you?
No, I’m a long-distance runner. I’m younger than any of them were. I’m fine with it. I’m going to keep going with it.
Jeremy had his own personal demons to battle with, which became inextricably linked with his characterization, which is sadly one of the reasons it’s so compelling to watch his work at times.
I play enough mad people, as well and some sane people, to vary the palette of what I’m scrabbling around in my head and soul to bring to the floor as a storyteller, so hopefully not.
Do you ever find yourself Sherlocking people or places that you’re at?
I do every now and again. On the first series, when I was going to and from London on the train, I got very interested by smudges on people’s lapels and indents where rings should be and scuff marks and bits of mud on shoes.
I knew f-ck all about what it meant, but I thought, ‘Well, there’s a clue.’
You and Martin have a great chemistry – was that there from the beginning?
When Martin walked into the room (for the audition), I raised my game. He was quite simply throwing out the most interesting challenges and the most interesting questions to answer.
And he was the most fun to be around, not just because of his work but because of who he is.
Is Sherlock a character that’s hard to shake off at the end of the day?
When I’m doing it, yeah. It gets under your skin. It’s difficult not to take the work home a little bit.
One of the important things to do to stay sane in this job is to work out a way of shedding what you’ve done and then get back to who you are again and start listening and participating and seeing the world as yourself. So yeah, I hope to God I get rid of him.
Your parents appear as Sherlock’s parent in the show. How did that come about?
My parents had a gleam in their eyes around 1976. I think that’s how it came about! (he laughs)
They’re trained actors with a C.V. and were available. It was wonderful. It was the first day on set, they were really nervous but, at a certain point, tried to manage their nerves as well as mine.
It’s going to be something that hopefully I will be showing my grandchildren. It’s a really special thing.
What are your parents names?
Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham. Those are their stage names, they are both obviously Cumberbatches. Why we have different names is another conversation, but there you go.
I’ve been coming to the TCAs for 15 years, and I can’t remember fans camping outside the hotel with signs for an actor. What do you feel about the fans of this show?
Guilt, first of all, because I was late and I had to run past them saying, ‘I’m on a tight schedule. I’ve got to come back and see you later.’ They have to wait another three-odd hours.
I think a lot of it comes with who he is. He’s a very iconic figure. It’s extraordinary and a little bit unnerving. I do feel that has to be acknowledged, and I know that feeds the thing itself.
As much as I’m capable of I’ve got to acknowledge with gratitude that they are so supportive, loyal and, by large, intelligent. And some are normal and committed to something that I really love doing and a character that I like playing. It means a hell of a lot to me.
When I first came over here there was a BAFTA Tea Party, I bumped into Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston (stars of Breaking Bad). I’m not even a girl, but I completely had a meltdown. Love them. And so I get it, I understand it.
Footnote: About three hours later Benedict did go out and meet the fans. He was gracious and took his time signing autographs and taking photos with them.
Benedict was asked how he felt about sharing the role of Sherlock with Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Downey Jr. Play the audio here to listen to his reply.
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