Benedict Cumberbatch

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Benedict Cumberbatch
12 Years a Slave 38 (9730608647) adjusted.jpg
Cumberbatch at the premiere of 12 Years a Slave at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
Born Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch
(1976-07-19) 19 July 1976 (age 37)
Hammersmith, London, England, UK
  • BA in Drama
  • MA in Classical Acting for the Professional Theatre[1]
Alma mater
Occupation Actor, producer[2]
Years active 2000–present
from the BBC programme Front Row, 23 December 2010[3]

This article is part of a series on
Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (19 July 1976) is an English film, television, theatre and voice actor.

Cumberbatch's first West End theatre performance was for Sir Richard Eyre's revival of Hedda Gabler as George Tesman in 2005. Since then, he has appeared in the Royal National Theatre productions After the Dance (2010) and Danny Boyle's Frankenstein (2011). His first starring role on television was as the title character in Hawking in 2004. He has portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the television series Sherlock since 2010 and has led the ensemble cast of Sir Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Parade's End in 2012. His first major film role was William Pitt the Younger in Amazing Grace in 2006. He has also appeared in the films Atonement (2007), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), and Steven Spielberg's War Horse (2011). Since 2012, he has portrayed the characters of Smaug and the Necromancer through voice and motion capture in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. In 2013, he starred in films Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave, The Fifth Estate, and August: Osage County.[4]

He has received two Olivier Award nominations winning one for Best Actor, four BAFTA nominations, two Emmy Award nominations, two SAG Award nominations and a Golden Globe nomination, among several others. In November 2013, he was honoured by BAFTA Los Angeles[5] with a Britannia Award for "British Artist of the Year" for his "masterful performances in television, film and theatre."[6] In March 2014, Cumberbatch was included in The Sunday Times "100 Makers of the 21st Century" list citing him as the "next Sir Laurence Olivier."[7][8][9]

Early life

Cumberbatch was born on 19 July 1976 at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in Hammersmith, London, to actors Timothy Carlton (real name Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch) and Wanda Ventham.[10][11] He grew up in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. His great-grandfather, Henry Arnold Cumberbatch CMG, was the consul general of Queen Victoria in Turkey. His grandfather, Henry Carlton Cumberbatch, was a decorated submarine officer of both World Wars and a prominent figure of London high society.[12]

Cumberbatch started attending boarding schools when he was eight.[13] He was educated at Brambletye School in West Sussex and was an arts scholar at Harrow School.[14][15][16] He was a member of The Rattigan Society, Harrow's principal club for the dramatic arts which was named after Old Harrovian and playwright Sir Terence Rattigan.[17] He was involved in numerous Shakespearean works in school and made his acting debut as Titania Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream when he was 12.[18] Cumberbatch's drama teacher, Martin Tyrell, called him "the best schoolboy actor" he had ever worked with.[19] He was also part of the rugby team, and painted oil canvasses while at Harrow.[19][20]

After graduating at Harrow, he took a gap year to volunteer as an English teacher at a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India.[21] He then attended the University of Manchester, where he studied drama.[22] After graduating, he continued his training as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.[1]



Since 2001, Cumberbatch has had major roles in a dozen classic plays at the Regent's Park Open Air, Almeida, Royal Court and Royal National Theatres. He was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role for his performance as Tesman in Hedda Gabler, a role he performed at the Almeida Theatre on 16 March 2005, as well as at the Duke of York's Theatre when it transferred to the West End on 19 May 2005. This transfer marked his first West End appearance.[23]

Cumberbatch during rehearsals for Frankenstein, April 2011

In June 2010, he led the revival of Terence Rattigan's After the Dance directed by Thea Sharrock at the Royal National Theatre.[24] He played 1920s aristocrat David Scott-Fowler to commercial and critical success.[25] The play eventually won four Olivier Awards including Best Revival.[26]

Cumberbatch acted in Danny Boyle's The Children's Monologues, a theatrical charity event at London's Old Vic Theatre on 14 November 2010. The show was produced by Dramatic Need.[27]

In February 2011, he began playing, on alternate nights, both Victor Frankenstein and his creature, opposite Jonny Lee Miller, in Danny Boyle's stage production of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at the Royal National Theatre.[28][29] Frankenstein was broadcast to cinemas as a part of National Theatre Live in March 2011.[30] Cumberbatch achieved the "Triple Crown of London Theatre" in 2011 when he was awarded the Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award and Critics' Circle Theatre Award for his performance in Frankenstein.

Cumberbatch was a part of a cast featuring Britain's greatest actors that performed in 50 Years on Stage, the Royal National Theatre's landmark event for its 50th anniversary on 2 November 2013. He played Rosencrantz in a selected scene from Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead which was first performed at the National Theatre in 1967.[31][32] The show was directed by Sir Nicholas Hytner and was broadcast on BBC Two and in cinemas worldwide as a part of National Theatre Live.

He is set to return to theatre to play Shakespeare's Hamlet at London's Barbican Theatre. The production will be directed by Lyndsey Turner and will be produced by Sonia Friedman. It will start its 12-week run in August 2015.[33][34]


Cumberbatch's television roles include two separate guest roles in Heartbeat (2000, 2004), Freddy in Tipping the Velvet (2002), Edward Hand in Cambridge Spies (2003) and Rory in the ITV comedy drama series Fortysomething (2003). He was also featured in Spooks and Silent Witness. In 2004, he starred as Stephen Hawking in Hawking. He was nominated for the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor and won the Golden Nymph for Television Films – Best Performance by an Actor. He later provided Hawking's voice in the first episode of the television series Curiosity. He appeared in the BBC miniseries Dunkirk as Lieutenant Jimmy Langley.

Cumberbatch filming Sherlock in Chinatown, London, March 2010

In 2005, Cumberbatch starred as the protagonist Edmund Talbot in the miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, based on William Golding's trilogy; during filming he experienced a terrifying carjacking in South Africa, managing to escape.[35] He made brief appearances in the comedy sketch show Broken News in 2005. He next starred alongside Tom Hardy in the television adaptation of Stuart: A Life Backwards, which aired on the BBC in September 2007.

In 2008, he starred in the BBC miniseries drama The Last Enemy, for which he was nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Film. In 2009, Cumberbatch starred in Marple: Murder Is Easy as Luke Fitzwilliam. He played Bernard in the TV adaptation of Small Island; the performance earned him a nomination for BAFTA Television Award for Best Supporting Actor.[36]

He starred in Michael Dobbs' play, The Turning Point,[37] which aired as one of a series of TV plays broadcast live on Sky Arts. The two-hander depicted a little-known October 1938 meeting between Soviet spy Guy Burgess, then a young man working for the BBC, and Winston Churchill. Cumberbatch portrayed Burgess; Churchill was played by Matthew Marsh, who had played a supporting role in Hawking.[38] He narrated the 6-part series South Pacific (US title: Wild Pacific), which aired May to June 2009 on BBC 2.

In 2010, Cumberbatch portrayed Vincent van Gogh in Van Gogh: Painted with Words. The Telegraph called his performance "[a] treat ... vividly bringing Van Gogh to impassioned, blue-eyed life."[39] In the same year, Cumberbatch began playing Sherlock Holmes in the first series of the joint BBC/PBS television series Sherlock, to critical acclaim.[40][41][42] A second three-part series began on New Years Day 2012 in the United Kingdom[43] and was broadcast on PBS in the United States in May 2012.[44] A third series was broadcast in the United Kingdom in January 2014. He was nominated for a BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe for Best Actor in Miniseries or TV Movie for the part.

In 2012, he led the BBC and HBO co-produced miniseries Parade's End with Rebecca Hall. It is an adaptation of the tetralogy of novels of the same name by Ford Madox Ford. Its five episodes are directed by Susanna White and are adapted by Tom Stoppard.[45][46] His performance earned him his second Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor in Miniseries or TV Movie. In February 2014, he appeared with Sesame Street characters Murray and Count von Count for PBS.[47]


In 2006, Cumberbatch played William Pitt the Younger in Amazing Grace. The role garnered Cumberbatch a nomination for the London Film Critics Circle British Breakthrough Acting Award. Cumberbatch subsequently appeared in supporting roles in Atonement (2007) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). In 2009, he appeared in the Darwin biographical film Creation as Darwin's friend Joseph Hooker. In 2010, he appeared in The Whistleblower. He played Peter Guillam, George Smiley's right-hand man, in the 2011 adaptation of the John le Carré novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film was directed by Tomas Alfredson and starred Gary Oldman and Colin Firth.[48] Cumberbatch played Major Jamie Stewart in Steven Spielberg's War Horse in 2011.

Cumberbatch at the Los Angeles premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, December 2013.

In 2012, he provided the voice and motion-capture for both Smaug the Dragon and the Necromancer in An Unexpected Journey, the first installment of The Hobbit film series based on the 1937 novel by J. R. R. Tolkien.[49] In December 2013, he reprised his role as Smaug and The Necromancer for The Desolation of Smaug and will again for the final film of the series in There and Back Again in 2014.[50] For the motion-capture aspect of the films, he had to use a suit and facial markers to obtain the dragon's expressions and movements. Cumberbatch told Total Film "You just have to lose your shit on a carpeted floor, in a place that looks a little bit like a mundane government building. It was just me as well, with four static cameras and all the sensors."[50]

In 2013, Cumberbatch also appeared in J. J. Abrams's sequel Star Trek Into Darkness as Khan, the antagonist of the film.[51][52]

Three of the four films he starred in during the second half of 2013 premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival: The Fifth Estate, where he played WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 12 Years a Slave, where he played William Prince Ford, a slave owner, and August: Osage County, playing Charles Aiken. For the film, he recorded a song titled "Can't Keep it Inside" for the official soundtrack.[53]

In January 2014, Gary Oldman confirmed that Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes and Amanda Seyfried are on board to star in his next directorial project, Flying Horse, about the life of English photographer Eadweard Muybridge.[54][55][56] Cumberbatch has also signed up for a voice role in DreamWorks Animation's feature film Penguins of Madagascar, which is set for release in March 2015.[57] He will be seen in the upcoming historical drama film The Imitation Game as British cryptographer Alan Turing, set for release on 2014.[58]

In September 2013, he replaced Brad Pitt as the lead in Paramount Pictures and Plan B Entertainment's adaptation of the best-selling book The Lost City of Z about the South American explorer Percy Fawcett. The film will be directed by James Gray and is set to shoot in the summer of 2014.[58][59][60] He signed up for new thriller Blood Mountain, directed by Sergei Bodrov. Principal photography is set to begin in April 2014 in Morocco.[61][62]


Cumberbatch has repeatedly expressed his affection for radio and has done numerous productions for the BBC.[63] Among his best-known radio work is the adaptation of John Mortimer's novel Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders in 2009. Cumberbatch played Young Rumpole, and went on to play the part in six more adaptations of Mortimer's work. Since 2008, he plays Captain Martin Crieff in the BBC's Cabin Pressure. He then went on to play Angel Islington in the 2013 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. In the same year, he led the BBC Radio 3 adaptation of Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen wherein he played theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg.[64]


Cumberbatch has narrated numerous documentaries for both the National Geographic and Discovery Channel. He has also read for several audiobooks, including Casanova, The Tempest, The Making of Music, Death in a White Tie, Artists in Crime, and Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories. He does the voice overs of several commercials, major names like Jaguar, Sony, Pimms, and Google+ doing the Seven Ages of Man monologue. For the 2012 London Olympics, he starred in a short film on the history of London for the BBC coverage to kick off the opening ceremony.[65] He made appearances for two Cheltenham Festivals, in July 2012 for Music wherein he read WWI poetry and prose accompanied by piano pieces[66] and in October 2012 for Literature wherein he discussed Sherlock and Parade's End at The Centaur.[67] In 2012, the actor lent his voice to a four-part, spoken-word track titled "Flat of Angles" for Late Night Tales based on a story written by author and poet Simon Cleary.[68]

In 2013, he narrated the documentary film Jerusalem about the ancient city of the same name. It was distributed by National Geographic Cinema Ventures in IMAX 3D theatres worldwide.[69][70]

Production company

Cumberbatch, with Adam Ackland, writer-director Patrick Monroe, action coordinator Ben Dillon, and production manager Adam Selves, launched a production company, SunnyMarch Ltd. in late 2013. Their first project under the company's banner was the £87,000 crowd-funded short film Little Favour starring Cumberbatch and written and directed by Monroe. The 30-minute action-thriller short film became internationally available on iTunes on 5 November 2013.[2][71]

In the media

Cumberbatch at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, in September 2011

Cumberbatch did not achieve international recognition until the first season of Sherlock in 2010.[72][73][74] He has since been called "The Thinking Woman's Crumpet" and has been a mainstay in numerous "Sexiest Man Alive" lists including that of Empire and People magazine.[75][76][77][78] He has also been repeatedly described by the UK press as a "National Treasure."[79][80]

Tatler listed Cumberbatch in the "Most Eligible Bachelors in the United Kingdom" in 2012.[81] In the same year, he described a cyberstalking incident where he discovered that someone had been live-tweeting his movements in his London home.[82] Coming to terms with it, he said, it is "an ongoing process. To think that somebody knew everything I'd done in a day and told the rest of the world in real time!"[83]

In 2013, he ranked fifth place in the "Most Fascinating People in Britain" list of Tatler, ranking higher than the Duchess of Cambridge and just below Queen Elizabeth II.[84] Entertainment Weekly identified Cumberbatch as one of the "50 Coolest and Most Creative Entertainers" in Hollywood.[85] He has also appeared on the covers of GQ, Time and The Hollywood Reporter's "New A-list" issue.[86][87]

In 2014, Cumberbatch was included in The Sunday Times "100 Makers of the 21st Century" list citing him as the "next Sir Laurence Olivier."[7][8][9] In addition, GQ identified him as one of the "100 Most Connected Men" in the UK.[88]

Personal life

In 1999, Cumberbatch began dating actress Olivia Poulet, whom he met at university. They amicably broke up after 12 years together.[89] After Poulet, he dated London-based artist Anna James in 2011 but the couple separated a year later.[90][91]

While in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, in 2005, Cumberbatch and two friends were abducted overnight and held at gunpoint by a group of locals. In the end, their abductors drove them into unsettled country and set them free without explanation. Cumberbatch said of the incident: "It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own. It's made me want to live a life less ordinary."[92][93]

Cumberbatch subscribes to Buddhist philosophy and has expressed affinity to meditation and mindfulness.[94][95][96][97]

Charity and social action

Cumberbatch is an ambassador of The Prince's Trust, a charity that aims to help disadvantaged young people of the UK.[98] He is also a patron of Odd Arts, a foundation which aims to use a variety of arts disciplines to change the lives of vulnerable people, including performing arts, visual arts, music, dance and mixed mediums.[99] Since portraying Stephen Hawking in 2004, he has been an active supporter and patron of Motor Neurone Disease Association.[100][101][102] He has also donated his own drawings and sketches for charities and fundraisers.[103][104] Cumberbatch, together with Prince Philip, presented 85 young individuals with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award at St. James Palace in March 19, 2014.[105] "Our ambition is to extend this opportunity to hundreds of thousands across the UK", Cumberbatch said on behalf of the youth awards programme.[106][107]

In 2003, he joined the Stop the War Coalition protest in London against the Iraq War.[108] He addressed activists in a 2010 protest sponsored by the Trade Union Congress in Westminster on the suggested risks to the arts due to spending cuts expected in the Spending Review.[109][110] In 2013, he protested against what he perceived were civil liberties violations by the UK Government.[111][112]

Cumberbatch is a straight ally and in July 2013 officiated the same-sex marriage of his friends.[113][114][115] For International Women's Day 2014, he is a signatory of Amnesty International's letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron campaigning for women's rights in Afghanistan. In 2014, Cumberbatch publicly backed "Hacked Off" and its campaign towards UK press self-regulation by "safeguarding the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable."[116][117][118]


Awards and nominations


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External links