I am not surprised that Benedict Cumberbatch made it to the list of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014. For the past year, the Internet has been abuzz over this supremely talented actor–he with the unconventional features and adorable stunts.
The most famous of his antics is photobombing U2 during the Academy Awards, which turned viral. His photobombing pose was subsequently superimposed on other photos, such as Harry Potter stills and even that of Britain’s royal family.
This unabashed comedic turn of Cumberbatch is in stark contrast to his most recent roles as the serious villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness; the serious Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; the serious Julian Assange in Wikileaks; and the serious slave-owner in 12 Years a Slave.
Perhaps this is what caused audiences to sit up and notice. The somber-looking actor is funny! An unbridled kind of funny never before seen on the Oscars red carpet. The next thing you know, he is all over the internet, the small screen, and the big screen.
Anyone who has seen his guest appearances on talk shows promoting his five movies this past year were treated to his truly funny side. Take, for instance, his sexy rendition of R. Kelly’s Genius on Jimmy Kimmel. This deep-voiced British actor languidly reciting saucy hip-hop lyrics sent audiences squealing in delight.
Or, his very appreciative reactions to the otter memes that have been going around the Internet.
And those who have succumbed to his charms would have joined the fan club who call themselves Cumberbitches (a word that has been in the Urban Dictionary since 2011).
But the Cumber man was not comfortable with the name, although it is obvious where it flows from. So, there was also born the Cumberbabes and the Cumberbuddies, which doesn’t really have the same ring to it as the Cumberbitches of Cumberbatch, eh? Thus, there are many who still stick to the original name.
But before all this international attention, there was a cult following for his portrayal of that most famous deductive detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the BBC series Sherlock. This show takes my breath away because the stars aligned to create a most mind-blowing genius of a script for a genius of a cast. Benedict Cumberbatch is totally convincing as a sociopath who merely tolerates mediocrity in others. His poker-faced one-liners are hilarious, and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson staunchly holds his own against this onslaught of tactlessness.
But the first time I ever noticed Ben (oh, yes, he is “Ben” to me now) was way back in 2004, when he played Stephen Hawking in a TV movie entitled, well… Hawking. At the time, I had just read Stephen Hawking’s bestselling physics book A Brief History of Time. His brilliance was still buzzing around in my brain. The adulation I had for Hawking was conferred upon Cumberbatch by association.
Yet, more than just the transfer of adulation, I was impressed by how the actor got me very involved with the character. His portrayal of my idol made me feel Hawking’s triumphs and frustrations deeply. In the end, I knew that I had just witnessed the pivotal performance of one who should eventually be winning awards. I waited for the credits to roll, and memorized the name: Benedict Cumberbatch.
Not that I was actively on the look out for Ben’s subsequent performances. There are always other actors who are making splashes across our cinematic ocean, constantly vying for attention. Like Scarlett Johansson. She was the reason I was watching The Other Boleyn Girl, four years after Hawking. When I saw Ben appear on screen during that movie, my first reaction was, “Stephen Hawking! He’s alive!” He was very recognizable from four years thence. He has very unique lips, which break out into a very unique smile. He also has unusual eyes. I was not able to characterize his features then, until the otter memes came out. Funny.
I still wondered, though, why a super talent such as he has not yet broken into superstardom. Could it be that he himself is deliberately avoiding it? Is he choosing roles that are challenging, but not necessarily popular? Consider this: he has not yet had top-billing in any international blockbusters. Yet now, his carefully-selected meaty roles have brought him this far–all the way to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014.
An article from the New York Times tells it well. The Case of the Accidental Superstar. In it, the author Sarah Lyall presents Ben as “having progressed from everyone’s favorite secret crush to one of the most talked-about actors in Hollywood.” Bulls-eye! Until I read that line, I had not acknowledged my own secret crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. I noticed him. He mattered to me. But I did not put a name to it.
I would say that the first time I did acknowledge his attractiveness was when I became a great fan of the Sherlock series. I know he was just playing a script-written character. But what a character! Exceedingly intelligent, honest, candid, tactless (but eventually contrite) and vulnerable. He rubs you the wrong way, but without malice or intent to hurt. And I thought that if an actor can play a smart man convincingly, then he was a smart man himself. I was enamored of his intellectual qualities. When I saw his interviews on YouTube, I was not disappointed. (Sigh of relief).
These intellectual qualities were made manifest to me in the succeeding works of his that I viewed: Wikileaks; Van Gogh: Painted with Words; and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
And then, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness.
I was speechless. Not because he was so good at being bad, but because he was physically sexy. Oh my! Especially that scene where he was single-handedly shooting at Klingons, wielding two massive guns, while the crew of the Enterprise was taking cover.
I never took him for buff. I never took him for an action star. But there he was, shooting at enemies, jumping through windows, wearing a tight shirt, having a fight scene with Dr. Spock, and having his mussed-up hair fall over his eyes.
John Harrison, Ben’s movie character in Star Trek, is physically and intellectually superior to other humans because he was genetically engineered that way. Hmmm. No wonder they cast him. Who else could pull it off?
But for me, Benedict Cumberbatch is already physically and intellectually superior, no genetic engineering required. So what does that make me? Call me a Cumberbitch, maybe.
Bonus: There is a shower scene which was deleted from Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Which other actor do you think could have played a genetically-engineered physically and intellectually superior human being?