Benedict Cumberbatch on Studying Lizards to Portray Smaug in ‘The Hobbit’ and Sort of Working Again with ‘Sherlock’ Co-Star Martin Freeman
I don’t think any actor can claim to have had the year that Benedict Cumberbatch has had. Cumberbatch starred in Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, and, through motion capture, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (okay, there was also The Fifth Estate, but you can’t win them all). In particular, he actually has two parts in The Hobbit films: he portrays two villains, the mysterious Necromancer and the great dragon Smaug.
He spoke to New York magazine about preparing for both non-human roles and what it was like working with his Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman on The Hobbit… even though they were never on set together.
Though Cumberbatch could have probably turned in a powerful performance by just doing the voice, part of the performance was done through motion capture and Cumberbatch was intent on looking authentic… or as authentic as a dragon could look. He explains, “I spent a lot of time studying iguanas and Komodo dragons and other reptiles at the London Zoo, to get that reptilian movement in my body. But Christ! It’s pretty hard to articulate that. In fact, it just has to be an ideal or a reference to it. They used a lot with my face and my hands, as the claws. But obviously I don’t have a tail, can’t breathe fire, don’t fly, and I’m not made of scales or cold-blooded. If you try and [move] horizontally, squeezing your legs together, with your shoulders hunched, and crawling on your hands, it syncs up with what you can do with your voice, which obviously with Smaug is very awesome. It got to the point where it was killing my voice.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Hobbit is that star Martin Freeman and Cumberbatch are well known for working together as Watson and Sherlock, respectively, on BBC’s Sherlock. Luckily the two had gotten to know each other on the set of the show, because Cumberbatch admits that they never had the chance to work with each other on the film. He reveals, “We didn’t have any live interaction with each other, because of the way these things work! It was impossible. So it was sad — he had my voice, and I had some image of the acting he’d done, but not a live interaction. It was very different than our stuff on Sherlock, but I adore the guy. He’s so truthful and subtle and ridiculously talented and smart and funny. He’s the funniest man in any room. Just don’t tell him that!”