Benedict Cumberbatch on “Failing” as an Actor: “If you can’t fail, you can never get better”

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch

“I don’t think I had the full tool kit to do it justice.” – Benedict Cumberbatch on One of the Times He’s Felt Lost Doing a Role

Benedict Cumberbatch is considered one of the best actors working today by many for his ability to move effortless between awards-caliber films like The Imitation Game, Shakespeare, and superhero movies like Doctor Strange. But just because Cumberbatch seems like he can do it all doesn’t mean he always feels like he can. Cumberbatch was interviewed for Interview magazine by his friend, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. In the conversation, Cumberbatch speaks about how he feels when he feels overwhelmed by a role and how he maintains a successful work-life balance.

When Yorke asks Cumberbatch if he ever feels “out of depth” after taking on a role. He responds, “Lots of times. But if you can’t fail, you can never get better. And these weren’t total failures, these enterprises, but there was a lot that wasn’t right about them. One of the first roles I had on stage was with a brilliant director in a brilliant play with a brilliant cast, but I just couldn’t find my way into the heart of the character. I found myself straining a lot.”

Cumberbatch continues by providing a specific example of when he felt lost at the start of working on a character. He says, “I felt lost. That was [the Eugène Ionesco play] Rhinoceros. I don’t mind saying the name, because I’ve talked about it. It was partly because of where my head was at, and it was a big leap of discipline. I don’t think I was prepared for that. I don’t think I had the full tool kit to do it justice. It’s a very difficult play, it’s an extraordinarily difficult part, and I never felt I really got it right. Far from it. To a degree, Hamlet was the same. But not to do with the production or anything else—the challenge of doing that night after night was just the most extraordinary.”

Nonetheless, Cumberbatch reveals that he does manage to put work aside when the day is done. He explains, “When I walk through that door, it’s about home. If I didn’t do that, I’d become consumed by one thing only and damage the people who love me. And it would damage the work.”

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