Benedict Cumberbatch on Playing Geniuses: “Brilliant people have private moments of self-doubt and things which we could all relate to”
Whether it’s his distinctive voice or his bearing, Benedict Cumberbatch has been a go-to actor for intelligent characters like Sherlock Holmes or British mathematician Alan Turing. In a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Cumberbatch spoke about what’s on his mind when he’s playing such characters… and he admits it isn’t quite brilliant.
Cumberbatch admits that while he often plays highly intelligent characters, what usually goes on within the characters’ brilliant minds isn’t what’s going on in his. He explains, “It’s about the character. I’ve been very, very fortunate that there’s something going on behind my eyes so that it looks like I’m … encompassing the brilliance of their minds and ability to concentrate. But you know I have a very superficial, skin-thin understanding of the science. … It’s just about finding the humanity in all of that. Brilliant people have private moments of self-doubt and things which we could all relate to, but they also have these extraordinary moments of discovery or pioneering brilliance that pushes the envelope in how we view the world. I try not to pull faces — if I do, it has to be something with the character.”
In fact, Cumberbatch points out that actors have to be careful that real-life thoughts don’t intrude on their performance. He says, “Actors often have that kind of a feeling, especially on stage when you’re struggling through the weirdness of your day and you’re doing the play for the umpteenth time in a long run, that’s very often something that happens: Your mind drifts and you think, ‘I forgot to buy the cheese in the supermarket!’ You have to be careful of those mundanities creeping in because they can play havoc with your concentration.”