Benedict Cumberbatch on Playing an Addict in ‘Patrick Melrose’

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Actor Benedict Cumberbatch

“I’m wary of saying, ‘Yes, it was so trying,’ because all the best roles are.” – Benedict Cumberbatch on Playing Patrick Melrose

The absurdly-talented Benedict Cumberbatch — who has gone from Shakespeare to Superhero to Sherlock — tackles a new role as the title character in Patrick Melrose, a series about a man struggle with addiction and other personal problems. In conversation with the New York Daily News, Cumberbatch spoke about his experience playing an addict and how he gets into the character’s mindset.

Cumberbatch explains that playing a drug addict with frequent mood swings is challenging. He says, “Playing it was exhausting. Although, to put it in perspective, not as exhausting as actually living that life. I’m wary of saying, ‘Yes, it was so trying,’ because all the best roles are.”

While Cumberbatch has spent a lot of time with some of his characters — such as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Strange — he admits that when a day’s shoot is over he lets go of the character on set. He says, “Hell, yeah. Can you imagine taking that beast home with you?”

Meanwhile, while on set he spends much of his time “sit[ting]quietly in a corner” to contemplate his character’s actions. That thought process is important to his work, as Cumberbatch points out that one doesn’t need to have an actual experience to portray it as an actor. He explains, “You don’t learn how to act like a drunk by getting drunk. You do it by figuring how to portray the potential psychological and physical effects. In this case, you also need to remember this isn’t just a story about addiction. It’s about whether we are ultimately capable of changing.”

That philosophy extends to portraying characters that have been portrayed by thousands of actors. For example, Hamlet, whom Cumberbatch portrayed at the Barbican Theatre in 2015. He says, “With Hamlet, there’s such an incalculable number of variables. After 92 performances, I’m still not sure I’ve gotten it.”

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