Interview: Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch has taken Hollywood by storm—and remained down-to-earth. The actor opens up to Reader's Digest about acting, meditating and dream journals

More in demand than ever, Benedict Cumberbatch stars in one film after another. He shines in art films as well as blockbuster flicks—he is currently starring in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Born in London in 1976, Benedict Cumberbatch's international break-through as an actor came with the title role in the cult TV series SherlockThis was followed by feature films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Star Trek: Into DarknessHis portrayal of the mathematical genius Alan Turing in The Imitation Game earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2014, and his role in the award-winning drama The Power of the Dog earned him a second nomination this year. 

"The British thespian's success has not gone to his head"

Nevertheless, the British thespian's success has not gone to his head. Without any airs and graces, he talks about the dreams of his youth, his life as an actor and being the father of three young sons.

Reader's Digest: You said you enjoyed putting Dr. Strange on canvas sometimes with broad, sometimes with very fine brushstrokes. Do you regret becoming an actor instead of a painter?

Benedict Cumberbatch: It‘s true that I painted a lot in college. But to make a living as a painter and to finance my life with my paintings seemed simply impossible. That's why I toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer for a while. But that wasn't for me. So I thought I might as well try my biggest dream: acting.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch while filming Sherlock © Saschaporsche via Wikimedia Commons

Your parents are actors themselves. How did they react to the fact that you wanted to become an actor?

(Laughs) They warned me about how unsafe acting is. In my parents' house, I often heard how stressful it was when you didn't know when you would get the next job. They wanted their son to have a secure income. But then they realized that it was my heart‘s desire, and they've always been very supportive.

As Dr. Strange, you dream a lot. Do you keep a dream journal in real life?

During the first COVID-19 lockdown, I did—because that‘s when I had the wildest dreams. In general, you have a lot to work through mentally during these difficult times. It certainly helped me to write down my dreams and analyse them. But unfortunately I don't always have enough time for that—I have three little boys, and my mornings don't always start when I want them to!

They say you meditate regularly?

Not as much as I used to. I lived in an Indian monastery for a while and taught English to Tibetan monks. Unfortunately, I often lack the time for that now, too.

Has meditating helped you to become a better actor?

Yes, but not only that. It has helped me become a better person. It has shown me how to better be in the here and now; how to completely immerse myself in my body so I'm not distracted by the hustle and bustle of everyday life, or controlled by my own thoughts.

"[Meditation] has shown me how to better be in the here and now"

In recent years, the wellness boom has demonstrated how healthy and useful introspection and meditation can be. And that helps me immensely as an actor when I'm focused on preparing for a role. It also helps me as a person to be much more in my centre.

So you‘re no longer an adrenaline junkie?

(Laughs) No, the days when I roared around on fast motorcycles and spent my time sky-diving, deep-sea diving or riding tethered balloons are actually long gone. Back then, I apparently needed that to feel alive. I wanted to live life to the hilt.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter

Benedict Cumberbatch has been married to director Sophie Hunter since 2015

But now I don't really care about that adrenaline rush anymore. I did all those things, and that's it. Now I'd much rather take care of my wife and three sons. It's a wonderful feeling that there are these people in my life whom I love more than anything and who are much more important to me than I am to myself. And for whom I gladly take responsibility. That is a great joy for me.

Having said that, I started surfing a few years ago…It's not easy at all at the age of 45 now, but it's a lot of fun for me! And it's a bit more family-friendly. However, if I'm in the water too long, my wife sometimes demonstratively looks at the clock. And I know: now it's family time again!

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in cinemas now.

Cover image © Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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