EMMYS: Benedict Cumberbatch On 'Sherlock'

Michael Ausiello is Editor-in-Chief of TVLine.

Why Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch has yet to be nominated for an Emmy is a question that might befuddle even his super-sleuth alter-ego. But, rather than solve the mystery, this year it might instead be resolved. Not only is the actor’s name — memorable as it is — on the verge of becoming a household one, thanks to his appearances in two of last year’s Oscar contenders, War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but he’s also collared a plum role (rumored to be Captain Kirk’s nemesis Khan) in the highly anticipated Star Trek sequel. On top of all that, his work in his PBS hit’s second season was — almost unimaginably — better than his work in the first. Is the case of the elusive Emmy nod about to be closed?

RELATED: EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview

AWARDSLINE: Of the three episodes in Season 2, Masterpiece has chosen to submit ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ for Emmy consideration. Do you agree that that was the strongest of the three?
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: It’s tough to say. It was the first you got to see Holmes, who at times is less than heroic and very adolescent, [experience love]. Not that he was in love, but he was in the midst of playing or experiencing or being seduced and toyed by and with love. It was a very smart play on the Irene Adler story. Irene [played by Lara Pulver] and Sherlock were like two predators circling each other waiting for the kill — it was hardly conducive to the normal conversation you would have on a first date. It was really, really enticing because it works on the principle that the best romantic stories are about the waiting [and] the game. The audience is just waiting for something to happen, and it doesn’t necessarily happen. I think it combines so many elements of what the show is about: the wit, the action, the visual style. [‘Belgravia’] also [spanned] quite a long period of time, which made it feel weirdly more like a film than most anything I’ve ever done. It’s impossible to say whether it’s the better one. But I’m very proud of it.

AWARDSLINE: What were the particular acting challenges you faced depicting the twisted relationship between Irene and Sherlock?
CUMBERBATCH: Well, he’s supposedly an asexual, emotionless machine, and has cut off feelings of attraction or sensory enjoyment or interest in the female form other than to gain information. So it was [about] how to get the audience to believe that you could possibly be in a position that was vulnerable — how could he possibly be feeling something for this woman? But the thing about [Irene] that is very obvious when you read [the 1891 short story by Arthur Conan Doyle in which the character is first introduced] is Sherlock definitely does fall for her and he does lose his cool. He’s no longer the logical machine. He fell for her charms. And so it was a balancing act, but it was so deftly written [by Steven Moffat] that it was so easy to do.

AWARDSLINE: Do you have a process for getting into character as Sherlock, or do you just show up and wham — you’re him?
CUMBERBATCH: [Laughs] No, I’m much slower than him. I have to rev up an engine that needs a lot of oil and concentration and focus. There’s an elasticity to his movements as well. He’s ferociously expressive and I’m very still and content, so there’s different mood swings and temperatures and tones to experiment with in any given situation. But I take my time. I’m very good at switching it on.

AWARDSLINE: The awareness for the show is not as high here in the U.S. as it is in Britain, but that seems to be changing. Are you feeling that shift as you spend more time in the States?
CUMBERBATCH: I am a bit. We don’t have a massive publicity budget, and I’ve been in LA for three and a half months now [while shooting Star Trek] and every other day I’m passing a billboard of Game of Thrones or The Killing or Mad Men — all shows I love. It would just be wonderful to drive down [Sunset Blvd.] and see one Sherlock poster. It would make me feel like we’re reaching out to the bored and confused Angelenos in their traffic jams and just making them think about it because there’s [so much competition] for the viewing audience now; there’s so much high quality. So for a PBS show to gain the kind of audience we’ve got is a huge testament to how popular we are. And you know, we’re not a period drama — and I don’t mean that disparagingly [against Downton Abbey], despite how my comments have been [misinterpreted in the past]. There’s a romantic association with British history and nostalgia, which fuels that across the generations, whereas I think [Sherlock] has encapsulated a younger audience.

AWARDSLINE: Speaking of which, did you get any blowback from the perceived slam you made against Abbey’s second season in that recent New York Times article? [Reporter’s note: In the piece, Cumberbatch recalled an incident at the Golden Globes in January where Masterpiece exec Rebecca Eaton playfully taunted him with the statue Abbey had just won. “I just looked at it and went: ‘Begone, woman’,” he recounted. ‘Bring it back when it says Sherlock or Steven Moffat or myself — someone else who’s more deserving than the second [season] of Downton Abbey’.”
CUMBERBATCH: Oh God, you would not believe it! I mean, honestly, it’s like people don’t have any sense of irony or a brain. First of all, I knew it was the first [season] that it was getting awarded for, so that was the first part of the joke. The second part is that Rebecca Eaton, the executive producer on Sherlock and Downton, is a friend. The third, and probably the most important, is that [Abbey creator] Julian Fellowes has known me since I was born. [Abbey leading man]Dan Stevens is one of my good friends — one of my closest friends in England — as is Michelle Dockery. There’s just no way I would say something like that without it being tongue-in-cheek. And I don’t walk around town saying ‘Begone, woman!’ And suddenly [I’m in the middle of] a PR disaster. Maybe I am a PR disaster because I talk too much or don’t filter enough. But I was kind of mortified. I play such a contemporaneous, vile and whiplash-smart [character] who doesn’t [tolerate] mediocrity or any type of bureaucracy or any stupidity, and yet as an actor — a misunderstood actor — you have to put up with a lot of it. So I just let that go. I can tell you I’m a huge fan of Downton, and what I said was quite, quite clearly — to most intelligent New York Times readers – a joke.

AWARDSLINE: It sort of brings up the point that there is an inherent competitiveness to awards.
CUMBERBATCH: Well, yeah, but I mean you have to take it all with a pinch of salt. What we do for a profession is an absolute gift of a job. It’s a blessing. So then awards on top of that? They’re sort of fantasy icing on the cake. Do awards change careers? Well, I haven’t heard of many stories where that’s the case. It’s a fun excuse to meet colleagues and celebrate people who’ve done well that year in certain people’s eyes, and it’s nothing more than that. If it’s taken more seriously than that, then we’re all sort of working for the wrong reasons. So if there’s rivalry, well, you know, it’s pretty much forgotten the minute the next glass of wine is drunk on the night.

AWARDSLINE: You’re about to be exposed to a much larger audience in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek sequel. Should we be worried that big-time Hollywood success will take you away from Sherlock?
CUMBERBATCH: Oh, no. No, not at all. I’ll always do Sherlock — it’s something I’m not going to give up on. I love it too much. It’s hard work, but it’s so rewarding and such a lovely bunch of people who do it. We love our fans and we love what it’s created. It’s an incredible thing to be part of. It doesn’t happen that often. Don’t worry, it’s not going to disappear.

AWARDSLINE: When do you start shooting Season 3?
CUMBERBATCH: January. That’s the plan.

AWARDSLINE: And then beyond Season 3?
CUMBERBATCH: There’s no reason for us to stop if it’s still being adored and we still enjoy doing it. We only do three [episodes] at a time, so I think the normal fear of over-stretching the mark and just doing too many [doesn’t apply]. It’s good to leave people wanting more. I’d like to see [Sherlock] getting older. We’re starting quite young. It’s rare to see Holmes and Watson at the beginning of their relationship. We usually join them in their mid-to-late 40s or 50s. I’ve got a way to go. I mean, I’m only 35.

  1. Wait. Cumberbatch is Khan?

    You see, right there is partially why Hollywood movies have been tanking all year (outside the Avengers). BAD CASTING

    Don’t get me wrong, I like his Sherlock way better than Robert Downey’s, but Khan? Come on now.

    Add the Lindelof influence and I just may sit this Star Trek out.

    Love Benedict, just not as Khan.

  2. It still amuses me that he’s next role is a “good-natured plantation owner” in Twelve Years a Slave. From all the evil guys he has portrayed in the past months that would be very interesting to see.

  3. Can’t wait to see his Smaug in a couple of years. Whoever his villain for Trek will be fantastic; I loved the first movie and I’m eager for the second next year.

  4. At the onset let me state I cannot bear this actor and his false modesty for being too well brought up and educated. Poor fellow was so abused in this regard. Then the guy talks too much. Every question asked him is answered with a lecture. Nice voice, but he has a face that could scare off coyotes.

    He’s trying so hard to ‘make it’ in America, and whether he does that or not, I’ll never be a fan.

    1. What a strange odd personal post. Not a dropped ex girlfriend are you masquerading. Bizarre. Why be so full of hate. You must have a very negative life.

  5. *time travels back to 2007*

    Wait. Ledger is Joker?

    You see, right there is partially why Hollywood movies have been tanking all year (outside Spider-Man 3). BAD CASTING

    Don’t get me wrong, I like his Bob Dylan way better than Cate Blanchett’s, but Joker? Come on now.

    Add Charles Roven’s influence and I may sit this Batman out.

    Love Heath, just not as Joker.

  6. He’s like a GEEK GOD to me. What a cool guy. Sherlock, Smaug, The Necromancer and “a really mean dude that will blow it out the park” in Star Trek?! He’s like an Ian Mckellan in the making.

  7. Ah Sherlock! Writing, directing, acting (especially Cumberbatch) are all best of the best. I’m obsessed.

    1. DMI – agree 100%! What’s amazing is that CBS is trying to redo the Cumberbatch version of Sherlock, but without the brains & talent behind the Cumberbatch version! I doubt they’ll be succesful but we’ll see.

  8. Cumberbatch, like another young brit thesp, Eddie Redmayne (in birdsong), was spot on, compelling, nuanced, textured as holmes, brilliantly playing off the superb martin freeman, mark gatiss & andrew scott…truly a compelling ensemble piece putting a fresh 21st century spin on the stories…clearly leaves any viewer wondering why Jonny lee miller, another extraordinary brit thesp, would commit to a network re-hash w/ none other than a female asian watson (& former big screen charlies angel actress!)…

  9. No actor compares to Cumberbatch. Amazingly talented, witty, virile, charismatic and versatile. He is as amazing at comedy as he is drama. He’s also good at physical scenes e.g the leaked fighting scene in Star Trek. He was also very physical in Frankenstein.

    I’d like to see him get more of Fassbender’s roles

  10. He will be Khan. Just wait and see. Pegg was just denying it woulf be a wrath of kahn movie. The Khan space craft will be found by the Klingons.

    1. I was hoping we’d have heard he was Ant Man by now. He’s perfect for the lead in a comic book film. I’d also love him as the doctor in Dr who but as he’s decided not to go for it that leaves the master which he might be interested in as it doesnt take up so much time.

      The guy is so talented. I love his radio series cabin pressure

      1. He already said that he’s going to avoid getting involved in more franchises as he’s already in three (Sherlock, The Hobbit and Star Trek), I assume that rules out the chance that he’s taking on Marvel characters and Doctor Who characters. I think that’s a good decision; he’s already very close to King of Geeks by involving in the three franchises he’s currently doing; it’s probably not so good to keep doing the similar things to fulfill the geeks’ fantasy. He can still take on lead roles in other genres, an one-off action would be great, considering he seems to be rather keen on doing more action scenes in Sherlock. Also don’t think the idea that Sherlock becomes The Master in Doctor Who is interesting; it might ruin both shows.

  11. I adore him. He can do no wrong in my eyes. This show deserves all the awards and I can’t figure out why he won’t take my money. I keep pushing it at the computer screen, but nothing happens.

  12. It’s o.k. if someone is not a fan, we all can’t like everyone.
    But then not liking someone because you have a false impression of them is something different.
    How come the people who work with him think he’s a very genuine person. The writer of “Third Star” had incredible things to say about him – how intelligent he is, how hard he works and wants to make things as good as they can be. With all his talent he is fun to work with and doesn’t take any privileges. He is very giving to other actors and as Lara Pulver said she just can’t say enough good things about him. “Molly” in “Sherlock” said he’s “heaven” to work with and such a good egg. Martin Freeman and Simon Pegg have said he’s a very sweet person.
    And he’s funny and completely committed to his acting.
    What he hopes to do is to continue acting and thus being given more roles – wherever that may be – Hollywood or England. he will do more stage work there.
    He’s a great actor and his reputation is one that people want to work with him. So he’s going to be doing this for a long, long time.

  13. … Do you know him personally then? I love casting judgement on people I’ve never met, gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.


    His acting is pretty damn awesome, so does it matter if his foot occasionally drifts toward his mouth (I’m sure that’s never happened to anyone here), or it his looks aren’t to your taste (I’m sure you’re in a perfect position to make that call being as how you’re the next Adonis).

    And if you don’t like his work, don’t watch if. And if you don’t like the way he comes across in interviews, why click the link? You only appear to be causing yourself discomfort and wasting your own time.

  14. Back again. That was my thought if its bothersome to read about Benedict or see him in anything – don’t read or watch. Seems easy to do.
    We don’t know him personally either, but as I said earlier reading and listening to people who do know him, who do work with him I think I’d believe what they say over someone who has a skewered impression of him. He kids himself about how he can talk on and on. He also has a sense of humor and says things in jest which in black and white someone might not understand that is what it is.
    He looks fine to me and can say so much with expressions and eyes that possibly the accepted “handsome” type isn’t capable of. The thing is he Is an attractive person. One review i heard said there’s a glow inside him – something that makes the camera love him.
    He’s also not leaving “Sherlock” behind as he wants to keep playing the role for as long as he can.
    His next movie is “12 Years A Slave” and it is another looked forward to movie with a great cast. Its pretty far away from “Star Trek”. Actors like to do all kinds of roles and when you’re as talented as he is they will come to him.

  15. The “Kahn” thing has never been verified. In fact, people have come out & said the villain Ben is playing is NOT Kahn. They won’t say who the villain is. Someone, falsely reported the role as being Kahn, a while back & it’s, kind of, stuck-when it shouldn’t have. I just know, whatever the role, Ben will put his all-and-all into it & will do an amazing job. I’ll be going to see the movie, mostly to see his performance (I’m more of an original, & Next Generation, Trek fan). I LOVE that he’ll never stop doing “Sherlock!” It’s such an amazing show (everyone involved, all the work, is phenomenal). I’m looking forward, with great anticipation, to series 3 &, especially their version of “The Adventure of the Empty House (which they’ll have to start the series with, to deal with how they ended things in series 2). AWESOME!!! Oh… just wanted to add… Ben SO deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of Sherlock, this past season. It was brilliant!!!

  16. Benedict is a great actor in every role I have seen him play. Those who don’t believe he can play a villian,(BTW He is trying do what he contracted to do-not give away secrets about the film), has probably not seen much beyond Sherlock (if anything else at all). I believe that bad typecasting must be based on any actor’s prior skill in his performances. There is nothing in his experience which has shown that he is so limited. Do we not take a chance on good actors in allowing them to stretch from prior work? That would be boring.
    It confuses me that someone thinks Benedict is not a good person. Have you read enough of his interviews in order to slam him? If you claim so then why are you reading so many interviews by someone you don’t care for? Weird. Life’s too short.

  17. no, he is NOT Khan… and even if he was… dear God, Abrams would have reinvented the role. He’s not stupid.

  18. I love Benedict Cumberbatch so much, as an actor and as a man. He is such a fun, polite, honorable person. He is my favorite actor at the moment! :) I *love* his portrayal of Sherlock and I cannot wait to see him in Star Trek. He adds intelligence, sophistication and class to every roll he plays… Benedict, you are well loved in America! Keep Calm and Shoot the Wall ;) Xo, from California with Love

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