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Updated: December 30, 2014 16:10 IST

Cracking the code

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

In an exclusive interview, actor Benedict Cumberbatch speaks to Mini Anthikad-Chhibber about the many thrills of playing Sherlock Holmes once again

The internet is full of Cumbercookies, Cumberbabes and mentions of cheekbone-polishing parties, thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch. The 37-year-old British actor who has been described as a “thinking woman’s crumpet” has had quite an eventful 2013. It was the year that saw him play the coldly cruel Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, followed by a pitch-perfect Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate ending the year as the dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson’s The Desolation of Smaug. And now he is back on our television screens with the third season of Sherlock, the reboot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s series that propelled him into the stratosphere. In this exclusive interview Cumberbatch talks of the series, his films and his love for woollen things and whiskey. Excerpts:

Did you have any reservations about playing such an iconic character?

No I didn’t have any doubts about the role, though I know that everything I do now will have flavours of Sherlock. Everyone wants those dark, complicated anti-heroes and, of course, I play them. But I also play Charles in August: Osage Country, an everyman; he’s not super-sleuthing or cracking code or breaking algorithms. I play Ford in 12 Years A Slave and Alexander in Stuart: A Life Backwards — he’s a pretty open book; smart man though he is, the complexity is all about Stuart.

I may be the best person to play the role of Sherlock according to fans, but I like British actor Jonny Lee Miller who plays Sherlock in the U.S. adaptation called Elementary. I watched it... it’s great. It’s watching an actor I really like playing a part I really like and enjoy playing. And to see him relishing it in similar ways is fantastic. I think he’s doing a wonderful job.

How much of Sherlock is you and how much is it the creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss?

This modern retelling was perhaps one of the most radical, taking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales of mystery and reinterpreting them for a contemporary audience. Sherlock is a mass of contradictions and that makes him fascinating, He’s cold, aloof, arrogant and dangerous, so therefore, absolutely, magnetically attractive. It works in real life as well, but ultimately people would not remember Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson if Conan Doyle had not been a genius writer; what he created was pure gold.

Sherlock relies on superior intelligence and reasoning rather than quick fists to best any criminal. Moffat and Gatiss have thrown Sherlock against some fiendish villains and dastardly dilemmas while their wonderfully visual approach revealed just how Sherlock’s mind works.

I lost a notable amount of weight for the role, my goal being to portray Holmes as a character with such high intelligence that it manifests itself in a physical, mind-over-matter sort of way. I am trying to give my best to justify the role.

Can you comment on the enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes?

I think it’s because he makes the extraordinary ordinary. You don’t know where his extraordinary analysis or temperament is going to take you.

After the first series I was in a bar and someone came up and said ‘Hello you’re Sherlock aren’t you?’ and I said ‘yes, yes I am’ and he came back and he said ‘yeah, yeah I like you. It’s good, it’s different’ and then he went away and I thought there’s a massive ‘but’ coming here and he came up to me again and he went ‘But that thing you do with your hands Downey Junior did that, Brett did that’ and I said ‘Yes so did the guy in the book do that!’

Without a doubt it is just such a rich gift for an actor to have a work of fiction which is so thoroughly detailed in its portrayal of a character.

Did you read Conan Doyle when you were little?

I did but not all of them. One of them was a school duty when I was very young but it’s only since the playing of it that I’ve come to love them. When anyone asks me how I prepare… well it is the most extraordinary source material because you have a specimen in Holmes written by a doctor so you have an acute observation of characteristics.

A reunion, a wedding, a villain — can you tell us more about Season 3?

I think it’s no secret that Sherlock is going to be dealing with saying hello again to John Watson and also seeing his best friend getting married. Those are the two big adjustments — him coming back from a stint of going solo and becoming a team again and meeting this new person in Watson’s life.

Are you a gadget guru?

I’m not very geeky. I’m quite homespun. I would say I’m more modern rustic than gadget-oriented. I like woollen things and log fires and whiskey…

Season 3 of Sherlock airs on AXN. There will be a repeat telecast of episode 1 today at 4 p.m. and on January 5 at noon and 6 p.m.

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