Benedict Cumberbatch Interview For ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), John Cho (Sulu), Bruce Greenwood (Christopher Pike), Simon Pegg (Scotty), Karl Urban (Bones), and Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov) reprise their roles from the 2009 ‘Star Trek’ original, with new parts for the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor and Peter Weller. ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ is directed by J.J. Abrams with a script by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof. The film is opening on May 9th in the UK, while the film bows in the US on May 17th. The May 9th opening date will see the film in IMAX 3D, 3D and 2D theaters. ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ will arrive in US IMAX theaters from May 15th.
After all your work on this film, how was it finally seeing it on the big screen?
Benedict Cumberbatch: It was extraordinary. I mean, normally as an actor you get very self-conscious when you’re watching yourself and you’re in the audience watching your work – it’s a peculiar, surreal experience. I’m always uncomfortable about viewing my work. But with this there is so much going on around you, and even though your imagination has to go there on the day to try to contextualize your environment and how to respond to that as an actor…. and actually, with J.J. there’s a lot of real environment, there’s a lot of live-action, the ship and various other locations were huge sets. But making it you don’t know how really sophisticated and brilliant and rich and beautiful the imagery is going to be. But it really did blow me away. So, even in the scenes where I’m like, “Oh God, it’s me,” cowering a little bit (laughs), I could really distract myself by getting lost in space and Earth’s never looked so good as well.
This film is a feast, it’s so generous. I emailed J.J. and the first of many compliments was just thanking him for the generosity he has as a director, and not just with us as artists to allow us our time to develop character and moments on screen, frame us and shoot us beautifully and just make the whole thing bedazzling, but also to his audience. It’s very sophisticated storytelling, there’s really rich themes that sort of sow a thread through the whole backdrop – it’s not forced in your face, it’s not like, “Look at us, look at how clever we’re being.” There are very grown up questions being asked. In the figure of my character, there is a very ambiguous relationship to what is generically a “bad guy”. Yes, he’s kick ass and powerful and he’s manipulative and very devious and extraordinarily adept at doing what he does, but when you discover his motivations, hopefully the audience will have an empathy shift. He’s got a moral core and real purpose, and it kind of marries Kirk’s in many ways.
Your character is on the grey side of good and evil. What was the attraction in the character for you?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Well, I think it could have fallen into a stereotype. Like you say, there’s a grey area. There’s a lot of motivation and reasoning behind what he does, and he has a moral core – he just has a method, which is pretty brutal and abhorrent. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and I think there’s an ability to sympathize and empathize with his cause, maybe not his means of going about getting his ends. And I think it was there in the script though and it was a beautiful thing to be asked to play this sliding scale of someone who could be trustworthy and understandable and also somebody who could be out on a mission of revenge and trying to bring about what he sees is justice, and a changing of the order of authority. But that was one of the brilliant balances that was achieved in the script. You oscillate between abhorring him and feeling something for him.
You’ve played some enormously iconic characters in recent years, from Sherlock to Smaug the Dragon in ‘The Hobbit,’ to John Harrison. Is there a common way that you approach the roles going into them? Do you avoid looking on the internet or do you go back and see how they’ve been done before?
Benedict Cumberbatch: I always try to avoid going on the Internet. I think it’s best to start with a blank canvas and if you know you’re in the expert hands that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and be employed by, a lot of trust goes to those people. So, whether it’s Mark and Steven rebooting ‘Sherlock’ and giving a modern-day twist to a much-loved Victorian hero, it sounds like a cheesy spin-off idea and yet in those fan-boys’ hands, it’s done with such authenticity and respect for the canon, in the same way that I think ‘Star Trek’ is being done. That takes a lot of the heavy lifting for you. And beyond that, it’s just to try and imagine that you are… rather like when you’re auditioning, I try to imagine that I’m the only person that they are seeing that day because it can be overwhelming, in the same sense that it could be overwhelming if you try to fulfill everyone’s expectations rather than the people closest to you in the creative process, be it your director, or fellow actors and the writers. So, that’s kind of it – I try to trick myself into believing that no one has ever gone there before.
How did you physically prepare for this role, I understand you bulked up a little bit?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Beyond the bangs and how I was going to wear my hair, that was the hardest thing in all honesty because it meant an awful lot of eating and a lot of working out in a very short space of time. But fortunately, I had a fantastic trainer in the shape of Patrick Monroe, otherwise known as P-Nut, who has also trained Mr Tom Hardy, who’s known to also get quite big. We worked together – we knew each other through Tom from ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,’ so that was a lovely thing but a lot of hard work. And yet I really enjoyed it. I’ve never been asked to before, and it was integral to the character, who had to have a strong physical shape and presence and be able to move at the same time, so I couldn’t just be a stiff and lump of muscle. I had to be able to stretch and fling my arms and legs about a bit. I loved all that. I really, really enjoyed it. Although, there was one stage where I ate about 4,000 calories a day and then carb depleted. It’s horrible. You turn into an absolute creature from hell, because all the fuel you have been relying on to get you through the workout disappears. It’s just horrible, diets are shite (laughs). But the workout was fun and the amount of live-action that J.J. Abrams let us do and wants us to do… it’s part of the visual thrill. We have the most amazing, amazing people who built this world and effects around us and we’re asked to do an awful lot of work in front of it beforehand. So, you get the joy of seeing real bodies in these incredible environments.
While challenging, I can imagine it was a fun film to shoot?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Look, I’d be very happy with the rich detail of the psychological portrayal of the character, but at the heart of it is a ten year-old inside me going, “YES!” (Laughs). Because you’re running through plates of glass, your jumping at things and then you’re flying through the air because your on a rig taking you up on a wire. Then you’re doing these stunt scenes where I learnt how to sell the punches and kicks, I learnt a whole new skill set. It was so enjoyable to try and perfect with a really expert group of filmmakers. With J.J. at the helm it’s a pleasure, he’s very special, he is without doubt a genius and a polymath. And those are two word I don’t use very often, and I don’t think many people do, but he owns those titles (laughs). It all comes from not just this infuriatingly brilliant and fast furnace of a Spock-like brain, but also from an incredibly Kirk-like heart. The man max’s off human intentions and intuition and feeling, and he’s very very generous with those things. He creates spectacle and he creates complex plots and real jeopardy and excitement, but in amongst all that you care because the characters are fully rounded and there are themes that all of us can relate to, things like family and loyalty and friendship, and what that means.
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