20 Things You Probably Never Knew About Benedict Cumberbatch
Name a recent major franchise or Oscar-nominated film, and there’s a good chance Benedict Cumberbatch has somehow been involved.
Having played a key role in reboots of both Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, Cumberbatch has proved he can put his own spin on classic characters, as well as proven he can play a hero just as well as he can a villain. That set him up perfectly for Doctor Strange, where he played an unlikable man who had to learn to become a hero.
That’s not to mention his turn playing genius and real-life hero Alan Turing, or the year he acted in four movies that were all nominated for Academy Awards.
Still, even with all that there’s a lot people don’t know about the treasured British actor, which is why we’re counting down the 20 things you probably still don’t know about Benedict Cumberbatch.
20. He turned down Doctor Strange at first
Benedict Cumberbatch might seem like the perfect Doctor Strange now, but his casting was nowhere near guaranteed.
The casting people over at Marvel thought Cumberbatch was the only choice, but when they approached him he at first declined.
As Marvel searched for another Stephen Strange – Joaquin Phoenix, Jared Leto and Keanu Reeves were all considered – Cumberbatch continued to mull the offer over.
The reason Cumberbatch initially turned the role of Strange down is he was set to play Hamlet on the West End, a part he had dreamed of playing since childhood.
Cumberbatch didn’t want to let the theatre down, but when they agreed to let him return after shooting for Marvel, he agreed to play the part of Doctor Strange.
19. He shares more than a friendship with Jonny Lee Miller
Before he entered the MCU, Cumberbatch was most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC adaptation Sherlock.
However, another adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes books was in the works at the same time: America’s Elementary.
Elementary starred Johnny Lee Miller, someone who Cumberbatch was already friends with.
This is because the two starred in Frankenstein together, taking turns to play the part of the doctor and the monster each night.
Not only that, but the two Sherlocks are the only people in history to win a joint Olivier Award for Best Actor – since the show needed both of them equally.
18. He wore Alan Turing’s 60-year-old dentures for The Imitation Game
Whether it’s losing weight to play Sherlock or literally crawling around on the floor pretending to be a dragon – Benedict Cumberbatch has never been afraid to commit to a role.
To play famous computer scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, though, the actor took things to a whole other level.
Even though no one asked him to, Cumberbatch wore dentures that altered his speech and appearance, just like Turing himself had.
Not only that, but Cumberbatch wore Turing’s actual dentures, which were over 60 years old at the time.
The film’s director, Morten Tyldum, explained: “It felt important to Benedict – no one knows what his teeth looked like.”
17. He once spent a year teaching English at a Tibetan monastery
Though it took him a while to agree to the role, Cumberbatch did identify with the character of Doctor Strange.
For one, the actor was excited about doing a superhero movie that went into topics like spiritualism and mind-over-matter.
Cumberbatch, like Strange (at least after his transformation from arrogant surgeon), is himself a highly spiritual person.
The actor has confessed to meditating every day and has studied mindfulness, and once even taught English to monks at a monastery in Tibet.
Cumberbatch recently called teaching in the “exiled Tibetan community, just outside of Darjeeling, on the border” an “extraordinary” yet “isolated” experience.
16. Sherlock was a real family affair
Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t always sure that he wanted to be actor. For a while, he was seriously considering a career in law instead, where he would become a barrister.
However, when Cumberbatch did finally decide to commit to showbusiness as a job, it was no surprise that his family were supportive.
This is because both of Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents are actors – Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham – who have mostly made their living in TV and film.
Carlton’s major productions include Cold Comfort Farm and Downton Abbey, while Ventham has appeared in the likes of Holby City and Doctor Who.
It all came full circle when both Calrton and Ventham starred alongside Cumberbatch in Sherlock playing, you guessed it, his parents.
15. There’s a medical reason for his unusual eyes
Although everybody knows Cumberbatch is a skilled actor, at least part of his fandom has sprung up around his looks.
In his community of fans (called Cumberbitches, The Cumbercollective or Cumberbabes, depending on who you ask), many are drawn in particular to his eyes.
It turns out that there’s a reason for this, as Cumberbatch has a condition called heterochromia.
This is when the iris contains multiple different shades and colours within the usually solid single band of colour.
For Benedict Cumberbatch, this manifests as flecks of green and gold in his otherwise blue eyes.
14. He was once kidnapped at gunpoint
When you think of the life of a Hollywood star, you probably imagine it being super glamorous, or at the very least safe and sheltered.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been true 100% of the time for Benedict Cumberbatch, considering the actor was once kidnapped at gunpoint.
In 2005, Cumberbatch was shooting the BBC miniseries To the Ends of the Earth in South Africa’s Richards Bay.
One weekend, Cumberbatch and two friends were driving around Sodwana Bay when they were tied up and bundled into the trunk of a car.
The three were driven for several miles before being dumped out on the side of the road in the countryside. To this day, none of them know why it happened.
13. He’s almost as intelligent as Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch has played a lot of characters over the years, but most of them have one unexpected thing in common: they are very smart.
Doctor Strange, Sherlock Holmes, Khan – even real people like Alan Turing – are all defined by their intelligence and wit.
As it turns out, not all of this ‘acting’ takes a lot of acting from Cumberbatch, as the man himself is highly intelligent.
Cumberbatch’s formal education involved him becoming an arts scholar at Harrow, a Drama student at Manchester University and a Master of the Arts in Classical Acting, which he obtained from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Further emphasising his commitment to a role, Cumberbatch also taught himself to play violin in just a week to play Sherlock.
12. He stole his Smaug voice from an adorable source
The dragon Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy is one of Benedict Cumberbatch’s lesser-known parts, mostly since you can’t tell just by looking that the character is played by him.
However, Cumberbatch loved reuniting with his Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman for the movies – even if he did steal the voice.
Adorably, Cumberbatch was inspired by his own dad’s voice to come up with Smaug’s distinctive tones.
When he was developing the character, Cumberbatch remembered how his dad, Timothy, used to read The Hobbit to him as a child.
When he read the dragon parts, Timothy used a very distinct voice, which Cumberbatch then stole.
11. He broke down in tears on the set of The Imitation Game
Part of being an actor is being able to believably create a character, and get in touch with the real emotions that the character would be feeling.
Normally, the actor has to put those feelings away between takes, but sometimes it’s just too hard to let go of the emotions, as Benedict Cumberbatch found on the set of The Imitation Game.
In the film, Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who also happened to be a gay man at a time where this was illegal.
Despite having spent years helping the British government win the war, Turing was made to take harmful drugs that were meant to “cure” him of being gay.
Overcome by how unfair this was, Cumberbatch broke down on the set of the film and cried.
10. A cyberstalker used to live-tweet every move he made
Ever since Sherlock broke big, Cumberbatch has enjoyed the kind of stardom only very few actors will ever experience.
Still, ‘enjoyed’ may be a strong word, especially considering great fame has also brought stalkers to Cumberbatch’s door.
Talking to the Daily Telegraph in 2013, the actor confessed he recently “had someone live-tweeting my movements while I was in my own house.”
Though Cumberbatch found out who the culprit was, he decided to handle it personally without calling in the police, despite feeling incredibly uncomfortable about the incident.
“The person concerned knows now what I felt about it. I just found it very hard to come to terms with the idea that an individual could look into my house like this, and talk about me online, and think it is a perfectly okay thing to do.”
9. He uses the paparazzi to get messages out to the world
Speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch and invasions of privacy, the actor isn’t too keen on photographers following his every step, either.
Still, at least Cumberbatch has figured out a way to use a salivating press to his advantage: cover himself in messages that the paparazzi will then relay to the world.
In 2013, when Cumberbatch was in London filming another series of Sherlock, Cumberbatch showed a series of hand-written messages to waiting photographers.
One message read, simply, “Go photograph Egypt and SHOW THE WORLD SOMETHING IMPORTANT”, a reference to the lack of focus in the media on the civil war then unfolding in the African state.
A week later, Cumberbatch reappeared with a number of sheets of paper, with the first headlined: “Questions we have a right to ask in a democracy”.
8. He refuses projects where female co-stars are paid less than him
In 2018, Benedict Cumberbatch gave an interview that was likely only going to make the Cumberbitches even hungrier.
Speaking to the Radio Times, Cumberbatch explained he had drawn a line in terms of co-star pay.
Following Best Actress winner Frances McDormand’s ‘inclusion rider’ Oscar speech earlier that year, Cumberbatch said he was going to refuse roles where female co-stars weren’t paid the same salary.
“Look at your quotas”, Cumberbatch told the Radio Times. “Ask what women are being paid, and say, ‘If she’s not paid the same as the men, I’m not doing it.'”
Going forward, Cumberbatch also says he’s now going to produce “a raft of female projects” through his production company, SunnyMarch.
7. He once punched a film critic for disrespecting Keira Knightley
Now we’ve established that Benedict Cumberbatch is a feminist and general good egg regarding his co-stars, let’s take a look at the time he punched a film critic for disrespecting Keira Knightley.
In 2014, with The Imitation Game on the horizon, co-stars Cumberbatch and Knightley were on the promotional trail when talk turned to 2007’s Atonement, their last on-screen collaboration.
Speaking to Elle magazine, Knightley dropped a bombshell about the last time she met up with Cumberbatch.
“When I saw him again, I said, ‘Did you punch a journalist?’ and he was like, ‘I f***ing did.’ Everybody needs a friend like that.”
Mark Kermode, perhaps the UK’s best-known critic, admitted it was he who Cumberbatch had punched, after he called the actress “Ikea Knightley” (a reference to what he considered her “wooden” acting style).
Cumberbatch later returned to Kermode’s radio show for The Imitation Game – and gave an interview with the critic’s co-host Simon Mayo only.
6. He’s related to King Richard III
You don’t get a name like Benedict Cumberbatch without being just a little bit related to the kings and queens of England.
Cumberbatch is so posh, he’s actually related to King Richard III, who served as England’s monarch from 1483 to 1485.
Cumberbatch is a third cousin 16 times removed from the Crookback king, a fact that no doubt spurred the actor on when he signed up to the BBC’s The Hollow Crown in 2016.
In the second season of the show, Cumberbatch played his third cousin (16 times removed) as written by William Shakespeare.
Cumberbatch even attended – and read a poem at – Richard’s 2015 reburial service, after the king’s bones were discovered underneath a car park in Leicester in 2012.
5. His ancestors were prominent slave owners
Cumberbatch, distantly related to a king and a grandfather submarine officer who was apparently the toast of London’s high society, comes from a background of privilege, to say the least.
To the actor’s horror, his privilege also happens to be at least partially built on Europe’s most shameful legacy.
In 1728, the sugar cane plantation known as the Cleland Plantation, in Barbados, was bought by Abraham Cumberbatch.
This man, Benedict’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, subsequently made his family’s wealth and name through the sugar cultivated by slaves at that plantation.
The Cumberbatch name is considered so toxic in some circles, the actor’s mother once recommended Benedict pick another stage name.
Cumberbatch reportedly considers his role in the film Amazing Grace, about abolitionist William Wilberforce, to be a ‘sort of apology’ for his ancestry.
4. He seriously buffed up as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness…then JJ Abrams hid the results
When Star Trek Into Darkness was released back in 2013, the headlines tended to focus on two things: Chris Pine’s abs, and Alice Eve’s abs.
However, what hardly anybody took notice of, despite all his effort, was Benedict Cumberbatch’s abs.
To play the villainous Khan Noonien Singh, Cumberbatch underwent a body transformation, consuming 4,000 calories daily and training two hours a day for the role.
To show off the results, director JJ Abrams even shot a Khan shower scene, with the Cumber-guns on full display.
Unfortunately, Cumberbatch’s shower scene was cut from the theatrical release of Into Darkness, meaning the results of Cumberbatch’s gym-going labour were kept literally under wraps.
Happily for TV viewers, the clip was later shown on Conan, presented in all its sexy glory by Abrams himself.
3. He’s one of PETA’s ‘Most Beautiful Vegan Celebs’
Benedict Cumberbatch is a Good Guy. If you don’t believe us, just look at all the charities and causes the Sherlock actor has got behind over the years.
Just look at how Cumberbatch lives: He’s a feminist. A Buddhist. A straight ally who, just occasionally, officiates gay weddings. He’s also, more pertinently for this item, a committed vegan.
Yes, just when you thought Cumberbatch couldn’t be more pure, the actor recently admitted to subscribing to “a plant-based diet.”
Not content to just eat vegan, Cumberbatch also wears vegan – for a 2016 GQ photoshoot, he insisted on wearing vegan boots and a suit from Brave GentleMan, the world’s first vegan luxury menswear brand.
Cumberbatch is such a vegan, and also such a posho hunk, that he was – along with Selma director Ava DuVernay – named one of PETA’s Most Beautiful Vegan Celebs in 2018.
2. He does a sweet Alan Rickman impression
It goes without saying that the late, great Alan Rickman was one of the finest bad guy actors the UK ever produced.
In films including Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the Harry Potter series, Rickman did villain like nobody’s business. He also had one hell of a voice.
It’s a voice that many have tried to imitate, but which few have truly nailed, Benedict Cumberbatch being one notable exception.
In 2013, Cumberbatch famously showed off his impressionist skills in a ‘Rickman-off’ with Jimmy Fallon on Late Night.
Though Fallon’s attempt at mimicking Rickman’s unique tones was…off, Cumberbatch delivered the goods.
Tasked with performing an a cappella rendition of Snoop Dogg’s Gin and Juice in the Rickman style, Cumberbatch didn’t just out-Rickman Fallon – he out-Rickmaned Rickman.
1. He’s a world champion photobomber
Benedict Cumberbatch might be a great actor, humanitarian and Alan Rickman-alike, but there’s another field in which the Sherlock star arguably excels most.
Cumberbatch is yet to win an Oscar, but he’s already a world champion in photobombing as far as we’re concerned – and he’s been showing his skills off at the Academy Awards in particular for the past five years.
At the 2014 Oscars, Cumberbatch pulled off not one, but two legendary photobombs, first epically invading a press shot of Irish super-band U2 on the red carpet.
Cumberbatch then followed that up by photobombing his 12 Years a Slave co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres live on television.
This wasn’t to be the last of the Cumber-bombs, however: the following year, Benedict was back, this time jumping into a shot of Greatest Actress of all Time Meryl Streep while she was doing a comedy bit.