Benedict Cumberbatch has played a First World War soldier, more than one genius physicist and, now, a villain in new movie blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness whom he describes as a “home-grown terrorist” and a “one-man weapon of mass destruction”. But which role is most like him? Thankfully it isn’t Star Trek’s catsuited psychopath – according to no less an authority that Cumberbatch’s mother, the screen alter ego he most resembles in real life is Sherlock Holmes.
“She sees a lot of me in Sherlock,” Cumberbatch said, “which both makes her laugh and is slightly embarrassing. I suppose it’s my rushing around, my impatience.”
On series three of the BBC1 detective drama, which is currently filming, Cumberbatch said: “It’s a cracking first episode. I can’t wait for people to see it. Really exciting. There’s a lot to answer.
“Sherlock is alive – that’s not an apparition. It’d be very odd if we saw inside Watson’s head and it was a picture of himself walking away from Sherlock’s grave in order to cut back to an image of Sherlock.”
And Cumberbatch – who last month announced that he and Martin Freeman had already signed up for a fourth series – reaffirmed that he is in Sherlock for the long haul. “I’d like to see him age with me. I wouldn’t mind Sherlock going on for a long time. Maybe we could revisit it as a one-off or a two-parter. Assuming Martin Freeman and I are free at the same time.”
Within two weeks, Cumberbatch’s fans can see him in action in Star Trek Into Darkness, the second movie for the rebooted sci-fi franchise to be directed by JJ Abrams. The film is expected to be a colossal box-office hit and has already vastly increased Cumberbatch’s profile around the world – but the original Star Trek was rarely on his television as a child.
“I remember watching Star Trek, but I wasn’t obsessive about it. There were other programmes I’d always tell my mum I wanted to watch. Mainly Knight Rider, The A-Team, occasionally Buck Rogers and, funnily enough for a child, Baywatch. Good old Pammy!”
On the new film, Cumberbatch said: “JJ wanted Into Darkness to reflect real-world threats of terrorism. The Star Trek universe is totally relatable to our modern world. There is plenty of Earth-bound jeopardy.”
In an extensive new interview with the Mail on Sunday, Cumberbatch described how a visit to Tokyo in December, to promote Star Trek Into Darkness, underlined how globally famous he is. “There were 600 fans to welcome me at the airport. A friend said they were excited about me coming over and suggested I wear something nice, so I slung on my best jacket and a jazzy shirt. I’m very glad I did. It was like the Beatles arriving in America for the first time.
“I went to LA properly for the first time for the Oscars last year and ended up at Madonna’s party. I met David Beckham at the bar and said, ‘Hello David, nice to meet you, I play Sherlock on television back home.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, nice, I think I’ve seen it.’ People now look at me with the look I probably gave David Beckham at the bar. This is all new and bizarre for me, but I’m adjusting to it.
“I find the level of scrutiny dulling as well as in your face and aggressive – some days I wear it lightly and other days I’m very aware of it.”
Cumberbatch reiterated that he has no plans to join his fans on Twitter: “I ramble. Tweeting wouldn’t come naturally to me and I want to expend my energy on work.”
The star said, however, that all the attention isn’t making him want to move to America, where despite his major role in Star Trek Into Darkness he is still much less famous than in the UK. “I love London. Culturally it’s where my heart and soul are, as well as my roots. I get the variety of work here that any actor in America would die for.
“[When] I flew back from Tokyo I got a huge kick from flying underneath the clouds and seeing my England. I felt so happy. It was the most beautiful wintry landscape, dusted with frost. Within the same field of vision as a giant retail park was a Norman church and some huge pile surrounded by woods and a driveway. The mundane and the majestic, the old with the new.
“I’m lucky; I can live here and work in the States. I can just pack a bag and go.”
Cumberbatch said one advantage America has over Britain is their lack of interest in actors’ social class – something that has caused the actor problems here. “No one minds so much over there. It’s rather about how good you are at your job.
“I’ve never denied my upbringing, [but] talking about class terrifies me. There is no way of winning. You either come across as being arrogant and ungrateful if you complain about it, or being snooty and over-privileged if you bathe in it.
“Someone will always hate what I say. There’s always going to be somebody spitting blood about my wooden-faced, toffee-named, crappy acting.
“I’m definitely middle class, I think. I know others would argue, but I’m not upper-class. Upper class to me means you are either born into wealth or you’re Royalty. OK, maybe I’m upper-middle class.’
The assumption in some quarters that Cumberbatch is very posh comes from his schooling: he was privately educated, including at Harrow, one of Britain’s elite public schools. “I was desperately proud of my parents for sending me to Harrow. It was a huge stretch for them. They were working actors who never knew when the next pay day might come.
“My parents wanted the best for me. I wasn’t sent to the school my dad went to. I’m not a hereditary peer. One of the best things about being an actor is that it’s a meritocracy.
“People have tried to pull together a pattern because Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Damian Lewis and I were all privately educated. But James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy weren’t and they’re equally talented. It’s just lazy to try to create a private-school elite.”
Asked about his childhood before Harrow, Cumberbatch recalled: “My prep school was heaven. It was like being in an extended holiday camp full of baby brothers. Suddenly I had this family of boys. It was a riot. I had so much fun. My parents saw I was happy, so I went off to board at Harrow.
“I was happy as an only child, but I’ve always wanted to be part of a bigger family.”
On whether this means Cumberbatch would like children of his own, he said: “I would love to. Everyone wants to know when I’m going to settle down and who is going to be Mrs Cumberbatch. I can’t wait to do an interview and just talk about my child.
“My mother’s daughter from her first marriage had a kid when I was about 11. I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible, they come in much smaller sizes!’ I was only used to my band of brothers at prep school. I was always the one at parties who looked after the younger children. I really enjoyed it.”
As for his behaviour as a child, Cumberbatch said: “Of course I was naughty! Every kid is naughty. I got into all sorts of trouble as a kid by pushing boundaries. Not illegal trouble, but mucking about. No more than anyone else, though. I wasn’t a bully, nor was I desperate for attention.
“I had a problem focusing. I probably had Attention Deficit Disorder, or something on the border of it. I was always performing, doing silly voices. The teachers realised I could go one of two ways: be creative or destructive. I was made a prefect and it calmed me down. I realised I was being respected and I needed to return that respect.
“I had to spend double the amount of time learning French vocabulary. I struggle to learn by rote. I’ve had meltdowns on set [due to forgetting his lines]. Which is embarrassing and shameful.”
Cumberbatch said having two actors for parents hadn’t led to a particularly bohemian upbringing. “There were bean bags, but it wasn’t like, ‘Hey guys, let’s hang out and talk about sexuality’ when I was five.”