No wonder Benedict Cumberbatch was happy to take on two roles in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movie trilogy – the Sherlock star is a lifelong fan of Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, and as a child liked nothing better than having it read to him before he went to sleep.
“My dad read the book to me and it was a bedtime treat if I had done well,” said Cumberbatch. “If I had been a good boy, I’d get two chapters as opposed to maybe one, or none if I had been really bad.” (Swoon, right, Cumberfans?)
“It became the first literary experience that played out as a visual fantasy or film in my head and really drew me into reading. That particular world, it was so clear in my mind what that film was to me as a kid.”
Cumberbatch had an equally vivid picture of one of the characters he is to play – the dragon Smaug, who he voices in the second part of the movie trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug.
“This incredibly vainglorious, beautiful, fantastical creature of myth, with such power and human frailty, his vanity and self-promotion and ego being his own self-destruction really, and not realising his weakness and his strength, and having a literal Achilles heel – it fascinated me,” the actor told Speakeasy.
Perhaps Cumberbatch’s fascination with the character explains why he was so keen to inhabit it in the movie in every way possible and – to Jackson’s apparent surprise – even insisted on donning a motion capture suit to perform some of the movements that would form the basis of the CGI creature.
“[Peter Jackson] wasn’t that in need of it but he said, ‘do you want to do it?’” revealed Cumberbatch.
“I said, ‘Absolutely, I do. That’s the great appeal, trying to bring this –’
“He said, ‘But–’
“I went, ‘I know what you’re going to say: I’m a biped mammal, I’m not a serpent with tiny claws or legs. I don’t have a tail, I can’t breathe fire or fly, and the rest of the things that aren’t dragonlike about me. But I do think in my imagination I’ve got something which might at least push the WETA animation into a direction.’”
“He went, ‘Come down and play.’”
So when Hobbit/Cumberbatch fans finally get to see Smaug in action (the film is due out in December) they can rest assured there’s as much of the actor in the dragon as humanly possible.
But what of the other part Cumberbatch is to play – the evil Necromancer?
“It was a huge challenge... [but] I can’t say too much about it [yet] otherwise the forces in New Zealand will be on my back.”