How Benedict Cumberbatch transformed into a wolf for Penguins of Madagascar

The Sherlock star joked he went to live with a pack of wild dogs for research, but he actually spent lots of time jumping about in a room by himself...

If you were disappointed that Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t the narrator in the Star Wars trailer after all, fear not because the actor has lent his voice to Dreamworks movie Penguins of Madagascar as a super-suave secret agent wolf named Classified.

Advertisement spoke to the film’s producer and director Lara Breay and Simon Smith to find out how Cumberbatch got on with his first animated role.

So here are our top nine behind-the-scenes secrets…

1. It’s not just readers who have fallen under Cumberbatch’s spell. “Everyone at the studio was quite obsessed with him,” said producer Lara Breay. “There was quite a stir when we cast him.”

2. It was Sherlock that made the team want to cast Cumberbatch. “We needed the perfect antagonist for the penguins and Benedict had popped up in Sherlock,” said director Simon Smith. “We thought, ‘oh my God, this guy has an incredible voice and he’s an incredible actor’.”

3. John Malkovich didn’t raise an eyebrow at being asked to play an evil Octopus named Dave. “We went to his beautiful house in France with all our artwork and we said ‘we’d like you to play the part of an evil octopus’ and he didn’t blink, looked at the art work and said ‘this looks really fun, let’s try’.”

4. The director Simon Smith instantly knew Malkovich was the right baddie...”He told us a couple of stories about times he’d got angry in the past and I got quite scared,” said Smith. “And I knew then that he was our villain.”

5. The filming was done virtually. “Benedict would be in a small room with a microphone and engineer, wherever he was at the time, and we’d be Skyping him on a big screen for two to four hours. We’d be throwing all this surreal direction at him and he’d just roll with it.”

6. Cumberbatch and Malkovich were never actually in the same room. “It was all done remotely, as trying to get Benedict and John in same place at same time was impossible,” said Smith. 

7. The animators used some of Cumberbatch’s characteristics in their drawings. “Once we had our cast we videoed them flailing about and being really physical in the recording sessions. We then sent the clips to the animators who fed off that and referenced it in the performance. So bits of Benedict found their way into the animation itself.”

8. Cumberbatch had no problem making a fool of himself. “He completely applied himself, and in some ways its harder because you have to imagine everythingthere were no costumes and no set. But he was happy to make a fool of himself by jumping and flailing around.”


9. The Sherlock star is pretty funny. “He came up with some of the jokes for the film. One of the funniest moments in the movie is where they’re trying to Skype with the super villain Dave (Malkovich) and Classified says, ‘it’s just like trying to Skype with my parents.’ He came up with that in the moment.”