Benedict Cumberbatch Asks Tough Questions About the Industry, Representation—And Himself

The riveting Power of the Dog star on navigating the “belly of the beast” in Hollywood.


Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t dodge tough questions—in fact, he raises some of the thorniest ones himself. Over a long outdoor breakfast at the Malibu Racquet Club, we’re preparing to discuss two of the most significant films of his career, Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Power of the Dog, both of which came out this past year. Cumberbatch considers their heft. “Am I working for the Goliath that’s killing the David?” he says.

Technically, it’s two Goliaths—Marvel and Netflix, respectively—but these days the Davids can’t afford to be adversarial. Cumberbatch knows how difficult it is to get a movie made without a particular star power: “Unless you have a Marvel star, financing any film is very, very, very, very difficult—no matter how important the story, no matter how urgent the story, no matter how talented and awarded and appreciated the artist is.” The director of The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion, recently said, “I actually hate” superhero movies. Cumberbatch finds both challenging and has been balancing blockbusters and prestige projects with uncommon ease—“artistically, I never think of the two as completely mutually exclusive.” He’s everywhere he needs to be.

In December, Cumberbatch’s irascible, magic-wielding Doctor Strange helped resuscitate the box office—for IP-driven blockbusters, anyway—by uniting Spider-Men of different universes for a record-shattering spectacle. This May, the doctor gets his own sequel with Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This likely sounds like a lot of special effects for a classically trained British actor, but Cumberbatch welcomes the challenge. “It’s a big moment for Strange,” he says. “We can bring our game to this large tentpole fare and give it an authenticity and a heartbeat and something that makes it not just effects-laden nonsense.”

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