Benedict Cumberbatch might have an unusual name, but unique names are usually the ones people remember the most. From portraying Shakespeare’s most famous character in Theatre to playing the world’s most renowned detective on TV to becoming one of the lead actors in the world’s most renowned superhero franchises, Benedict Cumberbatch is a force not to be reckoned with.
The BAFTA Award-winning actor has proven himself to be one of the most talented performers of the current times. Never afraid to take on a new challenge, Cumberbatch has flexed his acting abilities on every single stage he has ever been on. Starting his career in theatre, then moving to television, and then to the silver screen, Benedict Cumberbatch has done it all and is still doing it with no sign of stopping anytime soon! Not that we will ever want him to!
Most people know Cumberbatch from his famous roles as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s adaptation of Sherlock and from his role as Doctor Strange in the MCU. However, Benedict Cumberbatch is much more than these roles. Wonderful as they are! Since the very beginning of his career, the A-list actor had something to prove and prove it he did. Wherever he is cast, he will excel. So, let’s take a look at how Benedict Cumberbatch became Benedict Cumberbatch. From his childhood to his award-winning performances, he came to take it all!
The Beginnings of Benedict Cumberbatch
There is something you must know as we start this journey getting to know the English actor. Benedict Cumberbatch comes from a highly esteemed and wealthy family in London’s high society despite his claims that he grew up “middle class”. So, no, the man did not struggle, nor did he have a dramatically hard upbringing where he had to prove himself. That being said, his privileged upbringing does not take away from his talent and excellent craft.
Benedict Cumberbatch was born in 1976 in London, United Kingdom. Both his parents, Timothy and Wanda, have been actors. So we know where he got his love for the craft from! He attended boarding schools from a very young age and had his secondary education at Harrow School in London. In case you want to know how good that school is, one of its most famous alums is Winston Churchill!
A Drama-based Education
In school, Cumberbatch joined the Rattigan Society, Harrow’s club for dramatic arts. During his time at Harrows, he participated in multiple school plays, including William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Berbard Shaw’s Pygmalion. His drama teachers have immediately clocked Cumberbatch’s talent and called him “the best schoolboy actor” they have ever seen!
Despite advice from his drama teacher not to pursue acting professionally, as it is not the easiest career choice, Cumberbatch went on to attend Victoria University of Manchester, where he studied drama. From there on out, he trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where he got his Master of Art in classical acting.
Prepared with all the formal education and acting training one can dream of, Benedict Cumberbatch was ready to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.
Benedict Cumberbatch on The Stage
Benedict Cumberbatch started his acting career as a stage actor in classical theatre. You might notice that most known British actors today have had the same start where they begin their acting career in the theatre and then move to TV and film—starting as a theatre actor trains the actor to act in any circumstance in front of a live audience that will let you know what they think of your performance as you do it!
It takes a strong and confident actor to act on stage, and Benedict was up for it. He played many prominent roles and won multiple awards as a theatre actor. Here are some of the most important theatre projects Benedict Cumberbatch worked on.
Hedda Gabler (2005)
Hedda Gabler is a play by the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It tells the story of its title character, Hedda Gabler, a newlywed wife who is bored with her marriage and seeks luxury that she cannot afford.
Benedict Cumberbatch played the role of George Tesman, Hedda’s loving but oblivious husband. He performed the role of Tesman at Almeida Theatre in 2005, where he earned his first Olivier Award nomination for Best Performance in a Supporting Role. The play then moved to the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, which gave Cumberbatch his first role in a West End production.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most popular stories in the world. In 2011, it was adapted on stage with Benedict Cumberbatch playing both Victor Frankenstein and his monster in alternate nights opposite Jonny Lee Miller.
His role as both Victor Frankenstein and his monster has received several accolades and positive criticism from theatre critics. Cumberbatch’s iconic performance earned him the “Triple Crown of London Theatre” by receiving the Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award, and Critics Circle Theatre Award. The play was later chosen to be broadcast in cinemas as part of National Theatre Live.
The crown of every theatre actor’s career is playing a leading role in a Shakespearean play. And the crown of Shakespearean plays is Hamlet. In 2015, Benedict Cumberbatch came back to the West End to give a phenomenal performance of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Hamlet.
Benedict’s portrayal of Hamlet was called “Never in the least bit mad” by the Guardian as he had immense control of the character and his inner struggles. It is a performance so iconic and authentic to the source material that many Drama college professors ask their students to watch it for reference. Hamlet earned Cumberbatch his third Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor.
Benedict Cumberbatch on The Screen
The screen, whether it is a TV screen or the cinema screen, is where most of us were introduced to the incredible Benedict Cumberbatch. From his first supporting roles in shows such as the BBC’s The Last Enemy and Hawking to his leading roles in Van Gogh: Painted with Words and, of course, Sherlock, Cumberbatch excelled in every TV role he got.
The small screen is not the only screen Cumberbatch shined in, though. He has an extraordinary filmography and carefully chosen roles that made him an international star. After launching his cinema career with Starter for 10, Cumberbatch went on to deliver the most iconic roles in movies, such as 12 Years a Slave, The Imitation Game, and The Power of Dog. He also is not a stranger to huge movie franchises and blockbusters, having starred in The Hobbit series, Star Trek Into the Darkness, and several MCU movies as Doctor Strange.
Let’s take a look at Benedict’s most iconic television and film roles and how they affected his career.
Sherlock is a mini-series produced by the BBC that aired from 2010 to 2017. It had 13 episodes total that aired as four three-part series and a special feature. The series is a modern adaptation of the detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It follows Private Detective Sherlock Holmes as he solves mysteries around England with his trusted friend, Dr John Watson.
Benedict Cumberbatch played the role of Sherlock Holmes alongside Martin Freeman as John Watson. Sherlock was a top-rated series around the world, earning lots of critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout its time on air. During the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, the series won multiple accolades, including an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-Series for Cumberbatch.
Sherlock is considered to be Benedict Cumberbatch’s breakthrough role for global fame. The show put him on the map and raised his popularity among young audiences who were being introduced to the stories of Sherlock Holmes for the first time. The series was so popular that in 2020, The Royal Mail issued a number of UK postage stamps to commemorate the series and its characters!
The Hobbit (2012-2014)
Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in The Hobbit film series was his introduction to huge blockbuster franchises. The Hobbit is a spinoff series based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s books with the same title. They take place in the same world as Lord of The Rings, featuring some of the same characters as LOTR plus some more new ones, including Cumberbatch’s Smaug.
Benedict Cumberbatch played the character of Smaug the Dragon. Since the character isn’t human, Cumberbatch provided voice-over and motion capture for the role. This role was very challenging for Benedict as it required a whole new set of skills he had not used before! However, he did an excellent job, and his voice, emotions, and facial expressions brought Smaug to life on the big screen.
The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game is a period biographical movie that follows the story of Alan Turing, a cryptanalyst who helped decrypt the German intelligence messages for the British government during World War II.
Benedict starred in the film as the lead character, Alan Turning, opposite Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong. The movie was released to much critical acclaim and positive reviews. It was nominated for several awards, including the Golden Globes, BAFTA, SAG, and multiple Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Benedict Cumberbatch earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his role as Turing.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (2016-Current)
Benedict Cumberbatch joined the MCU in 2016 with the release of Doctor Strange. He played the Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange opposite Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Benedict Wong. The 2016 film was his introduction to the MCU but only his first of many appearances.
Cumberbatch reprised his role as the magical Doctor Strange in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), where he got to act alongside Marvel’s A-listers Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and more. He returned to play the doctor in the sequel Avengers: Endgame (2019). In 2021, Cumberbatch starred in Spiderman: No Way Home as a supporting actor alongside Tom Holland. In 2022, he finally got another solo Doctor Strange film in Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness. He reprised his role opposite Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff.
Joining the MCU has been a huge stepping stone for Cumberbatch as it is a long-standing contract. He already has multiple MCU movies under his belt, and we can expect to see him again in more! Whether this will happen sooner or later, we never know, as Marvel loves to keep its secrets!
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)
Cumberbatch’s latest project has been the short film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. The 2023 short film is directed by Wes Anderson and stars Cumberbatch in the lead role. He is joined by Wes Anderson regulars Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley.
The movie follows the story of a man who learns of a guru who can see without his eyes. Henry Sugar decides to train under the guru to learn the skill in order to use it to cheat during gambling.
The movie premiered during the 80th Venice Film Festival in September 2023 and was later released on Netflix in the same month. It received a standing ovation during the festival as well as a lot of critical acclaim for its direction, performances and faithfulness to the source material.
Benedict Cumberbatch Beyond Acting
Having a wonderfully unique and recognisable voice, Benedict Cumberbatch has done a lot of voice-over work, including narrations for multiple National Geographic documentaries such as Girlfriend in a Coma (2012) and Jerusalem (2013). He also narrated numerous audiobooks, including Casenova, The Tempest, Tom and Viv, and Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories.
Benedict Cumberbatch is also an active supporter and patron of many charitable organisations. He is an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust as well as a patron for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. He worked alongside Prince William to raise awareness and funds for cancer research for the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation.
The forty-seven-year-old actor has already given the world many iconic roles in the years he has been active, and it is hard to believe he can still give more! His talents and abilities have only proven to get better with age, and we cannot wait to see what the British actor has yet to deliver to the world!
July 19, 1976 in London, Untied Kingdom