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Star Trek Into Darkness – Benedict Cumberbatch interview

Star Trek Into Darkness

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BENEDICT Cumberbatch talks about playing the key role of John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness and how a strict eating and workout regime helped him to bulk up and get into shape.

He also talks about his approach to playing iconic characters such as Sherlock and how he reacted when he first got the role. He was speaking at a UK press conference…

Q. What was the biggest challenge about making Star Trek Into Darkness for you?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Which way to do my hair was the hardest thing really – straight or curly, or long with bangs, or a sort of ponytail… or maybe no hair! It was such a sort of whirlwind for me that it was just one ball of excitement from beginning to end. And in all seriousness, it was part of the journey – establishing John’s look was all part of the job.

Q. John Harrison is on the grey side of good and evil. What was the attraction in the character for you?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Well, I think it could have fallen into a stereotype. Like you say, there’s a grey area. There’s a lot of motivation and reasoning behind what he does, and he has a moral core – he just has a method, which is pretty brutal and abhorrent. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and I think there’s an ability to sympathise and empathise with his cause, maybe not his means of going about getting his ends. And I think it was there in the script though and it was a beautiful thing to be asked to play, this sliding scale of someone who could be trust-worthy and understandable and also somebody who could be out on a mission of revenge and trying to bring about what he sees is justice, and a changing of the order of authority. But that was one of the brilliant balances that was achieved in the script. You oscillate between abhorring him and feeling something for him.

Q. What was the first thing you did when you got the role?
Benedict Cumberbatch: I got an email, and like Alice [Eve], I didn’t pick up on the signals. The email said: “Do you want to come and play?” And I thought: “What? Squash or tennis or some kind of racquet-based activity?” Then the penny slowly dropped and I fell asleep because it was about 2am. It had been so frantic over Christmas getting myself on tape. I had done it but it had taken a day to compress this little file – iPhones are quite cool and they can store a lot nowadays – and once that had all been done, I sat back. But then I got a note back saying: “JJ’s on holiday.” And that was fine – he has to have a rest sometime. I just didn’t get the tape in before the holidays. So, I waited and tried to forget about it. But it was the most thrilling news. I was just over the moon. I was a huge, huge fan of the first film for every reason that’s been outlined previously. It’s just such a rich experience to be in his and the storyteller’s hands where you’re taken on a journey of high emotion, comedy, adventure, romance and comedy, and then back through all that again. I knew it would be a riot so I was well over the moon.

Q. What do you like about John Harrison?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Harrison’s sense of honour to his own, the idea of what family is and the importance of being protective of your tribe.

Q. You’ve played some incredibly iconic characters in recent years, from Sherlock to the dragon in The Hobbit, to John Harrison. Is there a common way that you approach the roles going into them? Do you avoid looking on the Internet or do you go back and see how they’ve been done before?
Benedict Cumberbatch: I always try to avoid going on the Internet. I think it’s best to start with a blank canvas and if you know you’re in the expert hands that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and be employed by, a lot of trust goes to those people. So, whether it’s Mark and Steven rebooting Sherlock and giving a modern-day twist to a much-loved Victorian hero, it sounds like a cheesy spin-off idea and yet in those fan-boys’ hands, it’s done with such authenticity and respect for the canon, in the same way that I think Star Trek is being done. That takes a lot of the heavy lifting for you. And beyond that, it’s just to try and imagine that you are… rather like when you’re auditioning, I try to imagine that I’m the only person that they are seeing that day because it can be overwhelming, in the same sense that it could be overwhelming if you try to fulfil everyone’s expectations rather than the people closest to you in the creative process, be it your director, or fellow actors and the writers. So, that’s kind of it – I try to trick myself into believing that no one has ever gone there before.

Q. Can you tell us how you physically prepared for this role? I understand you bulked up a little bit? And did it cause you any problems when it came to returning to the role of Sherlock?
Benedict Cumberbatch: It didn’t cause me a problem going back. Beyond the bangs and how I was going to wear my hair, that was the hardest thing in all honesty because it meant an awful lot of eating and a lot of working out in a very short space of time. But fortunately, I had a fantastic trainer in the shape of Mr Munroe, otherwise known as Peanut, who has also trained Mr Tom Hardy, who’s known to also get quite big. We worked together – we knew each other through Tom from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so that was a lovely thing but a lot of hard work. And yet I really enjoyed it. I’ve never been asked to before, and it was integral to the character, who had to have a strong physical shape and presence and be able to move at the same time, so I couldn’t just be a stiff and lump of muscle. I had to be able to stretch and fling my arms and legs about a bit. I loved all that. I really, really enjoyed it. Although, there was one stage where I ate about 4,000 calories a day and then carb depleted. It’s horrible. You turn into an absolute creature from hell, because all the fuel you have been relying on to get you through the workout disappears. It’s just horrible. Now I know how girls feel. Diets are shite. But the workout was fun and the amount of live action that this man [JJ Abrams] lets us do and wants us to do… it’s part of the visual thrill. We have the most amazing… amazing people who built this world and effects around us and we’re asked to do an awful lot of work in front of it beforehand. So, you get the joy of seeing real bodies in these incredible environments.

Q. Was there one particular type of food that you fell in love with? Junk food…
Benedict Cumberbatch: I didn’t go the junk food way. Chicken – I love the chicken, all sorts of chicken, and salmon. And protein shakes. Are you from a food programme? I was filming Sherlock until midnight last night, so my powers of deduction are a bit sleepy. We tried to keep it normal and food-based: carb, protein and chicken. I ate a lot of what these guys ate. I suddenly discovered they were all walking on set with these beautiful bags of pre-made meals that had been put together by dieticians. So, I asked whether I could get one and then I got one so I wouldn’t have to eat chicken, chicken and more chicken. For two weeks I was eating chicken, potatoes and broccoli. Thank you.

Q. What would your 10-year-old self have made of the career you’ve had in general and your involvement in this film in particular?
Benedict Cumberbatch: [In 10-year-old voice] Gosh, how you’ve grown. You had nothing to worry about. [In normal voice] I don’t know. That’s a great question and it would take me too long to think about it and come up with a great answer. Pretty chuffed I think. What was I doing when I was 10? I was probably playing Anne in Half A Sixpence at that time, so the idea of being in a Star Trek film was probably vey far from Anne’s mind. I think he was just very worried… he would have been very, very surprised and wouldn’t quite believe it. He still doesn’t.

Read our review of Star Trek Into Darkness

Read our interview with JJ Abrams

Read our interview with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto