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Interview – Benedict Cumberbatch On ‘The Imitation Game’


Posted November 10, 2014 by

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Benedict Cumberbatch On ‘The Imitation Game’

After a few post-Atonement years under Hollywood’s radar, Benedict Cumberbatch now juggles blockbusters, animation, television and theatre. Most recent of all though is The Imitation Game, a feature film from director Morten Tyldum where Batch plays World War Two hero and code-cracking genius Alan Turing. The film opened the 58th BFI London Film Festival, where Cumberbatch spoke about the prodigy and persecution of a neglected hero, whose legacy as one of the founding fathers of modern computing lives on.

Given the gravity of the role, the Sherlock star was under immense pressure to do justice to this hero. “He was wronged by history,” Cumberbatch says. “The idea of getting a broader picture of him out there carried the weight of importance. It’s been an extraordinary decade for him because of his centenary, official pardon from the Queen (for his prosecution for homosexuality in 1952) and now this film. It’s all part of the momentum to bring him the recognition he deserves. We remember a man who lived an uncompromising life at a time of disgusting discrimination contextualised by the fear of the red threat of communism.”

With no visual or audio recordings, Batch works from a blank canvas in bringing Turing to life. “You’re toying with something where you have nothing to bounce off,” he says. It was Graham Moore’s script and Tyldum’s research that “guided me towards a picture of the man. I was also lucky enough to meet people who either had met him or were related to him. They gave me accounts which were helpful to personalise this extraordinary man.”

What of this Oscar buzz? “If it gets people to see the film, frankly, that’s all I care about,” he reveals. “It’s very flattering of course, but there are a lot of other extraordinary performances people haven’t seen yet. More importantly for me, I really want [Turing’s] story to be known and our film to be a launching point for a proper celebration of Alan Turing.”

The Imitation Game is a very British story delivered by an all-British cast, but helmed by a Norwegian. “I thought it was a very smart fit to bring a man who had delivered an incredibly entertaining but really dark thriller (Headhunters, 2012) to the screen,” admits Cumberbatch. Tyldum, whose finely etched character study digs far deeper than 2001’s Enigma, exercises his talent for thriller, essaying the same devotion to detail as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). “You aren’t invested in a thriller unless you care about the characters,” he continues. “We shared a passion for the subject and we were both ashamed at how little we knew. I was saying to Morten, ‘Why isn’t this man on some denomination of our currency? Why isn’t he on the front cover of science and history text books?’”

We all know Benedict for his exceptional work as the socially abrasive genius Sherlock in the BBC series of the same name, and although there are potent similarities to be made between Baker Street’s sociopath and Turing, “they’re different people” insists the star. “Turing is very quiet, stoic, determined and a different type of hero. He’s smart but an outsider because of the conditions of his personal life,” he affirms. “As far as the similarity that he’s socially awkward, what you see in the film is an evolution in him which is humanising. That happens in some aspects with Sherlock but I didn’t read the script and think, ‘this is Sherlock in tweed.’”

Although TIG is heavy on scientific jargon, Cumberbatch claims, “There’s a great romance to the philosophy of maths and physics which is tangible. There are hugely exciting things that, on a base level everyone can understand: the idea of coding, the idea of programming and the idea that what we use as language can be turned into something universal. I don’t necessarily understand everything about it, but the broad brushstrokes are very appealing.”

One of the central talking points of TIG is the treatment of Turing’s sexuality. “He had to suppress his sexuality, make it private, make it something secret. When he talks about his sexuality in the film, it shows his complete honesty, guilelessness and innocence. He was aware of the risks, but at the same time wasn’t willing to cave in to the intolerance and potential permutations of confessing such a thing.”

TIG is not only a film about WW2 innovation, but of a man drowning in secrets in a time were homosexuality was prohibited. “There’s a dark stain of shame on the government’s hand in persecuting thousands of men for their sexuality for fear of communist sympathies,” he exclaims. “Why couldn’t his posthumous pardon have come earlier? I don’t know, I’m not the Queen or David Cameron. Maybe those will be my next roles. Can you see me in that frock? Weird visions going through my head… But seriously it would be very interesting to know why, because you immediately feel a sense of injustice playing a man treated as appallingly as he was.”

How has a story of heroism during a time of pure bleakness been ignored for so long? “As a society, if we live through a very secretive or shaming era, we become very good at overlooking things. It’s dangerous to do that because the smell from underneath the floorboards is eventually impossible to ignore and hopefully this film will do something to expose the truth of what happened to the man.”

Benedict Cumberbatch is on monumental form, playing a tormented man who devoted part of his life to help end the war, but who was never treated like the hero he was.

The Imitation Game opens in cinemas November 14th 2014


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Anthony Lowery
Freelance Contributor

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