A few years ago, not many people knew the name Benedict Cumberbatch.
In his latest role, he plays brilliant British cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game,” opening in theatres Nov. 28th.
He also plays not one, but two villains in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
Benedict Cumberbatch was born in London in the summer of '76 to actor parents Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton. He said he had a 'great childhood,' though he was 'over-gregarious' and 'prone to moments of hyperactivity, then exhaustion and bad temperedness.'
His parents tried to dissuade him from acting by sending him to Harrow, one of the oldest, most-respected all-male boarding schools in the United Kingdom. He describes the experience as 'a bit embarrassing.' 'Luckily I was on the rugby team, so I was macho at the same time!'
While he also painted at school, he couldn't escape the theatre. One of his earliest roles was playing Titania, Queen of the Fairies in William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'
He took a gap-year after school to travel to Darjeeling, India to teach English in a Tibetan monastery. 'I worked for six months to drum up the finance as it was voluntary -- there was no income,' said Cumberbatch. 'I could actually stay with monks in their home and watch them at work and at prayer, and get the chance to teach them and interact with them.'
Cumberbatch famously said he 'roughed it' by going to the University of Manchester rather than Oxbridge to study drama. 'I wanted something a bit more racy, a bit more different, a bit more egalitarian,' he explains. 'I had a thoroughly healthy -- and unhealthy -- mix of friends.'
When he was 19, his father watched him in a play and knew his son was born to act. 'My dad said 'I think you could do better at this than I've ever done and I'd really love you to.' We were both crying; it was an incredible thing to say.'
After appearing in a few TV mini-series, his breakthrough came in 2004's TV movie 'Hawking,' in which his portrayal of the theoretical physicist earned him a BAFTA Best Actor nod.
During a four-month shoot of TV miniseries 'To The Ends of the Earth' in South Africa, the self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie learned how to scuba dive, swam with whales and sharks, and went skydiving for the first time. 'I did a really touristy thing and I got a video made of my jump,' said Cumberbatch. 'There is an unflattering film of me, double chin flapping around my ears, going through the G-Force and going 'oh-my-God' - and a lot worse!'
While there, he and two friends were also abducted and held at gunpoint by six armed figures after receiving a flat tire. 'I was really worried that I was going to get raped or molested or just tortured or toyed with in some way, some act of control and savagery,' recalls Cumberbatch. They were eventually released without any explanation.
After playing a mustachioed child predator in 2007's Oscar-winner 'Atonement,' he became a household name as Sherlock Holmes in 2010's critically acclaimed British miniseries 'Sherlock.'
His role as the socially awkward and cumpulsive, but brilliant tech-savvy detective is captivating from the moment he's introduced on screen. The series allows audiences to see how the character works his way through an investigation by showing Sherlock's thoughts on screen.
Cumberbatch's parents actually guest-starred in the third season of the show playing Sherlock's parents.
The role quickly spawned a rabid fan base who refers to themselves as Cumberbitches (though Cumberbatch prefers Cumberbabes or Cumberpeople). 'The immediate response on Twitter... this thing of my name trending worldwide... I didn't understand,' he explains. 'I thought people were going to abseil out of helicopters with cameras stuck to their heads and run after me brandishing notepads and pens!'
Source: Empire Magazine
They follow him everywhere, from big premieres like 'Star Trek Into Darkness' to that of last year's 'The Fifth Estate' and create endless memes of him online. One of the most popular stems from a photobomb of U2 that went viral after this year's Oscars.
Cumberbatch doesn't completely understand his fan following. He has joked about having a 'weird face' that's 'something between an otter and something that people find vaguely attractive, or just an otter which is vaguely attractive.'
However, he has certainly embraced the fandom. 'I flirt with it. I have fun with it,' he says. 'I think if you take it too seriously, you're dead in the water, and if you ignore it, then it's kind of an insult because it's a reality. So I engage with it on my own terms, and people seem to really respond to that because it's me being me.'
He says fame has been a 'steep learning curve' but 'if fame affords me the type of ability to do the kind of work I'm being offered, who am I to complain about the downsides.'
Since 'Sherlock,' he has landed roles in 'August: Osage County' and '12 Years A Slave.' He's also rumoured to star in Marvel's upcoming 'Doctor Strange' comic adaptation.
He agreed to play the Wikileaks' founder in 2013's 'The Fifth Estate' even after Julian Assange asked him to pass on the role. 'This was not a pay day for me at all,' he recalled. 'I've worked far less hard for more financial reward. This project was important to me because of the integrity I wanted to bring to provocative difficult but ultimately timely and a truly important figure of our modern times.'
He also appeared on stage in Danny Boyle's production of 'Frankenstein,' for which he won numerous awards for his performance as the titular character. He'll return to the stage next year in 'Hamlet.'
Cumberbatch surprised many earlier this year when the Brit beat out Mark Ruffalo ('The Normal Heart'), and 'Fargo' stars Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton to take home his first Primetime Emmy for 'Sherlock.'
He broke the hearts of fans everywhere when he became engaged to theatre director Sophie Hunter. The announcement appeared as an old-fashioned excerpt in UK's The Times newspaper.
You can see Cumberbatch star as British cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing in his next movie 'The Imitation Game.'
Despite playing many wise men on screen, Cumberbatch says he's nowhere near as smart as them. 'I'm pretend clever. I'm not actually clever.'
He will also star in 'The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies,' in which he voices and provides motion capture for the dragon Smaug and the Necromancer. He has said his father's readings of the novel to him as a young boy inspired his take on the beast.
In 2005, Cumberbatch said he would love his career to follow in the footsteps of Gary Oldman. 'I've love to have a really broad sweep of characters, to be able to something edgy, surprising and unfashionable.' The two starred together in Oscar-nominated picture 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' in 2011.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.