• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2022: Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”

Born in a family of actors, Benedict Cumberbatch has been many people, on stage or in front of a camera – and sometimes not even in his own body. From the supporting parts that, in the 00s, launched him in the Hollywood universe – in The Ends of the Earth, Atonement, The Other Boleyn Girl, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy – to his unforgettable Sherlock in the BBC/PBS series, Cumberbatch has been heroes, villains, soldiers, scientists, artists, nobles, kings, the occasional dragon, the Grinch and, of course, a superhero doctor. But what makes all these performances notable is, quite often, not what we can see, immediately, but what Cumberbatch builds subtly in our perception, the nuances and silences, the body language. All of these skills focus on the in-betweens, the deep things that aren’t said, but, in fact, lived.
His work in building the repressed, wounded, fiery Phil Burbank in Jane Campion’s The Power of The Dog – the role that got him his fourth nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama – is a masterclass of showing without actually showing who the lanky, handsome, powerful, toxic cattle rancher really is. A perfect pair to Campion’s own slay-of-hand that marks her style, her subtle way to tell the whole story while asking the viewer to fill in the carefully planned gaps.
“(His) toxicity is something that is a product of his nurture, his upbringing, his circumstance, it’s nothing that’s arrived fully-fledged, it comes out of a moment and a moment and a moment”, Cumberbatch said at the Venice International Film Fest, where The Power of the Dog premiered.  “So I can understand him, I can look into that and appreciate it, not condone it, but understand it. And I think I can understand someone who is defensive, someone who is anxious about everything they have built to be potentially taken away, who is lonely, who is repressed, who is feeling isolated in his circumstance and everything that he has tried to create that is authentic in his life when there is a center of authenticity that can’t fully be revealed.”
Before the Covid pandemic pushed the production to New Zealand, Cumberbatch spent his pre-production time in Montana with ranch hands, learning their skills, “roping and riding and ranching and just having an immersive experience”. These physical assets served as a foundation for him to become the complex Phil Burbank. “I have a problem with that kind of simplistic duality, not to turn too pompous about it, but I think he’s just so complex”, he said. “Once you start understanding someone, he can’t become just a cookie-cutter antagonist bad guy. And that’s kind of the beautiful poetry and complexity of it, of the whole situation.”
The collaboration with Jane Campion was the key element that made his character-rich and fascinating. “Jane gives you every facility to go there”, he said. “whether it’s introducing you as a character to the cast and crew and saying you will meet Benedict at the end of the shoot, just allowing you to be that character until the end of production. When you meet Jane you have all the baggage of her iconic status in cinema and the weight of that. And then who walks in the room is this delightful human being who is collaborative and frail and is interesting and as humorous as the rest of us. And still, there is just this underlying alchemy that she doesn’t let on too much because she is very modest. But it affects everyone, not just in the film, you see it with the crew, you see how hard they worked to make it the best possible shot, every single moment of that shoot. And that admiration comes from pure respect and how she is, who she is as a human being and her artistry. And she’s great fun to be around.”