SHERLOCK is back for its third season on PBS, Sundays at 10 PM, and not a moment too soon. The series, created by Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat from Arthur Conan Doyle’s detail-oriented British detective character, has been much missed by its fans during the long gap since the end of Season 2, which saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock apparently falling to his death from a rooftop, much to the grief of his friend and detecting partner Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman). Now Sherlock is back – with an explanation of how and why he disappeared for two years and fooled Watson into believing he died.
Unlike Sherlock, Cumberbatch shows no signs of disappearing. The second-generation London-born actor, son of Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham, has a large batch of feature film performances both recently released (Khan in STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, slave owner Ford in 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Julian Assange in THE FIFTH ESTATE, Midwesterner Little Charles in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and the dragon Smaug and the Necromancer in THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG) and upcoming (Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME), as well as the five-part miniseries PARADE’S END as the heroic Christopher Tietjens, which aired last spring on HBO.
Cumberbatch is at PBS’ portion of the Television Critics Association press tour to talk about SHERLOCK. Following a Q&A panel, he talks to a small group of reporters about all aspects of his career.
AX: As your parents are both actors, was it inevitable that you would become an actor?
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: No. Not at all. I tried very hard not to be. I wanted to be a barrister. [As an actor], there were low expectations of employment, peripatetic, and everyone that came towards me, trainee barristers and lawyers, were like, “Go back now while you can.”
AX: Did your parents hope that you’d become an actor?
CUMBERBATCH: No, anything but. I mean, they’d worked really, really hard to afford me an education where I could be anything but an actor. They wanted me to do something else – they were brilliant at it. They have wonderful careers – it’s ongoing – but they wanted something better for me, as all parents do for their children, and they saw the pitfalls at the end of the street and didn’t want me to suffer those, so they were very selfless and wanted me to do anything but.
AX: Is there a particular pressure in playing Sherlock, who’s meant to be the most intelligent person on Earth?
CUMBERBATCH: Is he supposed to be the most intelligent person on Earth? I think he thinks he is, but you know.
AX: Do you just rely on the script as far as depicting his brain power?
CUMBERBATCH: Yes. I’ve got one of the most intelligent scriptwriters on Earth helping out there and a couple of other [writers], so what you see on screen is just parroting his brilliance, and Doyle’s. It’s an interesting thing.
AX: Is there something you do as an actor to let us know that, “Okay, the wheels are turning” or do you just do what you’re doing and let us project?
CUMBERBATCH: I don’t know. You’ll have to look at that. I’m not my own audience enough to analyze that. I do what I do. You have an inner process and you hope that that translates, and often on film, that through the eye or the body can do that, because you’re looking in close-up, but I don’t like unpacking these things. It’s just like, what’s the point? You can look at all the magic tricks and how they’re all done and I suppose you could still enjoy putting it back together again, but I’d rather let other people do that.
AX: What’s your take on Sherlock’s status as a sex symbol, as he’s a character that doesn’t seem to be really interested in sex?
CUMBERBATCH: Non-threatening, unavailable, cruel – I mean, there are a lot of recipes to why that might be the case. I don’t know. He has a sexuality. There’s no doubt about it. It’s just he subsumes it in order to do his work. I’ve said that many times before, but the idea that he doesn’t know or hasn’t experienced sex I think is inaccurate.
AX: Can you say anything about your reported upcoming films FLYING FOREST or EVEREST or THE IMITATION GAME?
CUMBERBATCH: THE IMITATION GAME I’ve shot, and that’s happened. The other two haven’t been shot and haven’t happened, and the one that might be on at the moment for certain is THE LOST CITY OF Z, which is a James Gray picture.
AX: Is your character in LOST CITY different than ones that you’ve played before?
CUMBERBATCH: Pretty different. Pretty different. Percy [Fawcett] is an interesting character. He’s quite obsessive, he’s quite determined and strives to conquer everyone’s cynicism about thisEl Dorado, this lost city of gold that he believes exists in the Amazon. And it’s going to be really cool. It’s a brilliant filmmaker and fantastic characters.
AX: Would you consider doing an American TV series?
AX: Why not?
CUMBERBATCH: Because if I do an English one [which has shorter seasons], there’s time – I want to do theatre and film as well as television.
AX: Do you have a favorite character that you’ve played?
CUMBERBATCH: Not really, but Christopher Tietjens [in PARADE’S END] is near it.
AX: Are there characters that you’d like to play?
CUMBERBATCH: Yeah, there are a few. There’s a fantastic character, Patrick Melrose, in a series of novels called the Patrick Melrose novels that Edward St. Aubyn has written and I believe that David Nichols is doing an adaptation as we speak of those books. He’s one of Edward’s good friends. A phenomenal character.
AX: Is there any Olympic sport that you would like to do?
CUMBERBATCH: Snow-boarding. I didn’t make it this year, sadly.
AX: Are you good at it?
CUMBERBATCH: I wouldn’t say that, but yeah. When the insurers allow it – or they don’t sometimes – I just nip off and have a go. But I do like that.
AX: With respect to Steven Moffat’s other show DOCTOR WHO, would you be averse to some sort of crossover with SHERLOCK?
CUMBERBATCH: I would be very averse to that! [laughs]
AX: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
CUMBERBATCH: The best advice I’ve ever gotten is, don’t spend too long in front of a load of journalists with Dictaphones [laughs]. I would say that’s the best advice I ever got. I’ve had a lot of good advice. Don’t go to the salmon in the buffet. I don’t know.
AX: Is there anything else you would like us to know about SHERLOCK right now?
CUMBERBATCH: Not really, no. Just go and watch it.
Related: Interview with SHERLOCK co-creator Steven Moffat on Season 3
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Article: Interview with SHERLOCK star Benedict Cumberbatch on Season 3