Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing iconic characters. Since becoming a household name with his role as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series, he was Oscar-nominated for playing mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing Doctor Stephen Strange. His latest venture is no different: Benedict is taking on one of the most well-known roles in festive history as the title character in 2018’s version of Dr Seuss’s The Grinch.
He’s one of Britain’s most famous faces, so when BuzzFeed UK got the opportunity to meet with Benedict while he was promoting The Grinch in London recently, we jumped at the chance to learn a little bit more about him. Here’s what he revealed…
1. Tea or coffee?
Benedict Cumberbatch: It depends what time of the day. Coffee in the morning, tea the rest of the day.
2. Puppies or kittens?
3. Which animal do you think you’re most similar to?
BC: An otter, clearly.
4. Have you ever been mistaken for another celebrity?
BC: Yeah! Matt Smith, Eddie Redmayne. The usual.
5. What was the most exciting thing about playing the Grinch?
BC: When I first heard about it, and when I saw it. I mean, everything in between was a ballache. [laughs]
No, it was great. It’s a dream job — it’s a fantastically iconic character, and to let your full Grinch out is always good fun. I’ve played a few — let’s put it like this — socially awkward outsiders, I suppose, so he sort of fits into that vein. But it’s just a very brilliant, immediate story about Christmas and what the very best of Christmas is, so it also has a beautiful narrative arc to it.
6. What was the most challenging thing?
BC: Being Grinchy, sometimes. I mean, I’ve been Grinchy when they’ve said, “We need you again. We need to do some more stuff before you go on holiday after your fifth week of filming in a row.” But then the minute I stepped through the doors, I always had a really, really good time doing it.
7. What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
BC: That’s a really good question. It’s not one I should answer, I don’t think. I think the best presents I’ve ever given have been experiences, so a hot air balloon trip, or a great meal. Just spending time with people, with the present.
8. What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever been given?
BC: Well, that’s unfair, I don’t do bests. That’d upset a lot of people, all of which will obviously be watching this interview. [laughs] But bicycles, when you’re young, are pretty unforgettably cool. They give you an immediate sense of independence.
9. What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
BC: Free time, family, and friends. Definitely.
10. Where’s your favourite place in the world?
BC: Home. Always. And that’s a moveable feast.
11. Where is one place you’ve never been, but would love to visit?
BC: I’d love to go to Mauritius or Bali or somewhere like that. I’ve heard Costa Rica’s amazing. A lot of South America — in fact, all of South America. I haven’t been anywhere. Chile, Brazil, Argentina. I’d love to visit those countries.
12. What’s the weirdest thing you own?
BC: The weirdest thing I own… [turns to his publicist]
Publicist: The thing that used to hang from your ceiling, that you train with.
BC: My TRX bands?! Karon thinks the weirdest thing I own is my TRX bands, which, for fitness freaks, is a sort of clippable band that you attach to a point in the ceiling. Those who don’t know what it is think it’s some kind of sex toy, but it’s actually just for doing pull-ups and bicep curls using your body weight instead of weights.
13. What’s your favourite pizza topping?
BC: I’m vegan now, sooo… A vegan cheese with some vegetables, it’s great. I don’t know why I did an American accent. I’m an English vegan.
14. What is your drink of choice?
BC: That really depends, but I love a spicy margarita. Anything that’s got a tequila base to it— We’re talking alcohol? If we’re talking about fizzy pop, then a light dousing of elderflower cordial with some ice and lime and fizzy water. But tequila gets me going.
15. What’s your favourite drunk food?
BC: Pizza, clearly. Vegan pizza.
16. What advice would you give to your younger self?
BC: Don’t worry.
17. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
BC: Don’t worry. [laughs]
18. What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever had?
BC: Meeting Barack Obama, and him saying, “You’re doing great work at the moment,” and just going, “You too, President of the United States of America!” That was extraordinary.
On the other end of the spectrum, some kids in Nepal. I was filming in Kathmandu, very bearded and disguised and looking pretty shaggy and un-Sherlocky, and these kids just immediately knew who I was. That was kind of amazing. And in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery after that, which I thought was a private meeting, and then it was all over their Facebook page. It was strange, but bless them, that was amazing.
19. Have you ever freaked out about meeting another celebrity?
BC: Yeah! Buzz Aldrin! I mean, shaking the hand of a man who’s walked on the moon… And Barack Obama again. He comes up quite often on the list, unsurprisingly.
20. Who’s one actor you’d love to work with, but haven’t yet?
BC: The Gosling. He’d be nice to work with, I think. Matt Damon. There’s a lot of actors I haven’t worked with that I’d like to work with — Ethan Hawke, I really like him. Ed Norton. Woody Harrelson. There’s a lot of them, we could be here a long time. I can’t just give one answer to that kind of question.
21. Do you have a signature dance move?
BC: Yeah. The death drop, but I’m not going to do it now. There’s no dance music, so I can’t do it.
22. What’s the most challenging role you’ve ever played?
BC: They all are, because you end up carrying a lot if it has an impact on someone you’re playing who’s alive, or their relatives. Then there are fictional characters, who are loved by everyone, whether it’s this or Sherlock.
23. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had playing a role?
BC: I had a lot of fun on this. I would say that, because we’re here to talk about this, but it’s just brilliant when you’ve got such a great script and you start seeing the animation come through.
You can hang out with people and shoot the breeze and find life and everything absurd about it — especially with what we’re going through at the moment — funny, and make it into something that can be enjoyed rather than depressing. That’s a mark of friendship as well as anything else, and that’s a great thing to have in a working collaboration. I’ve been very lucky with the people that have asked me to work for them and vice versa, and this was no exception.
24. What’s your biggest pet peeve?
BC: Well, around Christmas time, it’s the amount of plastic involved in packaging. It does with food as well. That worries me — you don’t think about it in the shop so much, but once you get home and open your fridge, you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m just opening bits of plastic all the time.” That really upsets me, so I’m trying to get better at that in our house. It’s hard — well, it’s not hard, you just have to make an effort. It’s very convenient, and that’s the problem.
25. What was the last song that was stuck in your head?
BC: [sings “Wind the Bobbin Up”]
26. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
BC: That, obviously. [laughs]
No, “Young Americans” by David Bowie. Maybe if I’m feeling a bit emo and broody, “Creep” by Radiohead. Never ever Queen, ever. It’s far too hard — it’s always the death of the karaoke night when four people think, “We can do ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’!” No, you can’t! They’re highly skilled classical musicians doing things at the top of their game! Very rarely is that true of karaoke people.
27. What was the last film you saw?
BC: First Man. Well, this actually — The Grinch — but we won’t talk about that, because why should we? We’re only promoting it.
No, it was First Man, and I thought it was everything that cinema is capable of and elevated. I think Damien Chazelle is a genius, and I don’t say that very often about anybody. It was done so tastefully that when you did get those moments of the epic, of the unbelievably huge, whether it was a Sea of Tranquility or an Earthrise, it was just so beautiful and powerful. I was really moved by it. I thought it was just brilliant.
28. What film never fails to make you cry?
BC: I’m a real softie when it comes to films, so anything with any amount of sentiment makes me cry at the moment. I’m probably a bit sleep-deprived, that’s probably why. Oh, you know what, Rust and Bone. That’s a great movie — it’s not that sentimental, but it’s just so powerful and brilliant. That moves me every time I see it.
29. What job would you want to do if you weren’t an actor?
30. What’s your proudest achievement?
BC: My family, definitely.
31. What’s one ambition you have yet to accomplish?
BC: Being a grandparent. It’s a way off, I hope. [laughs] But as far as… Directing, I haven’t done that, going back to that answer.
32. What’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you happy?
BC: My children. They always make me happy.
33. What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
BC: That I hate my moustache. [laughs] They probably wouldn’t be surprised by that.