Benedict Cumberbatch throws himself into the role of Smaug for ‘The Hobbit’

One of the things I find most exciting about performance-capture technology is watching the way it frees actors to try things that would never have been possible even ten years ago.

Benedict Cumberbatch is the actor of the moment, in demand with filmmakers for drama, genre films, television, stage… basically, everyone wants to work with this guy, and he’s being offered a huge range of roles to play. He has appeared in no less than 10,000 movies this year, and in “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug,” he is playing 300 different roles.

Those numbers may be slightly off, but Cumberbatch is playing two key roles in the film, and instead of that being a matter of different make-up for each one, he is able to vanish completely into the role of Smaug thanks to performance capture. There is a time when he would have simply provided a voice, but now he can throw himself into the role, both body and soul.

The actual process of performance capture can be a very vulnerable moment for an actor. You have to be willing to look completely ridiculous, and you can’t worry about how you are in the room. It’s one of the reasons I don’t think you see a ton of behind-the-scenes footage of performance-capture. You’ll see a few moments, but considering how hard actors work to make sure every behind-the-scenes image that is released makes them look awesome, you’ll never really get to see the nuts and bolts of the process.

All of that makes it extra-special that several images leaked yesterday of Cumberbatch hard at work playing Smaug. The images were pulled from the upcoming Blu-ray release of the special extended edition of the first film, but they are loads of fun. It looks like Cumberbatch decided to really go for it physically, and he looks like he’s having a blast. I can’t wait to see how much of his performance ends up in the final character.

We’ll see when “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug” opens on December 13, 2013.