It’s always surprising just how funny Benedict Cumberbatch can be in an interview setting. He does like to go a bit “blue,” adding an out of nowhere “motherfucker” to the conversation that you’re certainly not expecting regarding an animated holiday movie about the Grinch. (Cumberbatch also adds if it were up to him, The Grinch would be “rated X” and I think he was only half joking.) This adaptation of the Dr. Seuss favorite explores a bit more of what makes the Grinch the Grinch. And how as an orphaned child, the people of Whoville didn’t seem to care too much about him, so that’s probably not going to have a lasting effect on anyone.
Luckily, this time, Cumberbatch was allowed to talk about the character he was playing, as opposed to the last time I had spoken to him, for Star Trek Into Darkness, where the subject of Kahn was off the table. Cumberbatch humored me as I finally got to ask him a question from my notes on that day I wasn’t allowed to ask at the time. Also, now that the dust has settled on Avengers: Infinity War (literally), Cumberbatch takes us through what it was like for him to watch Doctor Strange and all the other characters flake away into nothing.
And as a bonus, if you happened to be watching Cumberbatch on the Today show last week, you may have noticed that it was a, well, awkward segment. (The short of it, a young boy was brought on who was not interested in all The Grinch gifts he was given and was even less excited about meeting Benedict Cumberbatch.) Well, the good news is there’s a happy ending.
I’ve interviewed you once before. It was for Star Trek Into Darkness. And it was weird because before the interview I was told you couldn’t answer any questions about who you were playing.
I know, yeah.
So I looked at my old notes and it turns out I have been waiting five years to ask you this question.
Like, “Who are you playing?”
Here’s what I had written down, then crossed out: “What was it like playing Khan?”
[Laughs] It was great. It was really great. It was such good fun.
I’ve been waiting five years to ask you that. Thank you.
You got to pop your cherry on it. You’re welcome, any time.
So with The Grinch, do you go to them and go, “Hey, I think I can do a really great Grinch.” Or do they come to you and say, “We want you to be the star of this movie. What do you have in terms of voices?”
Yeah, they came to me, and I was more than happy to oblige. I mean, for me, it was a very unusual ask, for a start, which is immediately intriguing.
That makes sense.
It was out of the ordinary until they said, “Oh, could you do it in your own voice?” And I went, “Oh, right, I have played some other socially awkward, talented, but at times very rude English characters. So now I kind of get why they might want me to do that.” I was really flattered, and then I just pushed back and said, “It has to be in an American accent from my point of view.”
There were too many questions about this character. Why is he green? Why is everyone else sort-of/kind-of not green? And why has he got fur all over him and why haven’t the others? So I don’t think he should be English as well, but I thought just not thematically a bad guy. You know?
It would just be something else that makes him different.
This is the first time I’ve played a lead in an animation. And it’s a lot of work over a very long period of time, so you’ve got to have an actor who is gonna be interested in doing it. Of course, there were sessions which made me a bit Grinchy, because they were just off the back of a holiday. Or they were in the middle of a job at a weekend or something like that, and I’d be Grinchy about the scheduling.
How often are you saying “Grinchy” these days?
Not too much. Though somebody said to me recently, “Don’t be a Grinch.” And I went, “No, motherfucker, I am the Grinch.”
Strangely enough, that line is not in the movie.
No, the “motherfucker,” that got cut. You’re right, it did. That didn’t make it to the final film.
With this rendition, I found myself kind of on the Grinch’s side. I enjoyed his perspective.
I got to see the other two iterations of the character, because I didn’t obviously before. And Jim Carrey’s film was certainly not on my radar as a 20-something-year-old when it first came out. In England, it isn’t such an institution as it is in the States. I’m sure the Jim Carry one is shown every year.
I don’t think it’s on that much here to be honest.
I think it was for a little bit?
I haven’t seen it in a while.
I think Scrooge is more for us. It’s the Bill Murray updated version which I absolutely love, because it’s Bill Murray after all.
Now that’s true, Scrooged is on a lot.
That and Die Hard.
Yes, Scrooged and Die Hard, those are the two big Christmas movies.
They are for me anyway. I love them. I can’t remember why this conversation started?
Well, I was going to point out that I think the people of Whoville need to take a good long look in the mirror, because they treated The Grinch poorly.
I think they were unaware. This is the thing, the Whos need the Grinch, and the Grinch needs the Whos. These aren’t polarities of good and evil. These are lovely kind of gray areas, and that’s why you should feel for a character I think, the Grinch, in a sense. And you should be able to enjoy his meanness as well.
And harsher language.
Yeah, loads of “motherfuckers,” and stuff like that. Yeah, if it were up to me it would have just been X rated.
I’ve enjoyed you in many, many things over the years. But one of my favorite performances was when you were on the Today show last week. That kid did not care about those presents or meeting you.
You played that off so well.
I don’t know if I did.
Oh, I thought you handled that well.
You literally said, “Wow.”
I literally, I felt like my balls were on display. I was so embarrassed.
I thought you handled it great.
And I was embarrassed for the kid as well. It’s like, you know? He was terrified and looked a bit jetlagged, so I could kind of empathize with that. It was the three golden rules: don’t work with animals, children, or fake snow – and they were blowing that in my face at 8:30 in the morning as well, so it was all a bit much. And you know, you have to be able to describe a movie in like five sentences, which as you can hear from this interview, I’m crap at. People say, “Why don’t you do social media?” And I’m like, “Because I’d be terrible at it. It’s a waste of time, and I’d never be able to get something in 240 characters.”
That kid was so not interested in meeting Benedict Cumberbatch.
I know, poor boy. But you know what? He was there the next day at the premiere and he was dancing around.
Oh, see, that’s great.
And I went up to him and we high fived. We had a dance and a hug and he said, “Yeah, I was a bit scared.” Poor thing, he was. He was terrified. And I said, “Did you enjoy the movie?” He went, “Yeah.” And his face just lit up. His mom ran the New York Marathon today.
Oh, we were just watching the marathon. I’m sure she ran by us.
Oh, so you were literally watching it?
Yeah, we live near 1st Avenue. We saw Teri Hatcher running, of all people. My girlfriend was like, “I think that’s Teri Hatcher.” And she heard her and turned around and waved. It was nice.
Did she really? Oh, that’s very sweet. That’s Lois Lane!
So now that’s it’s been a few months, what was your reaction to the Avengers: Infinity War reaction? I remember at my press screening people were shouting, “No!”
Oh, you’re serious?
It was really something.
This is my biggest regret of that whole time is that I didn’t sneak in to see people’s reaction. And I wish I had. I really do. I really wish I’d done that. And I think it was such a long press tour, by the time my family got me home I was well and truly on holiday and with them. Or was I working? Geez, I can’t even remember anymore. I think I had a tiny break and then I was riding into doing a TV drama about Brexit. But yeah, it’s my biggest regret of that whole experience. And there aren’t that many regrets, because it was a wild ride. I mean, just selling that movie by not being able to say anything. But the places we got to go – and it was very cool. I know other people who did it. I think Tom Holland did it. I know Mark Ruffalo took his children, because he then FaceTimed us from the cinema.
His teenage children’s friends are running in the aisles going, “No, what’s happening!?!?” The universe had crashed around him, which is really cruel, but kind of really enjoyable. Do you know what I mean? It’s just great that storytelling in tentpole film of a franchise can have that kind of an impact and kind of a visceral reaction. I love watching stuff with an American audience, because even in a more knowing one, that premiere in L.A. was furnished with people who were making it. Even me, I was kind of going… And my wife was in shock, you know? She still is. She can’t get over it. I think she really quite fancies Doctor Strange and he’s gone. I said, “Baby, he’s gone. There’s no more Doctor Strange. He’s gone. That’s it.”
I’ll never forget the reaction, and again this was at a press screening.
I know, it’s amazing. People were really sucked in, but that’s great. Isn’t it amazing that stories can still do that? All the smoke and mirrors, everything we know about it, and still it can give us that kind of involvement. It is really wonderful.
Well, I got to ask my Khan question, finally.
Yeah, “What was it like playing Khan?”
After all these years. And I finally know the answer is, “Great.”
‘The Grinch’ opens on Friday, November 9. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.