Benedict Cumberbatch says that playing a brilliant but cruel breeder in Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning The Power of the Dog helped him re-examine his habit of “pleasing people”.
Campion encouraged him to adopt some of the personality traits of his character, Phil Burbank, throughout the filming of the film.
“I am quite sorry and a pleasure to the people,” he tells BBC News.
“While with Phil, I had to hold my position, just say no and be happy to do it.
“Jane really helped facilitate that, right at the beginning she introduced me to the crew, saying, ‘this is Phil, you will meet Benedict at the end of the shoot, he’s really cute. This is Phil.’ He gave me full permission to do it, without feeling embarrassed. Because it’s a way to go, it’s far from me, it’s quite a transition. “
Asked if the experience had helped him maintain his position when he wasn’t in character, he replied, “I think so, yes. I think a little. I hope in a nice way, but you also understand that it’s okay, you. can’t please everyone, just be true to yourself. “
Dog Power is an adaptation of a 1967 Thomas Savage novel. Set in Montana in 1925, it is the story of a wealthy farmer, George, who brings home a wife, Rose (played by Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter. .
George’s brother Phil decides to destroy Rose with his threatening and bullying behavior, driven by his own struggle to accept his authentic self.
New Zealand director Jane Campion, who won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for her 1993 film The Piano, describes Phil Burbank as one of the “great characters of American fiction” – but explains why she asked Benedict Cumberbatch to adopt some of his features on set.
“Finding Phil and keeping him is a challenge for any actor, and unless you have a real Phil, who would be terrifying to work with, it’s probably impossible,” he says. “It was just a matter of finding a support mechanism, so that he could stay with the character.
“Benedict is a true gentleman and it’s all ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry’, ‘please’ – and all that language is completely wrong for Phil. So right at the start of rehearsal, I said, ‘here are some challenges for you . I don’t want you to say yes to anything, but to say no to everything first and never say please, thank you or sorry. “
“I think he was both astounded and excited by this. We are so prepared to be accommodating and that too is really tiring, and I think he enjoyed playing it. There were a lot of people excited about working on a Benedict Cumberbatch movie and wanting to have a chat. with him, and it’s exhausting for an actor.
“Some crew members said ‘it’s a shame, I couldn’t wait to have a chat or talk to him’ but that’s not what we were doing here.”
Campion, who has directed works including The Piano, Top of the Lake and In the Cut starring mainly female leads, adds that he hasn’t given Kirsten Dunst the same instructions with the character of Rose.
“I didn’t do it that much actually, as she had a pretty good command of Rose,” she says. “It is quite painful to play a character like Rose because it is an experience crushed from within and it is an experience that many of us women went through growing up before we found our voice or a way to affirm our space. reported in some spaces that were really uncomfortable. “
Dunst herself says that “I would have played Phil” to work with Campion, but that she kept her distance from Cumberbatch on set while filming in New Zealand as part of the search for “my demon Phil”.
“Benedict and I didn’t even talk during filming. I mean, if we went out for dinner on the weekend with our kids and went out, we obviously talked to each other, but on set we kept our distance. It’s part of the dynamic, and Benedict is too. really kind and sweet, and his natural way of being is to be kind and healthy. “
Cumberbatch describes Phil’s so-called “toxic masculinity” and bullying in the film as “brutal. It really is. Its effect on Rose is devastating. He’s terrified. It’s a complete defensive attack, the thing we do as a species. The frontal cortex. The frontal cortex. he’s not engaging, he sees her as nothing more than a threat, and his son Peter too. ”
He describes Rose and Peter as “a threat to the stability of what he has built,” adding: “The foundations of everything will be transferred to this ‘half man’ he talks about Peter’s character. he’s completely and completely sold. And he’s blinded by that anger. “
However, he still has empathy for Phil.
“He is a tragic figure, despite his skill and strength. He is damaged, damaged by circumstances, and I think – I have great empathy for what he too stood for, this idea, this pain for a time that seemed to slip away, in this immersion in his world of work which concerned nature, animals and man “.
A century after the setting of the story, Campion believes Rose’s bullying is “fresh as a daisy.”
“Phil is a misogynist. Women are often bullied, but they’re not the only ones who experience it. These kinds of bodies are bullying for everyone. These are definitely the things I’ve experienced, the kind of domination that some men work with. And some women can work with it too. It’s about power as much as anything else. “
“The sensuality of Cumberbatch”
Campion received the Best Director award for Dog’s Power at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and both she and the main cast are on the way to receiving an Oscar nomination.
The director refers to Cumberbatch as “an actor, an English gentleman,” but his instinct was that he would be right for the role of the breeder.
“If you see his work in Sherlock, he just has this body energy, but he has this ability to open up and show his vulnerability, and not all actors have it to the extent that he does. I was betting on that. quality, because if you don’t have it, you can’t create it.
“Some of the best material in the film comes from his ability to show his pain and sensuality. I thought he could offer us a very special Phil, and maybe other actors would have done it differently, but I was interested in how Ben would understand. “
Cumberbatch adds that his respect for Campion and his work spurred him on during filming.
“I really had to go full distance, because it’s such an opportunity, and I think my main goal was just to make the experience live up to expectations,” he says. “Both for me as an artist, but for Jane and the promise she thought I had, and the honor of playing the role for her. I really wanted to match that. So, I just had to go there. And it was amazing.”
The Power Of The Dog will launch in select UK cinemas from 19 November and on Netflix on 1 December 2021. Season lookahead of the BBC Talking Movies Award is on BBC News and available on BBC iPlayer.
- Benedict Cumberbatch
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