Benedict Cumberbatch brings to life the enormous (in stature and in greed) dragon in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” opening next Friday.
Movie watchers got a brief glimpse of Benedict’s slithery, fire-breathing character in the first installment of director Peter Jackson’s trilogy, but this time around he has a heavy presence as the dwarves (with Bilbo Baggins) attempt to reclaim the Lonely Mountain.
On Tuesday, Benedict sat down with Access Hollywood, where the Brit discussed experiencing the film’s big Hollywood premiere earlier this week, and borrowing his version of Smaug from his father, who read him “The Hobbit” as a bedtime story, as a child.
AccessHollywood.com: How was the premiere on Monday?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Great, I mean, huge. I’ve never been to that theater before. I’ve never seen a film in Hollywood, Hollywood, that part of Hollywood. … I’ve only ever seen things at the ArcLight maybe, a couple of times, so to be in the [Dolby] Theatre where they do the Oscars — it is a real thrill. And where Peter [Jackson], Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] went up on stage to get their Oscar [for ‘Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King’] as well, so it was kind of a buzz. And after everyone had been in, I dashed out at one point to go to the bathroom and just sort of looked around and went, ‘Wow!’ It’s kind of hallowed turf for our industry. It’s an incredible space to be in.
Access: And the Walk of Fame is there.
Benedict: I didn’t see the Walk of Fame. The Walk of Fame was covered with the most amazing number of fans. … That was sort of where that was, somewhere underneath all of that, but [there] was the huge part of it outside as well that I just didn’t expect at all — that whole side of the street opposite and the most aggressive, angry bunch of photographers I’ve ever encountered, actually, on a red carpet.
Access: Were there more members of the Cumberbitches (Benedict’s fans) or the Armitage Army (Richard Armitage’s fans) there do you think?
Benedict: (Laughs) No one’s counting. I’m certainly not. Listen, I’m amazed at the loyal support that I have and the lengths people go to to go there and I’m only disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to speak to everyone individually. Otherwise, people inside the theater would be aging by the time I got in there because there were so many people.
Access: It’s so wonderful how [the fans] dress up too.
Benedict: It’s great. It is great. I didn’t see that many fancy dress or proper kind of — I just didn’t see them. I’m sure they were there and I apologize to any of you who were there… but … it’s such a blur when you get out of that car. There’s so much to take in and it’s only when you really wake up the next morning you kind of go, ‘Damn! I wish there was a way of relishing it.’ ‘Cause it is a flash bulb moment. The whole thing is just sort of dazzling.
Access: What were your first thoughts when you first saw Smaug?
Benedict: I was blown away, but even more so [at the premiere]. I saw it in 24 frames, and 48 frames, for all of its critics, for the dragon, it is incredible. … It feels like something that is really in the same space as Bilbo’s… And it’s an odd sensation when you watch yourself — and you’re in your own audience anyway as an actor, but let alone when it’s then sort of 20 percent of your work. Then you can kind of sit back and go, ‘That is amazing,’ ‘cause it’s so sort of devoid of who you are or what you are. [Watching the film the] second time around, I could see — especially when we were facing off against one another in the more sort of close scenes and with Thorin before that huge statue of gold — I could see stuff that they got from facial capture, ‘cause I did a whole load of stuff… physically to give a little bit of flavor of character and emotion to the movement and some kind of anthropomorphic human quality to him.
Access: I had heard about your motion capture and was curious — he’s a pretty slinky dragon—
Benedict: Yeah, you’re right. … He’s got a very, very long tail, which obviously I can’t emulate, but what I did do is sort of clamp my legs together and kind of crawl around on my hands and just get the idea of what the serpentine nature of his kind of being was, and the speed, and the changes of motion, and emotion and all of his sort of very human kind of motivations or well, weaknesses, really… his vanity, his kind of rampant greed, venality and anger and pride and all those things that make him anything but invincible.
Access: Is there any dance in your background that would have helped you out with some of those [dragon] movements?
Benedict: Every part I take on, even if it’s not a specialist role, like [when I played Frankenstein on the London stage or Stephen Hawking], I always try to involve a level of physicality because I just think you have to — it has to be within your body. You can’t just do stuff from the head up. Even if you are playing a cerebral character, you’ve got to think about everything else that’s going on and to take that to an extreme with throwing yourself around a motion capture stage as a dragon was so much fun. I felt like a kid again, you know, ‘cause you… have to use your imagination.
Access: Do you use yoga so you can stay limber like that?
Benedict: Yes, I do a little bit of that. … And you have to — you really do have to take care of yourself and warm up a lot, otherwise it’s not natural. You’re hyperextending your neck, you’re kind of doing stuff with your shoulders and putting pressure on the front half of your body, using your core strength in ways that you don’t — as a biped mammal — have to do very often (laughs), so…
Access: Tell me the story about your dad and how you stole this performance from him?
Benedict: Completely ripped it off from my dad [Timothy Carlton]. He read this book to me when I was, I mean I must have been 6 or 7, because I went to boarding school at the age of 8, so I wouldn’t have had the bedtime treat that that was… at that stage.
Access: It’s incredible that you remember that.
Benedict: Well, it’s so vivid. My dad’s a great actor and he brought the characters so clearly to life and so colorfully. And his Gollum, I hate to say to Andy [Serkis], but that’s really where the plagiarism’s gone on (smiles). I think Andy was somehow listening in to my dad. He’s incredible. … He was the first person in my life I told about getting the job and he was thrilled and then, in a heartbeat, said, ‘Why aren’t they seeing me for it?’ (Laughs) Quite right.
Access: Has he asked for some of Smaug’s gold for this performance? Does he want a cut of the treasure?
Benedict: I don’t even know if I’ve got a bit in my pocket from the sort of publicity I’ve just been doing. (Editor’s note: There was some fake gold in the background of some of Benedict’s interviews.)
Access: This movie’s out [on December 13]. It’s close to Christmas. Do you have traditions like going to see the movies at [during the holiday season]?
Benedict: I think it’s less of an English tradition, but it’s becoming more so, like Halloween. It is part of just what families do. It’s a great trip out and this is an extraordinary story that I think is very cross-generational, so it is something families can enjoy. I can’t wait to take my godchildren. I’ve got four. One’s 21 and the youngest is … about 18 months. So yeah, I can’t take him, but… the other three, I can take, definitely, and I can’t wait for them to see it. Can’t wait. Especially the 5-year-old. Dragons are his favorite animals. So yeah, I hope he likes what I’ve done with Smaug.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” opens in theaters on December 13.
-- Jolie Lash