Benedict Cumberbatch may be the most British of British actors, but this has only added to his massive international popularity. The London native has made his name playing iconic characters from the English language’s great works. From playing the world’s greatest detective in the BBC series Sherlock, to treading the boards as Hamlet or one of Shakespeare’s other leading men, Cumberbatch has won fans’ and critics’ hearts for passionate and nuanced performances.
Of course, there is that name of his. The actor may be just as famous for his moniker as his moody soliloquies. ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’ is a quintessential, even stereotypical, British name, pulled straight out of one of those endless Victorian novels you were forced to read in school: posh, pretentious, and more than a little silly.
Don’t let the sound of it fool you, though: Cumberbatch is far more light-hearted than his name suggests. He is, in fact, more than willing to make fun of his own name, as proved on multiple occasions. In a departure from Shakespearean rolls some might call ‘stuffy’, he plays Marvel’s Dr. Strange, appearing most recently in Infinity War. The father of two young sons also provides the voice for Tolkien’s dragon Smaug in The Hobbit movies. When not acting on the stage or screen, he takes an active role in raising money and awareness for many good causes.
Below, we list twenty unusual and lesser-known facts about one of the world’s favorite Englishmen.
20 Both His Parents Are Actors
Cumberbatch was born on July 19, 1976, to Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton. Both his parents continued their acting careers in order to supplement the young Benedict’s scholarship to the prestigious Harrow School, where he began taking part in theater productions. Recalling his early years, Cumberbatch told The Telegraph that he turned to acting as relief from his hyperactivity. Looking at his parents’ careers, though, one has to think nature and nurture conspired to give young Benedict his incredible talents.
Ventham has acted on both stage and screen. However, she is best-known for her time as Pamela Parry on the British comedy series “Only Fools and Horses…”. She has also appeared on many programs well-loved by Britons and Anglophiles alike, such as the original “Doctor Who,” “All Creatures Great and Small,” and “Midsomer Murders.”
Carlton also appeared in many shows familiar to faithful watchers of the BBC, a good many of them coming from the mystery genre: “Midsomer Murders,” “Inspector Lewis,” “Poirot,” “Foyle’s War,” and even “Downton Abbey.” Looking at photographs, one surmises that Carlton gave his son the now-(in)famous cheekbones.
In a touching case of art imitating life, Ventham and Carlton take their roles as ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ to the screen by appearing in their son’s hit series Sherlock…as Sherlock’s parents. It must have been quite a shoot to have all that talent, and family feeling, in one room. As seen above, the Carlton-Ventham-Cumberbatch family, along with Mark Gatiss, poses together in costume on the set of Sherlock.
19 His Father Doesn’t Rock the Cumberbatch Name
Reading the last entry, you may have wondered where ‘Cumberbatch’ came from if the Sherlock star’s father has the surname ‘Carlton.’ Surely no one, least of all a young actor trying to fit his name on the playbill, would make up such a long and unusual stage-name as ‘Cumberbatch?’
This is because, while a name like Benedict Timothy Cumberbatch can attract a good deal of media attention, along with a good deal of snickering from classmates and Twitter trolls alike, his father has it even worse.
The veteran actor’s full name is Timothy Carlton Congdon Cumberbatch.
It’s difficult to say in one breath, difficult to say with a straight face. Thus, Timothy Carlton was born. His first major appearance was in the 1968 television series Cold Comfort Farm, in which he was billed under the pseudonym.
When his son first began acting, he faced the same conundrum—what to do with a name like ‘Cumberbatch’? At times, before being billed by his legal name, Benedict Cumberbatch sometimes went by “Ben Batch,” or, in a nod to his father, ‘Benedict Carlton.’
Cumberbatch has long since gone on to embrace the zaniness of his name. We have saved some of his best quips for you below.
18 He Is a Relative of King Richard the Third, Whom He Portrayed
While the young scholarship student Benedict Cumberbatch may have come from more modest circumstances than his classmates at Harrow School, he does have the benefit of having some royal blood. However, this revelation only came in the last few years, far too late for the young Cumberbatch to use to his advantage.
His links are to the infamous King Richard III. The last Yorkist king of England has a bad reputation as being physically and morally deformed. How much of this is true is open to question, as history is, as always, written by the victors.
After Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth, Tudor propagandists, serving under the new ruling dynasty, accused him of murdering his way to the throne, even killing his young nephews, the “Princes in the Tower.” Shakespeare immortalized him as the villain of Richard III, which was adapted to the small screen as part of The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (2012). Benedict Cumberbatch played the devious Richard in the series.
Following the discovery of the maligned monarch’s remains in a parking lot in 2012, DNA testing confirmed his identity. DNA, taken from Richard’s sister, Anne, also showed that Cumberbatch, by coincidence, shared many family links to the Yorkist dynasty, mostly through the king’s maternal relatives. It is only fitting then that, while only a second- or third-cousin sixteen times removed, that the famous actor should read a poem at the monarch’s reburial.
Might we see a family resemblance in those cheekbones to the reconstructed face of Richard III?
17 He Is Willing to Laugh At Himself…
With a name like ‘Benedict Cumberbatch,’ you would have to develop a thick skin. One way the Sherlock star has done this, it seems, is by developing a great sense of humor surrounding his name. He always seems to have a joke about his moniker close at hand.
During a January 2015 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Cumberbatch debuted a two-minute video starring himself and a host of new names. In “Benedict Cumberbatch Tries New Names, the star slides into a bar stool, stares longingly into the camera, and announces in a suave, seductive voice: “Hi. I’m Chad.”
His entry repeats itself throughout the video, ranging from pop-culture references (“I am Groot!”) to the names of fellow celebrities, including Sanjay Gupta, Queen Latifah, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, otherwise known as ‘the notorious RBG.” Throughout it all, his delivery is unflappable; his seriousness, unquestionable. He says each line as if he were angling for an Oscar.
That Cumberbatch can laugh at his name not only shows his good humor and modesty, but also teaches fans that owning your greatest “liabilities” can turn them into your greatest strength. As we will see, Benedict Cumberbatch has ample experience turning his name into a joke…
16 …And Laugh At Himself
On yet another occasion, Benedict Cumberbatch mocked his own name on live television. Speaking with Katie Couric on her show in the fall of 2013, Cumberbatch recounted how he transitioned from using ‘Benedict Carlton,’ a nod both to his father and to one of his real middle names, to using his legal name for film credits and playbills.
After a six-month dry spell without work, Cumberbatch recalled, he found himself a new agent. When she asked “Why on earth aren’t you calling yourself Benedict Cumberbatch?” the fledgling actor had a response that was ready, blunt, and just a little bit gross.
“Because it sounds like a fart in the bath!” He told her. Undoubtedly, the agent was shocked by such honesty and self-deprecation. The world, and Cumberbatch, owe her a great debt for giving him the name that has made him just as famous as his great talents.
This just goes to show that what you might see as a flaw, others might not even notice, or even consider a strength. In the case of genuine flaws, and in such an image-driven world as acting, a funky name qualifies as a flaw, even these can become strengths with the right attitude and some hard work. Or a strong marketing game, as it might be.
15 He Can’t Pronounce “Penguin”…
Here is yet another example of Benedict Cumberbatch laughing at himself. This time, it is not about his name, but over a genuine mistake that was immortalized on film over and over and over and over again.
It began, innocently enough, with his agreeing to narrate a nature documentary. As he told British talk show host Graham Norton in 2014, things quickly went downhill from there. The trigger for all these troubles: the word ‘penguin.’
While Cumberbatch is quick to point out the documentary “was not about said animal,” he did have to discuss the flightless bird, by its common name, several times. The result, according to Cumberbatch, is that he is now “completely terrified of the word.”
Each time he said the word, he got further and further from the accepted pronunciation, to the point that it becomes almost unrecognizable without the visual aid of a penguin on screen informing the reader that he is, in fact, discussing the black-and-white swimming bird.
Watching a bloopers reel with Norton, Cumberbatch laughs and admits he was at fault. Though, he adds, he has no idea why no one corrected him. Perhaps they were afraid he had the personality of Sherlock or Smaug in real life? This is clearly not the case.
14 …But He May Resemble An Otter
When Benedict Cumberbatch encounters wildlife, he always seems to suffer some little indignity or another. Having already confessed to Graham Norton about his troubled history with the word “penguin,” the Star Trek actor had to face more difficult questions about his relationship with the animal kingdom on the British talk show.
Norton introduces a series of fan-produced comparisons between stills from Sherlock and close-up shots of otters. Johnny Depp, sitting alongside Cumberbatch, stares in horror and remarks, with a deep understanding of the Internet: “Someone must have had a lot of time on their hands.” Cumberbatch just laughs, good-naturedly.
Admittedly, he does look a bit like the otter, despite the otter’s lack of defined cheekbones and androgynous haircut.
Not one to let the Dr. Strange star off the hook too easily, Norton then provides a series of his own otter photographs, asking Cumberbatch to improvise matching facial expressions. What follows, as he applies Oscar-nominated acting to fuzzy aquatic animals, is hilarity. Here is yet another piece of evidence that the man is far less stern than some of the characters he portrays.
But, really, could we get Benedict Cumberbatch to narrate a documentary on otters? Or get him in a motion-capture rig playing an otter?
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13 A Major Newspaper Could Not Spell His Name
Someone cut this man some slack when it comes to the name jokes! We get it, his name sounds like it belongs to a stuck-up English aristocrat with poor social skills. It falls in line with names as unusual as ‘Sherlock’ or ‘Mycroft.’ Once he became famous, he must have hoped everyone would at least say and spell his name correctly, even if they continued to laugh.
But no. In what was originally thought to be a colossal error, and the world’s best argument for editing, a 2012 Washington Post television critic’s column referred to Cumberbatch as “Bandersnatch Cummerbund.”
It is, to be honest, a rather clever scrambling of his name.
As can be expected, the Internet promptly lost its collective mind, with debate raging as to whether it was a mistake or a joke, and as to whether it was more embarrassing to the actor or to the journalist. The journalist did come forward, in the aftermath, to clarify she had meant it as a joke.
Odds are, Benedict Cumberbatch took it all in stride. In school, he undoubtedly heard worse. (Haven’t we all?) Moreover, we have seen throughout the previous entries in this list, he does not take himself, or his name, too seriously.
12 He Is Keeping Acting All In The Family
On Valentine’s Day, 2015, Benedict Cumberbatch single-handedly broke the Internet’s heart by marrying the love of his life, Sophie Hunter. Hunter has a history of acting, along with an impressive resume as playwright and director for theater and opera performances in the United Kingdom. The couple soon welcomed a son, Christopher, later that year. A second boy, Hal, joined the family in March 2017.
Talent scouts across the U.K. must be longing for the day the two boys are old enough to act.
Cumberbatch had no complaints about married life when he sat down with People in October 2016, only a few grumblings on how fans were reacting to the loss of one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. He expressed some concern about obsessed Internet stalkers. More on that later!
Most of all, though, he was disappointed that some people thought he had married Hunter and started a family as some sort of publicity stunt. Dr. Strange costar Tilda Swinton attested to his love for his family, speaking with admiration of his attention to his wife and Christopher, who at the time of the interview had not yet become a big brother.
While family is Cumberbatch’s refuge from the stresses of the job, our next entry shows the care he has in shielding them from the dark side of acting.
11 The Role That Was Almost Too Much For Him
For a man who has tackled the heights of English-language theater as Hamlet and Richard III, he means it seriously when he says a role was technically difficult or emotionally draining. This was the case when he starred in the 2017 BBC television adaptation of The Child In Time, an award-winning novel by Ian McEwan.
The Child In Time follows a children’s book author, Stephen Lewis, as he and his wife cope with the abduction of their four-year-old daughter. Cumberbatch, playing Lewis, was at the time still new to the business of fatherhood. He found the emotional insight into Lewis’s struggle to be as much of a hindrance as a help when on set.
Cumberbatch told The Telegraph in September 2017 that the situation his character finds himself in is “kind of unthinkable for any parent.” Consequently, in the course of multiple takes, he “worried [he] was getting a bit too upset in all of these scenes” as he struggled to separate fiction from the horrifying thought of losing his two young sons.
He did not want to bring the stress and paranoia engendered by shooting into his family’s life, calling it “unhealthy,” so he made pains not to discuss the details of the plot with wife Sophie Hunter after work.
10 His Neighbor Went All ‘Sherlock’ On Him
In entry #12, we heard Benedict Cumberbatch’s discomfort with the level of obsession some fans have for him. The following incident might be what tipped him off to just how bad things were getting on the Internet.
Having a random person follow you around and broadcast your movements would be frightening enough, but imagine it being your neighbor. A neighbor is someone you cannot avoid, someone you ought to be able to trust. A nosy neighbor makes things unpleasant, but a stalker neighbor turns home, usually a place of refuge, into a trap.
In 2013, Benedict Cumberbatch discovered that one of his neighbors had gotten far too invested in Sherlock, developing an unhealthy interest the BBC series’ star. In a twisted sort of ‘imitation game,’ this neighbor had decided to apply the socially-challenged sleuth’s investigative methods to the challenge of stalking Cumberbatch.
It was not enough for the neighbor-stalker to enjoy the hunt alone. This being the Internet age, the neighbor, naturally, began live-tweeting the then-Cumberbachelor’s movements within his own home, so that legions of obsessed fans could join in on the fun. Cumberbatch called it his “strangest fan experience” and did not regret his decision to call the police. Luckily, no harm came to any of the parties involved. (Source: Telegraph)
9 He Saved The Day In Real Life
On-screen, Benedict Cumberbatch has won our hearts playing heroes with superhuman abilities, whether Sherlock with his powers of perception and deduction, or Dr. Strange with his ability to manipulate space and time. In real life, Cumberbatch has saved the day using nothing else than his six-foot-four height and his distinctive voice.
According to Uber driver Manuel Dias, he had no idea who the couple he was driving to a London club was until they passed four men who were threatening a bicyclist. When the man yelled for him to stop the car, and then jumped out, Dias realized his passengers were Benedict Cumberbatch and wife Sophie Hunter.
With no concern for his own safety, Cumberbatch ran towards the muggers, shouting “Leave him alone!” The muggers, who had already hit the bicyclist over the head with a bottle, then tried to beat up Cumberbatch, who had to return a few shoves. Dias joined him when the fight did not break up.
According to Dias, when the four muggers realized that it was Sherlock Holmes himself who had intervened, they ran off. Police responded to the scene to take reports, and confirmed to The Telegraph that the incident had occurred as described. Luckily, the cyclist, a twenty-something working for bicycle delivery service Deliveroo, did not need to be hospitalized.
After Dias’ story broke, Deliveroo issued a statement thanking Cumberbatch, who had been mum about his actions up until that point. Cumberbatch denied being a hero, with his characteristic modesty, and said it was just the right thing to do.
Coincidentally, Cumberbatch saved the day just a few blocks away from the real-life 221B Baker St. (Source: TheRichest)
8 He Got In a Real-Life Spat With Watson Over Fan Expectations
On this list, we have already seen how obsessed fans have made Benedict Cumberbatch’s personal life uncomfortable and even unsafe at times. Even fans whose obsession does not have a romantic bent to it can have a negative impact on actors and casts. This is the case with Martin Freeman, who plays Watson opposite Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.
Freeman, when answering questions about a possible fifth season of Sherlock, said that he was growing tired of the series. In March 2018, Freeman gave an interview in which he said the extreme, obsessive expectations of fans meant for him that Sherlock “isn’t fun anymore.”
In April, when asked about his co-star’s remarks, the normally soft-spoken Cumberbatch channeled the acid-tongued Sherlock in his response, calling Freeman “pathetic” if he had really let fan expectations “take a grip of [his] reality.”
On the other hand, Cumberbatch admitted that his co-star’s feelings were understandable, even if he did not share them: “There’s a level of obsession where [Sherlock] becomes theirs even though we’re the ones making it. But I just don’t feel affected by that in the same way, I have to say.”
Still–ouch! Let’s hope the two can patch things up so that we can finally have that fifth season of Sherlock, whether Freeman likes it or not. (Source: DigitalSpy)
7 He Got Down and Dirty to Play Smaug
Sherlock is not the only series in which Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch play opposite each other. In two of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, Cumberbatch voices Smaug, a greedy dragon who threatens to add Freeman’s Bilbo to his impressive body count.
For the role, Cumberbatch was fitted with a motion capture (mocap) suit and rig. He had the advantage of plenty of guidance from Andy Serkis, the actor who pioneered mocap performance when he played Gollum in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Serkis advised him to go to town with the performance, treating it as if he were providing movements for the dragon and not just the voice.
The results, as seen in this behind-the-scenes clip, are mesmerizing. Cumberbatch described the experience as great fun, like a return to being “a kid in a bedroom, just imagining.”
Even putting aside the master advice given by Serkis, Cumberbatch had plenty of preparation for the role. He visited the London Zoo’s reptile house to note the movements of lizards, which he then brought to the carpeted studio floor.
His most important preparation, however, is also the cutest. As a little boy, his father, actor Timothy Carlton, read The Hobbit to him, performing voices for all of the characters, including the villainous dragon. (Source: BusinessInsider)
6 He Survived an incident
With hordes of adoring fans, it might not come as a surprise to learn that Benedict Cumberbatch survived a kidnapping attempt. However, this attempt happened in 2005, in South Africa, years before Sherlock made him an international superstar.
While filming for a television series, the young actor and his companions suffered a flat tire along a rural road. Suddenly, a band of six armed men drove up alongside them and demanded they get in the car. Cumberbatch and his friends spent the night tied up, side by side. He admits he thought of “shallow graves” during their journey deeper into the countryside. Things would only get more harrowing, however.
The kidnappers stopped and told him to get into the trunk of the car. This is where Cumberbatch’s charisma may have saved his life. He told his captors that he would suffer a seizure if he was confined in such a small space, resulting in his injury or death. He assured the kidnappers he was worth more alive. This was especially because, he told his captors, he would be “a dead Englishman in your car.” As this would lead to the U.K. government getting involved, that would be “not good” for them.
Cumberbatch and his friends were released, unharmed, the following day, for reasons that are still not entirely clear to him. While his acting may have saved their lives, Cumberbatch, once again, downplays his role. He says the incident changed his perspective:
“It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own. It’s made me want to live a life slightly less ordinary.” (Source: Telegraph)
5 He Eats A Vegan Diet
While Benedict Cumberbatch’s brush with death during the armed kidnapping may have inspired him to live a “less ordinary” life, it seems this has meant less about his international acting career than his everyday choices at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a group firmly against anything it sees as the exploitation of animals, has seized upon Cumberbatch as a kindred spirit. Their reason? He eats a vegan diet.
While a vegetarian might consume dairy or egg products that do not require the death of an animal, a vegan declines to eat any animal products, either for health or ethical reasons. While Cumberbatch himself, in various interviews, has not harped on the diet as the source of his physique for the Dr. Strange movie, PETA has done this for him. Is veganism the secret to those cheekbones?
Cumberbatch’s veganism extends beyond his diet, suggesting it is more an extension of his gentle, soft-spoken nature than simply a health choice. In a GQ photo shoot, he wore a wool-alternative coat from Brave GentleMan, a vegan luxury clothier. Naturally, he also declines to wear leather goods or shoes.
About seven percent of the British population is vegan, compared to less than one percent of the U.S. (Source: Peta)
4 He Officiated His Friend’s Wedding
While fans might be heartbroken that Benedict Cumberbatch is now happily married, they can take solace in the tiny possibility that he can, at least, officiate their own weddings to other people. That is, he might officiate if they manage to become close personal friends with him. And no, stalking his movements through his own home does not qualify you as a ‘close personal friend.’
In July 2013, Cumberbatch flew to Ibiza, an island famous for its party scene, to preside over the civil union of a dear friend and the friend’s same-gender partner. This was a few months before the premiere of The Imitation Game, starring Cumberbatch as computer science pioneer Alan Turing, who was persecuted and convicted for his identity.
Of course, modest as ever, Cumberbatch kept the focus on the couple’s big day rather than himself in a subsequent interview. He did quip, however: “Of course, I’m going to make a joke after it, ‘I do weddings. Next will be children’s parties and bat mitzvahs,’ if it goes well. It’s a mainly Jewish and gay audience, so hopefully, they will be lenient towards me.”
More weddings and civil union ceremonies should be officiated by Benedict Cumberbatch on a beach in Ibiza. All those in favor, say ‘aye.’ (Source: PinkNews)
3 He Used His Fame To Advocate For Rights
As mentioned before, Benedict Cumberbatch starred in The Imitation Game, a biopic on the codebreaking work of computer science pioneer Alan Turing. Turing, along with his team, was responsible for breaking Nazi Germany’s ‘Enigma’ code. Winston Churchill credited Turing’s accomplishment as the single most important breakthrough towards winning World War II.
While Turing may have been a national hero, his country could not accept him as he was. Following the war, in 1952, he was brought to trial under indecency laws used to punish certain activities between men. Turing admitted to forming a relationship with a male friend. Given the choice between jail time and undergoing a terrible surgery, Turing chose the latter. In 1954, however, Turning ended up taking his own life.
Turing would receive a posthumous apology from the U.K. government in 2009, with The Queen pardoning him four years later. However, the convictions of 49,000 men less famous than Turing remained in force.
In 2013, Cumberbatch joined nearly 40,000 others in demanding that the government pardon all those convicted under the indecency laws. In January 2017, the so-called “Turing’s law” opened pardons to anyone convicted for same-gender sexual activity between consenting adults in private. (Source: TheGuardian)
2 He Stands Up For Refugees
As we have seen time and again throughout this list, Benedict Cumberbatch is even more charming off-screen or off-stage than when he is putting on a show. Whether using his fame to right the injustices of the past or barreling out of his Uber to save a young deliveryman’s life, eating vegan or refusing to take credit for his good deeds, Cumberbatch shows himself to be a socially conscious, sensitive celebrity.
In September 2017, Cumberbatch caused a stir, and earned accusations of hypocrisy, for a speech he delivered following a performance of Hamlet at the Barbican Theater. In no uncertain (and somewhat vulgar) terms, he derided the U.K. government’s decision to only admit 20,000 Syrian refugees to the country over a five-year period.
As Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter did not plan to house refugees themselves, some criticized them as hypocrites. However, as Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen points out, Cumberbatch in this regard is no more hypocritical than any other well-intentioned person who raises awareness about an issue and contributes. Moreover, Ellen writes, Cumberbatch’s celebrity gives him the ability to do far more good through fundraising and advocacy than through any other means.
With regards to his expletive-filled speech at the Barbican, Cumberbatch admits he got “overexcited” about the heartrending issue. (Source: TheGuardian)
1 The Queen Honored Him For His Talent and Charity Work
That’s Benedict Cumberbatch, CBE, to you!
In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II named the Sherlock star as Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire “for services to drama and to charity.” As Commander, Cumberbatch has achieved the third-highest of the Order’s five degrees. Had he been promoted to one of the higher degrees, he would be Sir Benedict Cumberbatch. Alas, we will have to wait for when the London native adds “knight” to his list of accomplishments, alongside “supersleuth” and “superhero.”
Established during World War I by King George V, the Order is intended to honor those who have made notable contributions to society outside of government service. Cumberbatch, with his extensive charity work and advocacy, along with his contribution to the field of acting, certainly meets the criteria.
In a video of the ceremony, The Queen bestows the medal of the Order on Cumberbatch. The actor speaks with The Queen in low tones, both of them smiling, before he backs away and bows.
The sight of HM The Queen speaking with Cumberbatch may be the most British thing to ever grace the Internet. If only there were some way to insert chicken tikka or fish and chips into the ceremony without destroying its dignity…
We hope you enjoyed these twenty unusual things about Benedict Cumberbatch! Which surprised you the most? (Source: Youtube)
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