Love for Cumberbatch


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Remember seeing those commercials for Star Trek Into Darkness and wondering who played the dark and mysterious villain? What about the actor with the creepy white hair portraying Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate? You might have even seen the trailer for the upcoming Hobbit film and wondered who provided Smaug the Dragon’s deep, smoldering voice.

The answer to all is Benedict Cumberbatch, a 37-year-old British actor whose mouthful of a name is starting to make its way onto Hollywood cast lists. This includes award-winning productions such as War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, HBO’s “Parade’s End,” and the highly acclaimed new film 12 Years a Slave — the Iowa release of which I eagerly await.

But Cumberbatch is more than just a chameleonic actor stepping into blockbusters and stirring Oscar buzz in the process. Though you may have just learned his name, he happens to be the subject of international mania, including a huge catalogue of online art and blogs revolving around his work and a legion of devoted fans who, like me, follow his career to a T and swoon whenever he flashes his smile on the red carpet.

Why the obsession? You wouldn’t be the first to ask. If you search for Cumberbatch online, you’ll find dozens of articles discussing the “strange attractiveness” of the actor, an allure described by Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times as a “romantic beauty known to cause women with Ph.D.s in comparative literature to scream aloud.” 

I guess it would be a cop-out to say he has a je ne sais quoi about him, but that is definitely part of it. To trace the origins of the “Cumberfan” subculture, it is logical to start with “Sherlock.”

There are only six episodes of the BBC’s modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation, but after seeing just one, I knew “Sherlock” was destined to become one of my all-time favorite shows — due in large part to its casting. That is, Cumberbatch in the title role.

Sherlock Holmes is a famously eccentric character, but I had never seen him depicted in such a quick-witted, dynamic, and engrossing fashion as Cumberbatch’s character. He is slick, sharp, and subtly hilarious. And in interviews, the real Cumberbatch proves equally intelligent, though quite a bit more amiable. Charming, in fact.

A constant jibe I receive from those who haven’t yet drunk the Cumberbatch Kool-Aid, so to speak, is that he is sort of strange-looking. There is even a popular online meme that compares his proportions to that of an otter, and Cumberbatch himself has sportingly acknowledged the resemblance. In an entertainment world dominated by Brad Pitts and Chris Hemsworths, I accept that Cumberbatch’s handsomeness is of an unconventional variety.

But for me and his ever-growing fan base, Cumberbatch’s quirkiness is the appeal. His greenish-bluish eyes and drop-dead brilliant bone structure have slowly become my definition of debonair.

Not to mention his voice, which has the warm resonance of, as Caitlin Moran of the *Times* described it, “a jaguar hiding in a cello.”

But the majority of his appeal lay in his shrewd, emotionally vulnerable acting methods. As Empire magazine observed when it dubbed Cumberbatch the sexiest male movie star of 2013, audiences are drawn to “clever and insanely charismatic” personas. Irene Adler of “Sherlock” said it best: “Brainy is the new sexy.”

Cultural scholars of all sorts may speculate as to exactly what in the chemistry of Cumberbatch makes him such a compelling figure. In truth, his fame follows the trend of many A-List stars, from George Clooney to Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber. But unlike some popular figures, Cumberbatch is genuinely talented, which is becoming more and more clear as he takes on new projects.

I am not the first to join the “Cumbercollective” (an identifier suggested by Cumberbatch to replace the popularized phrase “Cumberbitches”), and I don’t expect to be the last. You may call me crazed and fanatical, which is true, but there are some celebrities worth going mad for. And trust me, Benedict Cumberbatch is one of them.

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