Benedict Cumberbatch is an extraordinarily talented actor who shares so many insights into the nature of acting and, inadvertently, into the international obsession with celebrity, that his impressive and expansive body of work should be studied in order to greater appreciate it. On June 10, MX Publishing is scheduled to release my most recent book, Benedict Cumberbatch, In Transition: An Unauthorised Performance Biography. This one takes me in a new direction – celebrity studies – but also returns me to familiar territory – analysis of television and film.
Of course, when writing about Benedict Cumberbatch, I also had to discuss his performances in theatre and radio, plus a host of one-time events, like readings or voiceovers. New fans or people just beginning to appreciate Cumberbatch’s talent after they see Sherlock (which, by the way, has its own hefty section in the book) or Star Trek: Into Darkness, or possibly one of his many other film roles yet to arrive this year, can use the book as a guide to the actor’s vast back catalog. Why his performances are worth watching and his interpretation of roles mesmerizing and how he develops characters are integral to several chapters that trace his rise to stardom. Fans who are familiar with these many roles may take away something new from the analysis of specific scenes or the discussion of the way each role figures in Cumberbatch’s celebrity or star status.
Star and celebrity are different aspects of his career. Sherlock certainly has helped Cumberbatch achieve television stardom in the U.K. and made more viewers around the world aware of him. Winning an Olivier award for Frankenstein and bringing more people into the theatre – whether the National in London or cinemas worldwide screening NT Live – ensured his stardom on the stage. How an actor achieves star status in one medium or, in this actor’s case, several media, is discussed in the book, as well as what it takes to become a star at home or abroad, within one nation or internationally. In addition to Cumberbatch’s star power, his role as celebrity has become more prominent as fans and the media take an ever-greater interest in everything he does or says.
Readers looking for a tell-all book or a typical biography are going to be disappointed. Although the first chapter is more biographical than any other, the majority of the book is a thorough exploration of roles, documentation of one highly talented man’s career development, and discussion of Cumberbatch’s often-atypical route to stardom. That all sounds very academic, doesn’t it?
I approached this book seriously – and throughout more than two years, I’ve watched or listened to every television episode, film, radio drama (or comedy), advertisement, interview, theatrical performance, Q&A session, etc., I could find, many of them the lone copies of performances stored in London archives. I’ve read more than that, and I’ve talked with directors, actors, extras, and lots of fans. I’ve done a great deal of research, and I think that comes through in the chapters (as well as endnotes and a lengthy bibliography). But taking the subject seriously and doing my homework don’t mean that the book is boring. As if I could make Benedict Cumberbatch less than interesting or entertaining! There should be something new for every fan (and I count myself in your number), whether it’s a fresh interview, very old newspaper clipping, or different interpretation of a performance.
If you check out the book’s Amazon UK listing, you can read the official description. The comm prof side of me is unhappy that the template doesn’t allow italics or the best spacing, for example, but I hope you’ll understand what this book is all about. I’ll not-so-humbly post the cover design all over social media as soon as it’s ready. Let’s just say I’ve been having a very good time looking for just the right image. Ah, research. More soon . . . .