The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has finally been released and thankfully, it's far better than the first (which didn't get to the good stuff until the very end). Though the cast is huge and plenty of familiar characters were finally given some excellent screen time (I'm looking at you Thranduil), it's safe to say that people are going to be the most excited to finally meet Smaug. The gold-loving dragon is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (who also plays another baddie in the film, the Necromancer — who ultimately becomes the Sauron you saw in The Lord of the Rings trilogy; keep up) — notice how I'm not using the term "voice," because he hates that.
Much like Andy Serkis' Gollum, Cumberbatch's psychotically charming dragon was achieved through dressing up in a motion-capture suit so director Peter Jackson could get the actor's movements and habits. Which may be why Smaug somehow manages to be Hannibal Lecter's seductive, scaly brother — yeah, I said it and you'll see what I mean soon enough — because each facial expression the dragon makes is uniquely Benedict (we're on a fist name basis from now on). The textures department at Weta Digital spent two and a half years working on Smaug's skin alone. Trust me, this is one awesome dragon and he'll exceed even the most diehard of fan expectations.
"Talking dragons are pretty terrifying things," Peter Jackson told USA Today. "So many people over the years have said, 'What's he going to look like?' that you're horrified you're going to let people down. You walk away from the movie and it doesn't matter how many teeth he's got or how many bloody claws he's got. The voice, the character, is what lingers."
In that vein, let's take a look at some of the acclaimed actor's best interview and media moments so far.
In case the above didn't convince you, this guy could read a cereal box and it would sound like Shakespeare thanks to his distinctive baritone. Not only has he been recording a four-part poem reading of Simon Cleary's Flat of Angles for Late Night Tales, he can even make R. Kelly's lyrics sound…sane.
Just take a listen, and a gander, at Benedict performing a dramatic reading of Genius on Jimmy Kimmel Live — complete with the necessary actor's pose and serious pauses.
To promote The Fifth Estate, Benedict took to Reddit to answer some of our more burning questions and his responses ranged from poignant to NSFW (especially his answer to the query regarding whether or not he, Tom Hiddleston and Matt Smith have cheek bone polishing parties). Here are some of the best:
HollyBoBolly asked, “Mr. Cumberbatch, what was your favorite prank, done by you or to you, on or off set. Let me know if you would like suggestions :)”
His response? "Neutron cream. Come on, people! P.S. Anytime you’re in a restaurant with a group of friends and one of them goes to the restroom or bathroom (presume there are many nationalities involved in this AMA), tell the waiter that it’s that person’s birthday. Not only is it fun to embarrass the hell out of the poor victim, but you get free cake in the bargain.”
keeblerlorien asked, "Mr Cumberbatch, you so rarely get to do comedy these days, and you were hilarious in Starter for 10! It seems from interviews and such that you and Simon Pegg got on well while filming Star Trek. As Mr Pegg has a tendency to cast his friends in his work, is there any chance we might one day get to see you in a future Pegg comedy film?"
"That is a question for Simon, obviously. I love my comedy and when the right project comes up I won't shy away from it. There's a lot of humor in what I do, specifically Sherlock, but it would be great to play a 'normal guy' in a 'normal comedy'."
AreYouHereToKillMe asked, "My wife would sincerely like to know if you are wearing anything under your robe.....please respond, this is important for our mental well being."
To which Benedict replied, "You should be asking who's naked under it with me."
stopXstoreytime asked, "Where has your favorite place been so far to visit?"
"On an untouched New Zealand glacier via helicopter where I stepped out in trainers, jogging pants, and got out and danced. Or touching the earth after my first skydiving jump in Namibia. Or a balcony in South Africa where I felt the sun on my face after the night I was carjacked."
CumberbatchLover asked, "What do you think of your fans calling themselves 'Cumbercookies'? That way when we all come together, we'll be the 'Cumberbatch' :D"
"It's great! You could call yourself the Cumbergirls, and then when you come together you'd be a flock. Or you could call yourself the Cumbertadpoles and that way you'd be the Cumberspawn...Wait!...Ew! Don't do that."
In 2011, he shared his most embarrassing moment with The Guardian. "When I was six, I got stung by a wasp in a Greek market. A widow pulled down my pants, held me upside down and rubbed an onion on my bum."
Though the world has embraced Benedict as a sex symbol, the British actor doesn't quite perceive himself in the same way. "If you put me in a room with Brad [Pitt] and George [Clooney] and all of them, you do kind of go, 'Lovely, yes. Handsome, yes. Oh, strange-looking guy,'" he told Radio Times.
Though many like his unusual name, Benedict has this to say about it: "Cumberbatch — it sounds like a fart in a bath, doesn't it? What a fluffy old name. I can never say it on a Monday morning. When I became an actor, Mum wasn't keen on me keeping it."
He took to Twitter to promote The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and the Q&A was full of dry humor, but one of the most exciting answers came when CeceCalabrese asked him if he plans on heading towards directing in the future. To which he replied, "Yes, one day." Let's hope his acting talent extends behind the camera.
The actor is also pretty darn good with impressions and has flaunted his spot-on Alan Rickman on many different talk shows, including The Jonathan Ross Show (there's also some added David Tennant in there). For a bonus bit of fun, check out how quickly he gets Harrison Ford to light up like a Christmas tree by doing a quick Chewbacca impersonation on The Graham Norton Show.
During his December 11 appearance on Conan, he chatted about getting his start playing female roles on stage and responds to his cut shower scene in Star Trek Into Darkness (which Conan O'Brien pairs with a porno soundtrack). In the full interview, he also gave the eccentric talk show host a few dragon acting lessons, where Conan's caffeinated gecko movements reminded Benedict of a "young ginger Meryl Streep."
Do yourself a favor and check out the participating movie theaters for National Theatre Live's 50th Anniversary Encore Screening of Frankenstein. I was lucky enough to catch both versions of the stage production back in 2011 when it screened in various cinemas (thought not lucky enough to see it live) and it stands as one of the most stunning plays I've ever seen. From Danny Boyle's unparalleled talent translated to the stage, to the dual performances of Benedict and Jonny Lee Miller (they alternated between playing Victor and the Creature — both bringing something unique to each character), the show is amazing.
Unlike other versions of the heartbreaking tale you've seen, this one is achingly true to the original novel, finally giving the innocent creature the voice Hollywood has stamped out. This isn't the groaning oaf you've come to know as Frankenstein, this is the eloquent Creature who quotes Paradise Lost.
Benedict has a slew of upcoming projects, some already finished and others still in the rumors stage — there are 10 at the moment. Among them is the highly anticipated third season of Sherlock and The Imitation Game, for which he replaced Leonardo DiCaprio as Alan Turing. The short film Little Favour finally released a trailer in October, which thrilled all the fans who donated to the project's Indiegogo campaign — the goal was met within 12 hours of startup and the action flick eventually made over three times the amount it needed.
As for the dragon Smaug, you're going to have to wait until 2014 to find out what happens after the taunting cliffhanger the newest Hobbit leaves us with. I predict there will be a lot of fire and death.