Benedict Cumberbatch on Star Trek and Star Wars: interview

Star Trek Into Darkness is in UK cinemas now, and Total Film was lucky enough to get to chat to the film’s villain and scene-stealer extraordinaire, Benedict Cumberbatch, the day after it opened.

We quizzed the Sherlock star - and soon-to-be one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood, following on from his performance in Into Darkness - on his Trek role, and his thoughts about the other huge Star franchise that J.J. Abrams has his hands on…

How was it revealing your menacing side for Star Trek Into Darkness ?

“Well, I think the most interesting characters across the board, whether they’re heroes or villains… basically I don’t really believe in good and evil, and I don’t really believe in heroes and villains. That’s kind of the trick. And not just as an actor having empathy for your character, and the moment of portraying someone and understanding why they do what they do however despicable that it is, and trust me - I’ve sat in the audience going, ‘Ooh, God!’, when I destroy, I kill, I maim - and it’s pretty horrific.

“But even with this in mind, and being separate from being in the process of performing the character, he’s pretty complex. His reasons for doing what he does are quite profoundly persuasive I think - I hope - and it should be quite an empathy sway in the film when you suddenly go, ‘This guy, I’ve just known him through the destruction and threat he’s caused, and now we’re sort of leaning in and going, ‘Oh, but that’s why! Well that’s quite a reasonable motivation surely? He’s been royally…’ Well, without spoiling anything, there is a reason.

“And I think the fact that he’s homegrown, and I think the fact that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and the fact that he is a shadow self of Kirk - same coin, different sides - is what makes him interesting to play, for me.

“So ‘getting my villain’ on was great, and the action scenes and the fight scenes were fantastic, but they wouldn’t have meant anything unless I’d really found this purpose to him, and that was in the beautiful, complex, rich storytelling and background to the character. So I was royally served by J.J. and his team to try and live up to something a little more three-dimensional… No IMAX pun intended.”

And obviously J.J.’s moving on to Star Wars - were you a fan of it growing up and will you be trying to persuade J.J. to give you a role in Episode VII ?

“I’ve already asked him if I can be a lightsaber and we’re in talks - about whirring sounds and the rates for the lights and everything [ laughs ].

“I thought, ‘Yeah, I grew up with them,’ and I just looked recently at when they were released and now I’m like, ‘No, I didn’t grow up with them, I was born with them.’ They were a huge part of my background, and my upbringing.

“I was much more connected to [Star Wars] as a kid, in the way that a lot of kids are because it’s immediate storytelling, very simple - a beautifully, outrageously simple narrative in a way - and a wonderful three-act melodrama, opera. And I loved them. I really, really loved those films and I always wanted to be Han Solo. Everything Harrison Ford did I just thought was the coolest thing ever - Raiders Of The Lost Ark was very much my upbringing as well.

“What I realised with the reboot of Star Trek in 2009 is that I had a residual love and empathy for these characters because I felt really, giddily sentimental about them getting back together, and this origin story. So Star Trek seeds a little deeper for most people, it’s a little bit more mature - it doesn’t take itself too seriously though, it’s very humorous and fast-paced and imaginative and fun.

“But I think the serious things that really kind of get you… that comes from good characters, really well drawn characters that have fantastically rich relationships and really interesting meat in the stories.

“They may be set in space but they dealt with every kind of discussion or morality play, or debate about race or purpose and place and identity, and what it is to belong, and the human condition, and that’s its enduring appeal. I’m backtracking a bit but what I’m saying is my fervour for Trek was there, I just didn’t realise it. I was an out-and-out kid running around with a lightsaber wanting to fly the Millennium Falcon but I think I’m growing into being a Trekkie, if that makes sense.”

Star Trek Into Darkness is out in the UK now.

To find out what more stars - including Trek actors Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto - had to say about appearing in Star Wars: Episode VII , watch out latest Star Wars video below:

Watch more interviews with the Star Trek Into Darkness cast:

Matt Maytum
Deputy Editor, Total Film

I'm the Deputy Editor at Total Film magazine, looking after the long-form features there, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.