Benedict Cumberbatch finds freedom in voicing the Grinch
English actor Benedict Cumberbatch glad to be part of Seussian universe
Benedict Cumberbatch "jumped at the chance" to voice the Grinch in the new hit movie based on the beloved children's tale by US author Dr Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
The movie The Grinch topped the North American box office with US$66 million (S$90.5 million) and has already earned more than US$152 million worldwide.
He said during our interview at the Viceroy L'Ermitage Beverly Hills hotel: "It's such an iconic character and I love the Seussian universe, so I was glad when they asked me to do it."
Not that the role was on the 42-year-old English actor's radar or anything.
He said: "(The producers) said, 'We really like your voice.' So I said, 'Great, this is what I think the Grinch sounds like from the book.'"
He tried an American accent.
"And they were like, 'Oh, no, we like your voice, we like your accent.' 'You want me to be English?' 'Yeah,'" he said with a laugh.
"(But) I don't think the Grinch is English. Once we ironed that out, I was completely in, hook, line and sinker."
Cumberbatch retained the American accent.
Opening here on Nov 29, The Grinch tells the tale of the cantankerous creature who lives alone with his dog Max on the outskirts of Whoville.
He hates his neighbours and never talks to them. When he stress-eats and runs out of food, he is forced to go into town to get groceries. His patience is stretched thin when he learns about the Whos' Christmas plans.
These get bigger and louder each year, but this time they announce that Christmas is going to be three times bigger.
So the Grinch snaps and decides that his only recourse is to steal Christmas by posing as Santa and stealing everyone's presents.
Explaining his interpretation of the character, Cumberbatch said: "The Grinch is Scrooge. He is a lot of people in our world who act out of irrational, illogical fear and become vicious or mean or vindictive and angry. They are often traumatised.
"This is a story about Christmas being all materialism, but I think also in our case, understanding that behind every mean person, there's somebody who suffered something and there is some trauma there.
"In the case of the Grinch, he is an orphan. And I think that's a brilliant way of showing why Christmas triggers so much trauma in him. Everyone else belongs and is happy and together and has a place and he doesn't. And so he resorts to defensive, active meanness and he's like, 'I am just going to take that happiness away from other people so I don't have to suffer being alone.'"
The experience of going into the recording booth was freeing for Cumberbatch, whose other notable voice work includes Middle-earth dragon Smaug in the Hobbit movies, Classified the wolf in Penguins Of Madagascar and Bengal tiger Shere Khan in the upcoming Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle.
"It's two month breaks, about four to six hour sessions over two years," he said.
"So it is something that I have dropped in and out of while doing TV series Patrick Melrose and Marvel movie Doctor Strange. It's a great way to work and you can schedule a lot of other stuff around it.
"You have maybe some artist renditions of where the animation is going to go, but it's very rarely to picture and you don't act with any other actors and you are on your own. If you have got a friend that is as good a collaborator as (director) Scott (Mosier) is, it's really good fun."
Because of the long breaks, he did have to go back to his earlier recordings to get in the rhythm of the character.
"After a while, it's like muscle memory. But at the beginning, especially when we were establishing the tone, I came at it very much from the books, and so he was quite demonic, red-eyed and angry. He became an animal and kind of cranky. And we realised really soon that a whole film of that would be tedious and scary for children.
"There's just a lot more freedom when you realise that he actually enjoys being the Grinch. So that opened up a range of expression in the journey he goes on in the film."
While the Grinch was never part of his English upbringing, with his family now, there are unusual Christmas decorations that have become tradition.
He is married to English theatre and opera director Sophie Hunter, with whom he has two sons aged three and one.
She is expecting their third child.
According to him, there is a Christmas tree that he bought in South Africa "made out of a Diet Coke can, and it's silver, red, blue and white", and another made out of "reconstituted recycled beads and painted gold and with loads of African-themed decorations" on it.
He said: "Now when I get a tree, it's one that I can replant afterwards. So yeah, I have always enjoyed Christmas."
The writer is the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.