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Lions Roar : May 2016
But Benedict Cumberbatch’s story is in a way the most striking of all. In a few short years since taking on the role of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in the phenomenally successful BBC series, the thinking person’s heartthrob has become recognized as one of Britain’s greatest actors. He has appeared in blockbusters such as Star Trek: Edge of Darkness and The Hobbit and prestige films like 12 Years a Slave and The Imitation Game. Recently he lit up the London stage in that most demanding of all roles: Shake- speare’s Hamlet. Some critics ascribe his success to the training he received at LAMDA, one of Britain’s top drama colleges. Or to the ten years before Sherlock that he spent, rela- tively unsung, combining theatre with TV and film roles such as Stephen Hawking (ten years before his friend Eddie Red- mayne scooped the Oscar for the same role) and a sleazy millionaire rapist in Atonement. But when I met the actor, he put his success to down his time teaching English in his pre-university gap year to Tibetan Buddhist monks at a Buddhist monastery near Darjeeling, India. “I’d always been fascinated by the idea of meditation and what it meant,” Cumberbatch told me. “In India, I went on a retreat with a lama—several days of incantation to clear and purify the mind—along with a dozen other people. It was incredible, and I kind of floated out of there after two weeks. When you’ve been that still and contemplative, your sensory awareness is heightened and more sharply focused. You’re taking in detail to the point where you have to pause a little bit. It was amazing. “Stillness is an essential part of acting,” he continued, “so I already had a certain amount of focus in that beforehand. A Unconventional onstage and off: Cumberbatch is happy to inhabit intelligent, conflicted characters, from Sherlock Holmes to Hamlet. He stunned audiences at Hamlet by breaking the “fourth wall” to criticize British politicians and make an impassioned plea for funds to aid Syrian refugees. PHOTO:COLLECTIONCHRISTOPHEL/HARTSWOODFILM/ARENAPALPHOTO:JOHANPERSSON/ARENAPAL