True call­ing

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR HOTLIST -

I FIRST MET BENE­DICT on the set of Atone­ment in 2006. It was one of those com­pletely idyl­lic sum­mers. The weather was un­be­liev­ably beau­ti­ful and we were stay­ing on a farm in Shrop­shire around the cor­ner from Stoke­say Court, the coun­try house that stood in for the Tal­lis es­tate. I was in the main house, and Bene­dict was in one of the smaller cot­tages with a lovely ac­tor called Pa­trick Kennedy, who played my brother in the film. Bene­dict played his hor­ri­ble, rich friend. For about six weeks we hung out ev­ery sin­gle night, which is how I got to know him. I have so many happy mem­o­ries. I re­mem­ber Bene­dict and Pa­trick play­ing ten­nis and me sit­ting and watch­ing. (Bene­dict is quite good at ten­nis; he’s one of those posh-school boys who are good at ev­ery­thing.) Ten­nis is the one sport I hate more than any­thing be­cause I can’t play. But I re­mem­ber the pair of them try­ing to coax me into play­ing and me ab­so­lutely re­fus­ing, then end­ing up as a rather grumpy ball girl. I re­mem­ber lots of par­ties in the main house and drink­ing pear cider. I had never drunk pear cider (I was al­ways put off by the smell) but Bene­dict talked me into it and he was right to do so, be­cause pear cider is a very good thing, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing a hot sum­mer in Shrop­shire. I also re­mem­ber Bene­dict and me spend­ing a lot of time in Lud­low, din­ing out at very good restau­rants a lot. Ac­tu­ally, that’s been the ba­sis for our friend­ship ever since.

Need­less to say, Bene­dict is a very good din­ner com­pan­ion: Al­ways in­ter­ested and in­ter­est­ing, up on pol­i­tics and the news (so he’s got an opin­ion), and al­ways ready with a story, although oc­ca­sion­ally you have to pin him down to one sub­ject be­cause he tends to veer off in all di­rec­tions. He is also car­ing. There have been mo­ments in our friend­ship when I have been go­ing through tough times and he has been right there, tak­ing me out to din­ner, com­ing round to the house, be­ing the one who lis­tened. I ap­pre­ci­ate that hugely.

There was no doubt in my mind that some­thing big was go­ing to hap­pen for Bene­dict. I re­mem­ber watch­ing him on Atone­ment and think­ing: “God, he’s good”. The qual­ity of his work was al­ways bril­liant; it was just a ques­tion of when his break would come. Then, of course, he was cast in Sher­lock. We went out to din­ner soon af­ter­wards and he was talk­ing about the character and what he wanted to do with it. I re­mem­ber think­ing how cool it sounded. But I didn’t ever think Sher­lock would be the role that changed ev­ery­thing. You hope, but you never know. I imag­ine that’s how Bene­dict felt about Sher­lock.

I did know, how­ever, that when the op­por­tu­nity came, Bene­dict would be ready for it and he would jump right in. And that’s ex­actly what he has done. He is re­ally en­joy­ing his suc­cess. He is 38, and has wanted this for such a long time and has worked so hard. More im­por­tantly, his love for act­ing is some­thing I haven’t seen in any­one else. He has found the one thing in life he is sin­gu­larly pas­sion­ate about and he is mak­ing the most of it. Watch­ing from the side­lines has been lovely. As for his many ad­mir­ers, his so-called ‘Cum­ber­bitches’, I think he rather en­joys the at­ten­tion de­spite be­ing a lit­tle be­mused.

After Atone­ment, there was a pe­riod of five years when we saw each other all the time and be­came un­be­liev­ably close. After that, he was work­ing so much I hardly saw him. Then all of a sud­den The Imi­ta­tion Game came up. I heard Bene­dict was at­tached to play the part of Alan Tur­ing and I texted him im­me­di­ately to check. I was up for the role of Joan Clarke, Tur­ing’s close friend and fel­low code-breaker in World War II. I was al­ready in­ter­ested in the story, and when Bene­dict texted back to say he was def­i­nitely do­ing it, my mind was made up.

Bene­dict is a lovely ac­tor to work with. He is con­stantly cu­ri­ous, al­ways up for try­ing things, and look­ing to make a scene bet­ter. The only prob­lem is that if it were up to Bene­dict, we would still be shoot­ing the film. There are a mil­lion dif­fer­ent ways of play­ing a scene and he wants to ex­plore them all. I loved our scenes to­gether, but my favourite mo­ments were those we shared off-screen, like when we snuck out­side and il­lic­itly smoked cig­a­rettes, or when he joined the rest of us for pic­nics in my trailer and we ate chicken wings sit­ting on the floor. Most of all, I was touched by his com­pas­sion on set. He doesn’t like to see peo­ple up­set or not be­ing val­ued, and he tends to stand up for them. You see that em­pa­thy in his work. It goes to show he is not only a very good ac­tor, but a lovely dude too.

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