Benedict Cumberbatch on what makes him Grinchy
Benedict Cumberbatch is mean, green and ready to joyfully snarl through the holidays in “The Grinch.”The English actor, 42, has played cantankerous genius types, from Marvel’s Doctor Strange to Sherlock Holmes. But Cumberbatch knew he was stepping up that game revisiting the conniving Grinch from Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) children’s book and the classic Chuck Jones 1966 TV special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”
“That’s the joy: Vicariously or not, you get a thrill out of some of his meanness,” says Cumberbatch, speaking by phone from New York, where the animated movie premièred last week with an avocado-green carpet. But there’s Grinch love, too, in the new version.
Q: Sensitive actors would hate that call saying, “You’re the perfect Grinch!” How did that go down?
Cumberbatch: I have my moments. But, I thought, “Christ, it’s a bit early for being called out as a Grinch, isn’t it?” One of my first questions, in all seriousness was, why me? They said, “We love your voice.” So I gave them a Grinch voice, quite animal-y with an American dialect. They went, “No, we’d like your voice.” Then I got it. They saw a correlation between casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch. They saw Sherlock, and outsiders, somewhat socially awkward, who can be occasionally rude. I said, “I might not be the right guy.” I had to stick to my guns: “You cannot release a film with an English Grinch. It’s got to be an American.”
Is your argument undermined by the fact that English actor Boris Karloff voiced the Grinch in the original TV special with a British accent?
Cumberbatch: Did he? I haven’t seen the original. I loved the book but haven’t seen either of the other versions (the TV special or the 2000 Jim Carrey movie). I’m looking forward to seeing both now that I’m free of them influencing what I was doing. But there is something classically American in the rhyming scheme that lends itself much more to an American accent.
Does the Grinch offer freedom to be grumpy over the holidays?
Cumberbatch: There are certain things that are going to grind you down. I’ve worked in a shop over the Christmas season, with the holiday track repeating. It drives you insane. And your Christmas spirit gets really, really tested. I’m not as high on Christmas as the Whos of Whoville. But I’m not as Grinchy about it as the Grinch. I’m somewhere in a happy English, cynical, medium place about the whole thing.
What holiday aspect brings out your Grinch?
Cumberbatch: Definitely plastic winds me up at Christmas with the amount of waste and short-term joy. Beyond that, I’m human behind the wheel. Everyone can get lost within their world and feel like they are driving on Mount Crumpit and the world is at fault. I can get Grinchy in a car. I get quite Grinchy when I’m hungry or jet-lagged. That happens. But I don’t have too much to get Grinchy about, honestly. And I love Christmas for the reasons this film celebrates.
Benedict Cumberbatch voices the Grinch.