Cum­ber­batch re­veals his in­ner ‘Grinch’

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Bryan Alexan­der

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 (aka 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,” Cum­ber­batch says from New York, where the an­i­mated movie pre­miered last week with an av­o­cado-green car­pet.

But there’s Grinch love, too, in the new ver­sion (out Fri­day). USA TO­DAY spoke to a sur­pris­ingly joy­ful Cum­ber­batch about don­ning Christ­mas sweaters, driv­ing like a Grinch and what makes him crazy dur­ing the hol­i­days.

Ques­tion: Sen­si­tive ac­tors would hate that call say­ing, “You’re the per­fect Grinch!” How did that go down?

Bene­dict 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 first 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 film with an English Grinch. It’s got to be an Amer­i­can.”

Q: Do peo­ple un­der­stand that the Grinch ethos is laud­able in some ar­eas, like his stance against Christ­mas com­mer­cial­ism?

Cum­ber­batch: He’s proven right and wrong. But when you start steal­ing toys from kids, it doesn’t go down so well.

Q: Does the Grinch offer free­dom to be grumpy?

Cum­ber­batch: There are 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 . ... 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.

Q: What hol­i­day as­pect brings out your Grinch?

Cum­ber­batch: Definitely plas­tic winds me up with the amount of waste and short-term joy. Be­yond that, I’m hu­man be­hind the wheel. ... I can get Grinchy in a car.

Q: Christ­mas is a great time for vil­lains. Who’s your fa­vorite?

Cum­ber­batch: Hans Gru­ber in “Die Hard.” It is a Christ­mas film in my book.

Q: Have you ever worn a Christ­mas sweater?

Cum­ber­batch: Never. Not know­ingly any­way. Not once I could dress my­self and had some con­trol of my wardrobe.

Q: So you’re anti-Christ­mas sweater?

Cum­ber­batch: I’m not an­tiChrist­mas sweater. I would just rather other peo­ple walk around as good tar­get prac­tice.

Q: What mantra gets you through the hol­i­days?

Cum­ber­batch: Only (fill in the num­ber) days to go. No, to be hon­est, I’ve worked so to the wire the last few hol­i­day sea­sons, all I’m look­ing at is the gold at the end of the rain­bow: fam­ily and friends be­hind a closed door with no other de­mands. That is the only Christ­mas present I could ever want.

ROBERT DEUTSCH/USA TO­DAY

Cum­ber­batch shows new sides of char­ac­ter.

IL­LU­MI­NA­TION/UNI­VER­SAL PIC­TURES

Cum­ber­batch can re­late to the Grinch.

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