EXCLUSIVE: Benedict Cumberbatch gets his Bond on
When rumors started flying around that Benedict Cumberbatch may be tied to the installment of the lucrative James Bond franchise after “Skyfall,” the Internet nearly went into meltdown. Some wanted to see the actor as the new British Secret Service agent (sorry folks, as far as we know the license to kill still belongs to Daniel Craig), while others said they would be thrilled to see him as villain.
Cumberbatch’s fans, however, would be happy to know that he did get his Bond on – three years ago, in fact – and they’ll soon be seeing the end result. Only, it wouldn’t look quite like him.
The actor has lent his voice to the character Agent Classified, the wolf-turned-super-spy leader of the North Wind, the animal welfare task force, in the upcoming “Penguins of Madagascar,” a spin-off of DreamWorks Animation’s enormously successful “Madagascar” series.
Asked if he sees himself in Agent Classified, Cumberbatch says, “Hopefully a little bit, yes –mainly the sort of hangdog expression, and some of the raised eyebrows and cup-of-tea moments. He’s always got his little finger up – not that I do that in real life – but I definitely did that in the sessions to try and influence the animation.”
This is the first time Cumberbatch voices for an animated feature, although voice acting isn’t new to him. He has, after all, done so for the dragon Smaug in the second and third installments of “The Hobbit” franchise, and with motion capture to boot.
Stuck in a room staring into a blank screen, the process he underwent to voice for “Penguins of Madagascar” had been a little frustrating. “It’s difficult, to be honest, because of that disconnect,” he says about not getting to physically work with the other actors. “It’s very crazy to think that I’ve just done a gig with John Malkovich and not only did we not meet, but he’s playing an evil octopus and I’m playing a mock-heroic wolf! That’s not the way I pictured it, but there we go.”
Still, the project had this certain appeal to Cumberbatch, especially since he has a lot of friends with kids and a godson who’s at the right age to enjoy the film. “I’ve never done this type of work before, so I wanted to see if it was enjoyable,” he admits. Besides, “the character sounded intriguing as a spoof Bond, and I thought it would be fun.”
Cumberbatch nevertheless did not base his portrayal on a favorite 007. “I don’t do favorites – I can’t,” he says. Still, his character is pretty much Bond-like “in his mind, and also in his voice, which was part of the development – that suave, English delivery.” He adds, “He’s commanding, but then he can also be a complete and utter pillock as well. That’s a counter-intuitive version of Bond, which I found quite funny.”
Despite the suave agent blue print, Cumberbatch did try to make his delivery original. “I started putting my two cents worth in, and they were really thrilled by that… I tried to make them laugh with improvisations every time… to shape it so that it’s not me doing something expected. That stuff I love,” he shares.
He may play an animated character, but even Cumberbatch knows there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. He lays down the point that Agent Classified begins “from a position of smug arrogance and control and professionalism” and soon reduced “to infuriation, disbelief, and the begrudging realization that he actually has something to learn still. There’s a nice little journey there and it’s very funny the way that pans out.”
Cumberbatch loved the experience so much that he says he’s in pain about it. He smiles and explains, “It pains me to see this movie sometimes because I want to do more than they’ve asked me to do.”
Well, who knows what will happen in the sequel? Besides, “Madagascar” isn’t an almost two billion dollar franchise for nothing.
“Well hang on,” he interjects. “The penguins are in nine minutes of those first two films, so if we turn the minutes of both of those films into one whole sum, figure out what percentage nine is, that’s the only amount of money we have to make on this one. That really takes the pressure off: if I buy a ticket, we’ll make our money back.” And if all his fans, and the franchise fans of course, buy a ticket each, they’ll more than double their fortune!
“Penguins of Madagascar” opens in local cinemas on Nov. 26.