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Strange, but Cumberbatch is no luvvie

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Benedict Cumberbatch: 'I want to be around for as long as possible to see my son have his children.'

Benedict Cumberbatch: 'I want to be around for as long as possible to see my son have his children.'

Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter

Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter

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Benedict Cumberbatch: 'I want to be around for as long as possible to see my son have his children.'

'If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind then give me the electric chair for all my future crimes." These lyrics from Electric Chair, a song from the 1989 Batman soundtrack, came back to haunt me after meeting Benedict Cumberbatch. It turns out that the A-list actor and I share, not just a love of the Batman movie, but we both played the Prince soundtrack until our respective cassette tapes broke.

I had gone to meet Cumberbatch to chat about his new movie Doctor Strange with very firm notions about the actor. I had him pegged as the "Luvvie's Luvvie", the emperor of the current group of posh privileged 30-something male thesps. He's been on every list imaginable - sexiest, best dressed, the 100 makers of the 21st century and 100 most influential people in the world". I was expecting a diva and as a result I really do deserve a metaphorical electric chair.

God knows if Cumberbatch had acted the diva he'd have been well within his rights as we meet at the end of a very long day. The actor is running almost an hour over-schedule - he's exhausted and hungry. There is a queue of people waiting to take him to his next engagement - a driver, PRs, security, hair and make up, and plenty of other impatient looking people. The only person who seems pleased to see me is Cumberbatch himself.

Far from having notions about himself he apologises profusely for keeping me waiting. A person from the film company is looking at snacks the hotel has provided and telling him they're all healthy.

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Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter

Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter

Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter

"Try the fridge," he says while offering to pour my water for me, "the chocolate will be in the fridge." A certain well-known triangular confection is produced and I almost have the hand off the poor man when he offers me a piece.

On closer inspection Cumberbatch's "luvvie" credentials are surprisingly lacking. While he is the son of two actors (Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham) his family is not an acting dynasty. He did go to public school - Harrow - but was on a scholarship which he followed up with a drama degree in the distinctly unstarry University of Manchester. After graduation, Cumberbatch went to LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), not the more famous RADA.

Cumberbatch recently announced that he and his wife Sophie Hunter (pictured, right) are expecting their second child. We start talking about parenting and how it changes people, making them simultaneously more fearful and fearless. "I want to be around for as long as possible to see my son have his children," he confesses. "There's a fearlessness of self in wanting to be around and there's a great fear for him in wanting to protect him so it's definitely both. It's not about you any more it's about them."

"It makes you hyper aware," I reply. "Which is a very good thing," Cumberbatch states.

I'm not so sure, I tell him, as I feel like I'm constantly being bombarded with possible threats to my son's wellbeing. "But if you see ways of lessening those threats in incremental steps then that's a good thing. It means you're doing something positive and there's a positive outcome for your child. Children are great inspirations for that. And," he adds, "they're great fun."

There's quite a lot of the actor himself in the character of Doctor Strange. When the movie begins Strange is a top neurosurgeon who is constantly challenging himself to do better. He won't waste his skills on just anybody - he's arrogant and totally ego-driven.

When a terrible accident leaves him unable to use his hands properly he becomes obsessed with finding a "cure". His quest takes him to Tibet where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who schools him in spirituality and teaches him the secrets of the "multiverse".

If this sounds like typical Hollywood hokum trust me, it isn't. Doctor Strange is that very unique thing - a blockbuster film that is entertaining, funny, incredibly well acted, visually spectacular and, thanks to a great script, credible. While Doctor Strange is given plenty of depth by both the script and Cumberbatch's wonderful performance, so too is the villain Kaecilius, superbly played by Mads Mikkelsen - so much so that at one point he almost succeeds in winning over both the audience and Doctor Strange himself.

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The film star tells me that he doesn't subscribe to any particular spiritual belief. "Is there an afterlife? Do I believe in reincarnation? I don't know but I do believe there are ways of living a better life."

He does however have a solid spiritual practice. "I meditate. I practice mindfulness and I think that's a great thing." In the film Doctor Strange and other "Masters" have the ability to, quite literally, shape the world around them and Cumberbatch believes that everyone can do this (obviously not to the extent of making buildings in Manhattan fold in upon themselves.)

"I believe that you can, with a lot of effort, and mindfulness and the practice of meditation, that you can use your mind to shape and reshape your reality, however slightly, you can affect things for the positive… It's not self-serving, you come out a more empathetic, patient, considerate and chilled-out person."

As if he knows the horrible thoughts I was thinking before I met him Cumberbatch adds. "I'm sure someone might be reading this going "yeah right love, good luck with your second child, finding the time" but (meditation) can be when you are doing that child's nappy and if it's all going, quite literally, to shit," he laughs, "it's just finding those times in the day. We can't all go away for meditation retreats for a week or whatever and spend a lot of money doing that. It's something that's free and I think it's great."

People come in and start tapping watches and Cumberbatch seems genuinely upset that I haven't had enough time with him. "When are you filing this?" he asks. "We could have a call later…" This is the first time a film star has offered to call me later. I'm blown away.

A few minutes later, he passes me in the hotel corridor, being bustled along by all the impatient people. He throws his head over his shoulder and says "Goodbye Anne Marie, thank you so much for coming."

Cumberbatch is a genuinely nice man and I'm a judgmental cow. I really do deserve that electric chair.

Doctor Strange is in cinemas now


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