Saturday 20 July 2019

Why we just don't want to get Benedict out of our heads...

The surprising allure of the 'Sherlock' star and why his engagement has got us so excited

Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter at the French Open tennis final in Paris in June
Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter at the French Open tennis final in Paris in June
Benedict Cumberbatch announces his engagment in an endearingly old-fashioned manner.
Floppy-haired scientist Brian Cox.
James Franco has a geeky enthusiasm for academia.
Barack Obama - has there been a president more popular outside of America?

Ed Power

With his horse-like face and eyes that seem to sit slightly too close together, there are no obvious reasons why actor Benedict Cumberbatch should be cinema's reigning heartthrob. Yet that is exactly what the 38-year-old has become - when it was announced that he was to marry his girlfriend of two years theatre director Sophie Hunter, the internet required a lie down on the couch, such was the heartbreak among fans (some of whom would like for you to refer to them as 'Cumberbitches'). 

Whatever else explains the appeal, it can't have anything to do with Cumberbatch's screen appearances, in which he typically plays characters wrestling with varying degrees of Asperger's Syndrome. In his break-out part of Sherlock, he delivered a decent impersonation of a man with a clockwork device where his heart should be; in the forthcoming biopic of computing pioneer Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, meanwhile, Cumberbatch is so buttoned down audiences might mistake him for a waxwork approximation of a human being. 

Though we have only the faintest sense of what Cumberbatch is like as a person, it nonetheless seems typical of him that his betrothed should be outside the Hollywood gene-pool. Hunter (36) is, like Cumberbatch, rather posh (he went to exclusive boy's school Harrow, she received her degree in Oxford) and she has notched up some minor screen roles, in shows such as Torchwood and Midsummer Murders.

Maybe Cumberbatch's appeal has to do with the fact he embodies an archetype most of us recognise from the real life. He is never going to be confused for Brad Pitt and perhaps that is exactly the point. Just as the allure of the Spice Girls, historians now believe, is that they seemed attainably rough around the edges - the sort of high-heeled totterers you might encounter on a night out - so Cumberbatch's high-functioning geekery carries a whiff of the world we inhabit. 

So, while you won't ever find yourself sitting across from a George Clooney-double at work, chances are there's someone vaguely Cumberbatch-esque in your social circle: a quietly spoken chap who, at first pass, comes across as awfully walled off but whom you suspect has a sweet side if only you get inside his defences. He feels like a challenge: one that might be worth taking on. 

When tickets for Cumberbatch's 2015 turn as Hamlet at the Barbican in London went on sale this year, they were snapped up in a heartbeat - more to do with the populace's zeal for Cumberbatch than Shakespeare you suspect.

Meanwhile, at the premiere of Star Trek: Into Darkness, in which Cumberbatch plays swotty uber-man Khan, fans held aloft spoof signs that said things like 'Benedict I'm Pregnant and It's Yours'. 

He isn't alone of course. In Hollywood, it is tempting to conclude, quirky has replaced hunky as the sensibility we adore in our movie stars. Consider Ryan Gosling, skinny and perpetually crestfallen; or Game of Throne's Peter Dinklage whom fans would have you believe is a 'sex god'. Also, there is a wider trend in the culture of elevating nerdy types - consider the mass swooning in Dublin this week over the Web Summit, which, to an outsider might resemble a rock concert for the Tweeting classes.

In his public statements, Cumberbatch, who spent over a decade as an anonymously jobbing thesp around London, has reacted with good-natured bafflement. 

"Do I like being thought of as attractive?" he mused. "I don't know anyone on Earth who doesn't, but I do find it funny. It's new to me, and I'm sure I'll get used to it and find a way of dealing with it, but at the moment it is quite odd. I look in a mirror and I see all the faults I've lived with for 35 years, and yet people go kind of nuts for certain things about me. It's not me being humble. I just think it's weird."

Geeks we go ga-ga for

Brian Cox

The floppy-haired scientist who can't seem to stop smiling has fans in a flutter every time he says something difficult to understand. Not bad for a boffin who used to play keyboards in D:Ream.

James Franco

Not a nerd exactly - however, Franco has displayed a geeky enthusiasm for academia, enrolling in multiple post-graduate courses and penning short stories and novels. Far from harming his standing in Hollywood, such dalliances have kept him in the public eye.

Barack Obama

Has there been an American President more popular outside of the United States than Obama? Out of the spotlight, he is said to be somewhat of an introvert - in his public appearances, meanwhile, he might be mistaken for a professor trying to convey complicated information to a class of hungover students.

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top