Inspiring Interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch on The Grinch
The Grinch is available now on Blu-ray and DVD, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Over the Christmas period, we headed the cinema to watch The Grinch and we all absolutely loved it. In fact, it was one of those movies which exceeded our expectations. Always a joy when that happens. The Grinch is available now on Digital and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on 11th March 2019, so we can now watch it all over again at home! I interviewed Benedict Cumberbatch about the movie and you can read all about it here:-
Q: The Grinch is such a lovely funny film, and unexpectedly melancholy as well. So where did you find that particular Grinch?
Benedict Cumberbatch: Well I can’t take credit for that, that’s the writers and directors and producers really. In the performing of it, it’s just great to have been given a canvas that offers that much variety for a family and animation. Also for a much beloved character who is usually known for being mean and nasty, there is a reason behind that. And there is also some kindness to him and a reason which is why he is the way he is about Christmas, which is heartbreaking. And the message then is twofold, why only should you believe that Christmas is anything to do with purely materialism but also you should also take in the people who are full of loathing and hate and fear and anger and it’s fear and insecurity and it’s a hard thing to do in this modern world to imagine giving people, orange people hugs (laughter). But if you meet like with like, you just end up in a horrible shouting match and it’s just ugly on both sides and it doesn’t advance things much.
Q: Is it fun for you to be a little bit subversive when it comes to playing this character?
BC: It’s there in the story as well and it comes from elimination and it’s there to read into very clearly. But why not, why not have topicality? There are very important things happening in the world and I wouldn’t say necessarily it’s a protest era film, but it would be a very different flavour film. I don’t know, the central tenet is the same as the Scrooge formula, it is about a guy who is on the outside and riddled with hate and bitterness and meanness and when he is given the opportunity to change, he takes it. And Christmas affects him and he bustles because of it, throws open the windows and shouts Merry Christmas. And it’s mainly to do with Bob Crachit and Tiny Tim and the same with Cindy Lou and her mom and I think that’s innately in the story and I think we layered into that to speak of the ills of now and how it resonates.
Q: He is right about some things though.
BC: I know. And I love how impatient he is and we should get a vicarious thrill out of his meanness, it’s very funny. The Whos are kind of great, eyes wide open and high on Christmas, it’s like another level, Whoville. It’s like a Christmas market come alive and I think it would be pretty overwhelming. I am too English and that there is something in me that would go, it’s just too perfect. I want a bit of mess.
Q: Well he is kind of English.
BC: Yeah, there is a little bit of that. In my armchair, he’s got some kind of fey English airs and graces about him. Maybe one of the reasons they cast me is because I play social outsiders or socially awkward misfits who are curmudgeonly, but they are good at what they do in their adventures I guess.
Q: Was there a little bit of trepidation when they came up to you and were like listen, we would love for you to do The Grinch? BC: It was like what do you think it is about me that is suitable for you to play this part? And I thought I can go around I suppose, I have done that in the past. But then they said, we just love your voice. And I said, the Grinch is American. And they said we love your voice and I really pushed back against that and I said I can’t do this job if it’s going to be anglicizing the Grinch. And I think they were nervous about me maintaining an accent a bit and strange, I had already done movies like August Osage County and Black Mass and other films and I had a Boston accent, so I had proved my worth for being able to do an American accent. But I think they were nervous about that.
Q: Can you relate to any of his sort of Christmas phobia or skepticism at all?
BC: Yeah, it doesn’t trigger things in quite the same way. I have happier memories of my early Christmases than he does as an orphan poor thing. My phobia is packaging and using a lot of plastic during Christmas with the merch on it. And where is this going to go when it’s not used anyway? It really irks me, I hate it. But yeah, that does get me Grinchy.
And Christmas, yeah, I worked retail once and I pity anyone that has to do that, when you are stuck with the tape and it’s just going around and around and the same f**king songs as yesterday, yeah, you get quite Grinchy with that. But we were all in the shop together and we all went fairly crazy together, it was quite fun. So you see the best and worst of human behaviour during Christmas time.
Q: What are the pros and cons of being stuck in a room with just a mic?
BC: It’s really freeing. There’s no mark to hit or costume or continuity, and you can really breathe and take up the space without feeling guilty about another actor or a technical thing that needs its time and space. You can be very selfish in that way and that’s weird. I wouldn’t say it’s a con, but it’s just a very different way of working, to have nothing to respond with. It requires a lot of imagination, those challenges can be really invigorating and you have to really put yourself out there and just play and just lose all self-consciousness.
Q: Can you bring any of those tricks that you have learned doing this film, onto something else?
BC: Yeah, to think fast as far as altering and doing 180 degree turns are nice, because one of the things I didn’t touch on is, doing things repetitively is hard. You think come on, we have covered this ground and I cannot quite imagine another way of skinning this cat. And then you do, you just do and sometimes by just going 180 degrees with it. Sometimes that is really helpful because it frees you up on the set as well. And also improvising which we did a lot with words that weren’t working or things that I just riffed on that were funny and some of those made it into the film, which was great.
Q: Is it a lot more takes or iterations than a live action film?
BC: It’s unbelievable; it makes David Fincher look like an amateur. Because you go back over and over it again, even if it’s a couple of line changes, sometimes it’s the balance of the scene that needs changing and the environment has changed and it’s something that the other characters have done. So yeah, it’s constant.
Q: Was it more than 50?
BC: Takes? Oh yeah, cumulatively, upwards of 100. And on a day it would be okay, we have done this scene maybe 15 times and just going from working on it. And then I go sort of line stir crazy and I can’t make, it’s like a jumble of words and they are not making any sense and I am like I will come back to this when I am less exhausted and maybe something will come. I don’t think there was a specific moment, but it was always that sticking point. And sometimes poor Scott (Mosier – director) was so patient and there would always be the moment where you would want to race out and go, don’t explain the whole thing, I am just going to do it. And I would do it and he would be like yeah, it isn’t like that anymore. And they were so patient with me and it was sometimes a thing of wanting to get in and get out as in really just focus on it and really just put the energy into it and be done. Which is the joy of this work, you can really load other projects and life around it. But I always had a good time, I know I sound like someone who was quite harsh, (laughs) but it was really fun.
Q: Do you remember the first time you had ever heard or read about this book and was it part of your childhood in a way?
BC: Well it must have been but I don’t remember dad reading it to me. He was brilliant at reading stories, everything was coloured and characterized and came to life. I credit him for Smaug (The Hobbit), at the end, a special credit for Timothy (Carlton – father). But he may have read it to me, as I was very aware of it. It’s a very iconic role and I thought I could have a lot of fun with this.
Q: Is it nice to do something that skews a younger audience?
BC: Of course it’s nice to do stuff that translates to all age groups, definitely.
Q: I remember Helen Mirren saying for Monsters University that she would do her voice work dressed up and wearing heels. Did you wear heels for The Grinch?
BC: I wore nothing. Nothing from the earphones down. That will make good copy. But I didn’t do any of that sort of thing, I didn’t need to. Heels give my voice a very particular impact, but he needs to patter around in his green feet. I used to go barefoot and I used to like feeling something under my feet other than shoes. Depending on the weather, I would strip down a little bit and just wear T-shirts and trousers. No I didn’t have any special costumes.
Q: When I first heard you on screen, I was like oh, this doesn’t sound like Ben at all. Was there a process that you had go through to get it right?
BC: Very much so. The first sort of four, five recordings, we were still learning what we thought was the right sound for him. I think every now and then they were like, could you try doing it in an English accent and I was like no, I am not going to do it. And it was not a critique, they just wanted to hear it to see if it flows. But I did not going to give them a single inch of that, because I think then they would go oh you could express so much more! And of course once we had the voice, the thing that was limiting in my expression was actually the fact that I characterized him from the book more than the animators were pitching with stills and their drawings of him from the beginning. In the book, his hands are very pointy and tiny and yucky. His eyes are swirling and angry and they look so bloodshot all over and red. And I kind of saw him as this creature. But that would have been a bit too scary and would have got boring after I went on a bit. So they rightfully said he might get like that in film, but not yet. So it was about reminding myself that he enjoys being The Grinch and he enjoys doing what he does, so be lighter and enjoy it.
Q: And the voice also gives you a hint of his sort of gooey center a little bit, especially when he talks about how emotional he is.
BC: Yeah, that makes me laugh every time. At the end I said, can I please review the footage because I might want to add or tweak or help or embellish, will you let me do that? And they said yeah. I asked if this is a normal thing, do actors not get to have another go at it when the marriage of voice and animation happens and they said no. I really wanted to make sure that we dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s cause this is my last chance to do justice to this brilliant story. It was very important.
Q: Of all the people that understands him and gets where he is coming from is a young child. And so what is it do you think that a young person can see in adults?
BC: They are forgiving and they are not tied down by the same bitterness of experience. No one in Whoville actually fears him to be honest, they sort of tolerate him, like okay, there is the Grinch. And some people are a little bit weary of him, but most people sing at him or go hey Merry Christmas! (laughter) But it’s kind of the reverse of the monster, it’s the monster that doesn’t want to be the monster, he wants to stay in his lair, which I think is much more interesting. And the reason he wants to stop Christmas from happening is because he can’t bear the amount of joy because he is not part of it, so he really wants to give other people misery. It’s not about them, it’s about him. And they sort of get that, but no more so than the child who sees him and goes, yeah we know he stole our Christmas, but we’ve known him long enough to forgive. Such profound things from the mouth of babes that are uninhibited.
Q: We often hear from actors who do voice work that it’s like one of the best jobs that they have.
Q: You said you really enjoyed it because of the flexibility.
BC: Yeah, that is a very pragmatic reason for enjoying it but actually the doing it is very refreshing because it’s unlike any other art and you have a lot of freedom and despite there not being other actors in the room, there is a lot of camaraderie with the director and the production team. It’s like a little family, like any work of art does.
Q: Have you ever done radio play with your voice?
BC: No, but I have done a couple that I have embellished my voice a little bit I guess, heavy characterization, but none as heavy as this.
Q: Thank you.
The Grinch is available now on Digital and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on 11th March 2019, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment