JJ Abrams on Benedict Cumberbatch in STID

“Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers hailed Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays [John Harrison] Khan, as “a villain for the ages—he’s really terrific.” On why he cast Benedict, considered one of the “it” actors these days, J.J. joked, “He paid me extraordinarily well.” Then he said, “We were only looking for the great actor. When we cast him in this movie, it was about a year and a half ago. He wasn’t the hottest actor yet. He was a guy who was on a TV show (‘Sherlock’). But we didn’t cast him at a point where he was this white-hot actor. He was just a guy who was the best actor.”

“Yes, Benedict has darkness ... He has light, brilliance, wit, sophistication, an imposing presence. He’s threatening; he’s physical. He’s also sympathetic. He does these things and makes it all look so damn easy. And the other actors … it was so funny. Every time we were doing a scene with Benedict, they were standing a little bit taller. He has a presence that is ridiculous and that voice, oh my God. There wasn’t a day working with Benedict that I didn’t think, this is insane. He elevated that moment. He made that thing that I thought was going to be really hard, authentic.

“He’s not like his character in any way, physically or
emotionally, but he transformed himself physically. He was suddenly this wildly intimidating big guy. And he’s not. When you talk to him, he’s sort of slight. But in the movie, I spent a year editing him (Benedict’s footage). So it was like I got to see him every day. I got so used to him as that character. So when I saw him again recently, I thought, God, he’s so small, compared to how he is in the movie—he’s so epic. He is an utter chameleon who I think can do anything. He’s one of the best actors I’ve ever seen, let alone worked with. He was able to bring all of these incredible nuances and attitude to a role that in lesser hands would not have worked remotely that well.”

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