“Being a posh actor in England, you can't escape class-typing, from whatever side you look at it. I realised quite early on that, although I wasn't trying to make a career speciality of it, I was playing slightly asexual, sociopathic intellectuals,” the actor Benedict Cumberbatch recently remarked to the Radio Times. “I was brought up in a world of privilege. It can ostracise you from normal codes of conduct in society.” If that's the case, the 35-year-old isn't faring that badly. Cumberbatch is currently on cinema screens in Steven Spielberg's War Horse and Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, providing a nuanced, vulnerable foil to Gary Oldman in the latter, and he stars as a modern day Sherlock Holmes on the successful BBC television series Sherlock.
And his forthcoming roles suggest that his aristocratic demeanour is being put to unexpected use by some filmmakers. In Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, Cumberbatch will not only provide the voice of Smaug the dragon, but with motion capture technology he'll also lay the foundations of the nefarious beast's performance. He's also been cast in another blockbuster, 2013's 3D Star Trek reboot sequel. The role returning director JJ Abrams has earmarked Cumberbatch for isn't confirmed, although there are obsessives who swear that the timelines match perfectly for Cumberbatch to play a younger version of Star Trek's most revered villain, Ricardo Montalban's Khan from 1982's The Wrath of Khan.
Should Cumberbatch worry? Unless he has his heart set on getting a call from Mike Leigh, probably not. As he knows, for every role the British class divide denies to him, there's an actor who can't get a look in for the parts Cumberbatch does get. You don't hear Eddie Marsan or Ray Winstone complaining, and the only real risk for Cumberbatch is in allowing his background to become a kind of cinematic shorthand that pigeonholes him. That's called doing a Hugh Grant.
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, who has enjoyed considerable attention outside his homeland thanks to 2006's The Host and 2009's Mother, appears to be assembling an international cast for his next project. Based on a French comic book, Snow Piercer is set on a train in a post-apocalyptic ice age, with those on board forcefully separated by class and privilege. The actors Bong is looking to cast include Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Jamie Bell (The Adventures of Tintin).
And, finally, should actors worry about a character they're portraying having previously fared badly? In The Emperor Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men) will play General Douglas McArthur, the controversial American soldier who was head of the occupying forces in Japan after World War II ended and had to decide whether the nation's deified Emperor Hirohito would be tried as a war criminal. McArthur already has an infamous place in movie history, with Sir Laurence Olivier portraying the character in the disastrously bad 1982 Korean War epic Inchon. The film was an expensive bomb, with the ageing Olivier telling reporters he took the part for the $US1 million fee. “I'm almost used up now and I can feel the end coming,” he told reporters. “That's why I'm taking money now.” Hopefully Tommy Lee Jones has somewhat better intentions.