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TV Column
Posted at 04:43 PM ET, 01/05/2013

Benedict Cumberbatch in Tom Stoppard miniseries for HBO

Benedict Cumberbatch, the new dulcet-toned fair-haired boy of British thespianism, came to soak up the love of TV critics and talk about his HBO’s broadcast of “Parade’s End” at Winter TV Press Tour 2013.

“Benedict Cumberbatch…has now played the two cleverest men in England – and, of course, Tom Stoppard,” an HBO exec introduced the panel, having earlier called Stoppard “one of the greatest living writers of the English language.”

Cumberbund plays radical Tory Englishman Christopher Tietjens in Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford’s quartet of Brit history novels that span the twilight years of Edwardian England through World War I. HBO will launch the five-parter on Feb. 26; it aired in the UK last year.

“Benedict, you have not only played the two cleverest men in England, but you’ve done the words of the two cleverest men in England,” one critic gushed, wondering “What is it like to do the words of these guys and to do these incredibly witty things that they have you say?”

(That second cleverest man reference would be Steven Moffat who penned the “Sherlock” scripts Cummerbund performs in the PBS highly-mini series.)

“Very humbling because they’re far brighter than you could ever possibly be,” said Cumberbatch, appearing via satellite, from London.

He compared it to “extraordinary pieces of classical music,” which, he noted, does have to be interpreted by an actor if anyone’s going to hear it.

“Benedict, this has been such an amazing year for you with all the things that are happening in your career. Could you just reflect a little bit on where you’ve come and what you’re achieving this year and so far?” another critic gushed.

Cumberbatch smiled and laughed. “That’s it, really -- it’s a big smile and a laugh…Embarrassment of riches is the headline, I think.”

Stoppard, who’d not gotten any questions at that point and who, like Cumberbatch, was appearing via satellite, jumped in and noted Cumberbatch had already done “Frankenstein” with Jonny Lee Miller at the National Theatre, alternating the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.

“Yeah,” responded Cumberbatch. Stoppard had struck a nerve, what with Miller now playing Holmes on CBS, of which neither he nor Moffat approves.

“And you had finished filming ‘War Horse.’,” Stoppard continued. “So we didn’t pluck you from the chorus.

Then he told a story about smoking cigarettes with Cumberbatch in the made-for-movie trenches of Flanders while Cumberbatch was shooting “War Horse,” giving critics a moment to think of a question for Stoppard.

One wondered about the challenge Stoppard faced in adapting the series of novels, guessing “it was considerable.”

“You possibly already know quite a lot about the book,” Stoppard told the room full of critics and blogalists – the best gag of the press tour’s first day.

Then he began to detail that challenge.

“It’s actually four books…”

“…800 or 900 pages…”

“…Not a straightforward, linear novel…”

“…Quite tricky to work out the structure of it…”

“…not a book which falls into five parts of equal length, by any means…”

“…I could detain you well into the night to tell you what the problems and possible solutions were,” he continued, while critics worried he wasn’t kidding.

“But all I want to say about that was it was, indeed, quite difficult, but it was just the happiest job I’ve had for years,” he concluded, much to their relief.

The actresses who worked around Cumberbatch on the miniseries got asked a couple of questions. Tietjens’s sadistic manipulative wife wouldn’t have been so much of that, had she been born 20 years later, they concluded.

And without women like his suffragette mistress, the actresses reckoned they might not even be at Winter TV Press Tour 2013 – the second best gag of the tour’s first day, coming as it did, a couple questions after “Parade’s End” director Susanna White had taken a question about the oddity of a woman in 2013 being allowed to direct war scenes.

White said it wasn’t such an issue with this project as when she worked on “Generation Kill,” about the American Invasion of Iraq, and the pushback was considerable.

“People were saying ‘Why is the woman who directed ‘Jane Eyre’ being allowed to do this?’” she recalled.

“I was fortunate enough to go over there a little bit early just to walk about,” Cumberbatch said, of shooting in Flanders on Armistice Day.

“You stand there, and you think ‘At least I’ve got the sky in common. That’s something to hold onto. They would have looked at the same sky’.”

Then Stoppard talked a little more about what a bear it was to adapt this “bottomless story,” in the time available.

“Do you like it?” Stoppard asked Cumberbatch of the results.

“I like it. Yeah.”

By  |  04:43 PM ET, 01/05/2013

Tags:  benedict cumberbatch, tom stoppard, hbo, sherlock, pbs, steven moffat, winter tv press tour 2013

 
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