There might be unlikelier potential megastars around than Benedict Cumberbatch, but we’re not sure we can think of any. The 36-year-old British actor had been slogging away in film and TV roles for a decade, mostly in a series of stuffed-shirt roles. He impressed those who took notice (particularly with stage roles, and with his portrayal of Stephen Hawking for the BBC), but wasn’t really considered a leading man. But in 2010, the actor was cast as the titular hero in “Sherlock,” a new reinvention of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s detective hero, and the show was a surprise monster hit.
Ever since, Cumberbatch has started going supernova; amassing a fervent group of fans nicknamed ‘the Cumberbitches,’ he’s impressed in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Parade’s End,” and he’ll be nearly inescapable in 2013: playing the villain in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” being desolated as the titular dragon in “The Hobbit; The Desolation Of Smaug,” appearing in Steve McQueen‘s “Twelve Years A Slave,” and forming a key part of the Oscar-baity ensemble of “August: Osage County.” And now, soon after talk that he could play Julian Assange, he’s getting a lead role of his own, as The Hollywood Reporter announce that Cumberbatch has signed on to play legendary Beatles manager Brian Epstein in a new biopic.
Penned by Todd Graff (“Camp,” “Joyful Noise“) the film will focus on Epstein himself, a closeted gambling and drug addict who passed away in 1967 of an accidental overdose, rather than telling the story of the Beatles through his eyes. And some impressive talents are assembled behind the scenes; Tom Hanks and partner Gary Goetzmann are producing through their Playtone shingle, while Paul McGuigan, who helmed the likes of “Lucky Number Slevin” before getting a new lease of life with Cumberbatch thanks to directing several episodes of “Sherlock” (he recently signed on to direct the big-budget “Frankenstein” for Fox), will direct.
It sounds like early days yet; financing is still being sought, likely at the American Film Market. And Cumberbatch is committed to a third season of “Sherlock” shooting early next year, so this won’t get moving until the middle of 2013 at the earliest. But he’s a great choice to play Epstein, and if the film can avoid the usual pitfalls of the rock biopic, we could well see this getting awards attention come the 2015 Oscars.