In “The Imitation Game,” Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the intellectual father of the modern computer, who cracked Nazi code to held turn the tide of World War II. In the process of making the press rounds for the film, Cumberbatch has landed on the cover of Time Magazine’s Genius Issue, which features a more in-depth story on Turing. Throughout the film’s press campaign, Cumberbatch has been vocal about the fact that not many people know Turing’s story, or the fact that he was prosecuted for being a homosexual.
“Everyone goes, ‘Why didn’t I know about this story? This man’s achievements are extraordinary,'” Cumberbatch says in his interview. “Everything that’s been thrown at computers—all of it has only managed to work because of his idea of creating something universal in the first place.”
In the cover image, Cumberbatch is seated with real and recreated World War II items such as a vintage Enigma machine and a bomb wheel. A few highlights from the interview are listed below, as well as a shot of Time’s cover and two videos from the interview and photo shoot.
“The Imitation Game” opens November 28.
Which of his characters does he think are geniuses?
“I’m not going to do this in any particular order, but Hawking, Frankenstein, Joseph Hooker [the British botanist in ‘Creation’], Oppenheimer, Turing, Assange. Van Gogh—a genius. And Sherlock…Khan [from ‘Star Trek’] is definitely smart. You research these men before you play them. Do they have anything in common? Well, they’re unique personalities—people who are seemingly so different that they remain in existence sort of separate from the rest of us. That is always very attractive to focus in on as an actor. My great enjoyment with these characters is to show that no, they are human beings.”
How he conveys intelligence.
“With Sherlock, it’s the pyrotechnic of making the connections very quick. That’s a joy to play. It’s really hard work and it’s frustrating as hell, but it’s very rewarding. But to convey intelligence? I don’t know. Maybe I have my mother to thank for that. Just the eyes, I think they are the windows to the soul. And I think they’re also the windows to the mind that’s driving that soul, doesn’t believe in the soul or is computing whether a soul could be made out of … metal and wire and glass, in the case of Alan.”
“These people are all incredibly different personalities, in their bodies as well as in their minds. The unified things we could talk about are pretty obvious. A lot of them come up against obstacles, whether they’re bureaucratic or conservative. They’re pushing against a sort of unrelenting, unforgiving world that doesn’t want anything out of place or muddled with or made different. Sometimes that’s viewed as arrogance. My argument in humanizing these people—through being an actor who empathizes with his characters—is that [that arrogance] is born out of necessity. It’s not something to judge them by.”
He wasn’t a computer whiz, but he did like video games as a kid.
“I wrote programs on BBC computers. We had computing lessons where you’d actually write coded commands to create programs to play little games or build up a Christmas tree on a BBC computer. But computers were more interesting to me when you could put a little packet in them and protect the world from nuclear strike on an Atari console or a Commodore 64. [I also liked] the little Nintendo, the handheld Donkey Kong Jr. things. And then I was always into the Sega Game Gear. That was my real interest in computing—having fun with games.”