Benedict Cumberbatch is earning the best reviews of his career and Oscar buzz for his performance in Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog.” The “Doctor Strange” favorite stars as Phil Burbank, a sadistic rancher who becomes hellbent on destroying the life of his new sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil’s toxic masculinity hides all traces of his sexual frustration and loneliness, although the cracks in his armor slowly start to reveal themselves.
Cumberbatch went full Method actor for the role, learning how to castrate a bull and to play the banjo, refusing to speak to co-stars like Dunst on set, and choosing not to bathe so he could wear the stink of his character at all times. But one Method choice led to a bit of a downturn in his health. The actor got nicotine poisoning more than once due to the amount of cigarettes he was smoking as Phil.
“The Power of the Dog” is based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage. The author writes in the novel that smoking is one of Phil’s defining characteristics, all of his cigarettes “perfectly rolled with one-hand.” In order to go Method, Cumberbatch had to roll the same way.
“That was really hard,” Cumberbatch recently told Esquire magazine. “Filterless rollies, just take after take after take. I gave myself nicotine poisoning three times. When you have to smoke a lot, it genuinely is horrible.”
In a recent interview with IndieWire, Cumberbatch said “The Power of the Dog” cemented a big shift in how he takes on roles. “It used to be just about challenging expectations and trying to do something unconventional to keep myself fresh, because of the amount of exposure I’ve had,” the actor said. “I didn’t want to keep turning up as fast-talking posh English people. That used to be the main driver. But now it’s much more about the people I get to work with.”
Campion was the big selling point here. The director told IndieWire at Telluride that she brought the cast to the film’s New Zealand set three weeks before shooting started so that there’d be more than enough time for rehearsals. Cumberbatch had intense ranch training in Montana prior to that.
“He had to do castrating, and learn how to do everything,” Campion said of Cumberbatch. “It’s such a big step for him. It’s a fantastic demonstration of his capacity and his courage.”
“The Power of the Dog” opens in limited release November 17. The film will begin streaming December 1. on Netflix.