Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons have earned rave reviews for their performances in Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” this awards season. But while the cast and crew of the Netflix film are currently enjoying the Oscar buzz for their adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, the process of getting there was not always smooth.
Cumberbatch has attracted particular attention for the preparation that went into his portrayal of brutal ranch owner Phil Burbank. He remained in character for the entire three-month shoot in New Zealand, smoking so many cigarettes that he gave himself nicotine poisoning. He learned to play the banjo, spent time castrating bulls, and underwent dream analysis to deepen his understanding of his character’s “complex psyche.”
In a new interview, Jesse Plemons said that he was caught off guard by his co-star’s intensity on set, notably during an incident when Cumberbatch made a comment about his weight, which he said “pissed me off.” “There was one time he got under my skin,” the actor told Variety. “He was like, ‘Hey, big boy.’ It wasn’t ‘fatso.’ I feel like a few people in life have been like, ‘Hey, big boy,’ and I was like, ‘Goddamn it. What the fuck.’”
Cumberbatch credits Jane Campion with creating an environment that allowed him to behave abrasively as part of his creative process. He says the director introduced him to the crew by saying, “‘This is Phil. You’re going to be working with Phil. Benedict is really nice but you’re going to me meet him at the end of the shoot.’ That just gave me permission to commit to this character whose behavior is at times repugnant, and not feel apologetic or embarrassed or self-conscious about it in any way.”
The extreme method acting paid off, as Cumberbatch has received the strongest reviews of his career for his nuanced performance, which balances vicious bullying with deep underlying grief. Plemons counts himself among the fans of Cumberbatch’s performance, and harbors no hard feelings about the incident. He said that his co-star later tried to apologize for the incident.
“He was like, ‘I’m so sorry,’” Plemons said. “I was like, ‘No, don’t worry. It was great.’”