As Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” continues to pick up critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, much has been made of the intense method acting that Benedict Cumberbatch employed to portray Phil Burbank. The British actor spent time castrating bulls, learned to play the banjo, and smoked so many cigarettes that he inadvertently gave himself nicotine poisoning on multiple occasions. Cumberbatch also stayed in character on set as the bullying rancher, and co-star Jesse Plemons admitted that Cumberbatch’s intensity occasionally “pissed me off.”
Cumberbatch has credited director Jane Campion with creating a healthy environment that allowed the actors to explore their characters in unique ways. Now Jesse Plemons has added to the film’s behind-the-scenes mythology. Plemons plays George Burbank, Phil’s brother, who is a constant target of the rancher’s bullying, along with his wife and son. In a new interview with the Netflix publication Queue, Plemons revealed that Campion began the rehearsal process by having the two lead actors dance together.
“Our first day of rehearsal was a brothers’ waltz to an Elliott Smith song. It was very strange,” Plemons recalled. “I’ve taken a handful of classes, and any time you’re uncomfortable, that’s usually a good thing, you know? So, it was, I think, a brilliant way to start. It’s so easy, especially early on, with something as rich as this story, to come at it from an intellectual standpoint. But this was a way of getting us to immediately relate to each other on a different level. She wanted him to lead and for me to follow. It felt like a shortcut into our dynamic.”
The awkward dance was followed by work with a professional movement specialist, and then the actors dove into a deeper discussion of their characters’ shared history. Plemons echoed Cumberbatch’s praise of Campion, calling her “a master at what she does.” And he seems to have no regrets about the unorthodox rehearsal process, as he said it was well worth the effort.
“It makes a difference on the first day of shooting,” he said. “When you feel like you’ve already walked around in their shoes for a while.”