Benedict Cumberbatch On What’s So ‘Terrifying’ About Julian Assange

'Star Trek' star talks to MTV News about the challenges he faced playing the controversial WikiLeaks founder in 'The Fifth Estate.'

Benedict Cumberbatch, in his meteoric rise to stardom, has played his fair share of iconic characters. He broke out playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Cumberbatch made his summer blockbuster debut as Khan in “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

But for “The Fifth Estate,” he’s taking on a new challenge. As he told MTV News’ Josh Horowitz at the Toronto International Film Festival, playing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange came with other complications and responsibilities.

“It’s a weighty responsibility, but at the same time, it’s exactly the kind of challenge we kind of do crave in the industry,” he said. “It’s a remarkable opportunity to try to excavate a very charismatic but at times evasive and enigmatic, very controversial and divisive figure. It came with a responsibility.”

Re-creating not only a real-life figure, but one still making news, Cumberbatch needed to strike a balance that felt fair and honest. “I didn’t want to demonize him, but I didn’t want to idolize him either. I wanted to give something of a three-dimensionality to him. Also, with that level of exposure, we know a lot about him,” he said. “You can see everything about him and see him more importantly as an actor playing him. On YouTube, there are directly comparable moments in real life that we’ve dramatized. You can just play both of them. That’s quite terrifying.”

Of course, Cumberbatch knows a thing or two about being cast quickly into the spotlight. His fame on Tumblr alone could make private individual’s skin crawl, but Cumberbatch has a level head about the whole thing, admitting that it comes with the territory.

“There’s a little bit of a comparison. What he’s tried to do to keep integrity with his messages is to distance himself as the messenger. So it’s not about the celebrity aspects of him or what he is and his personality, so that doesn’t cloud his intention. You can’t do that. There’s always a crossover as well. It’s frustrating, but you can’t complain about it. It’s just a fact, and that’s the way it is,” Cumberbatch said. “This is a film about citizen journalism. The internet is a huge pool for that. It’s also a pool of rumor, of conjecture. In my case, who I’m dating, what job I’m going to do next, what I’m eating, am I smoking or not, and what else you can do with my name.”

“The Fifth Estate” hits theaters October 18.

Writer/editor for MTV. If it involves cowboys, spies, or hitmen, I'm there. All three would be ideal.
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