Airing on Showtime
LOS ANGELES >> Benedict Cumberbatch always has been eager to embrace acting challenges, whether finding a way in “Sherlock” to bring new life to a character played countless times, to making one of the Marvel Comics Universe’s lesser characters in “Doctor Strange” compelling enough to stand cape-to-cape with the other heroes.
He’s upped his acting game again starring in the new five-part limited Showtime series “Patrick Melrose.”
The premium channel series is based on the much heralded “Patrick Melrose” series of semi-autobiographical novels written by Edward St. Aubyn dealing with his growing up in a highly dysfunctional, upper-class English family.
The role is complicated, but Cumberbatch was well aware of what it would take to bring the character to life because he’s been a longtime fan of the book series. He was so determined to get the production made, not only is he starring in the series but he is also an executive producer.
“He’s one of the most, I think, if not the most extraordinary prose stylists working in the English language,” Cumberbatch says of St. Aubyn.
Each episode of the series is devoted to one of the five novels. The appeal of taking on the character was the way Melrose’s story is told over the decades, starting with him as an innocent child, to a self-destructive 20-year-old, to a sober 30-something drawn back to more addictions. Cumberbatch saw so much detail in the books and how deep St. Aubyn had written the character, his only concern was whether he could do justice to the work.
The series is vastly different than the work he’s done in “Sherlock,” “Doctor Strange” or even “The Imitation Game.” So much of his performance with those characters required him to keep control on his emotions. “Patrick Melrose” gives Cumberbatch the freedom to be more expressive.
Executive producer Michael Jackson watched in awe of how Cumberbatch was able to handle the role that covered two decades. Jackson described a scene where Melrose is in the throes of his heroin addiction and hearing voices, and Cumberbatch acts out each one, essentially playing five or six characters in one scene. Jackson called it “an incredible achievement of acting.”
Cumberbatch gets some help from Academy Award nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh and Screen Actors Guild winner Hugo Weaving, who star as the parents. Rounding out the cast are Anna Madeley, Blythe Danner, Allison Williams, Pip Torrens, Holliday Grainger and Celia Imrie.