The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored actor Benedict Cumberbatch Wednesday night at the Arlington Theatre with the Cinema Vanguard Award for his recent performance in “The Power of the Dog.”
The Arlington Theatre was filled with fans and SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said that the event was the first sold-out audience of this year’s film festival.
“The past 12 months or so — 2021 up to now — have been a very good time for Benedict Cumberbatch. … Five critically acclaimed movies in less than 12 months,” said Pete Hammond, Deadline awards columnist and chief film critic who moderated Wednesday’s conversation with Cumberbatch. “I would say the past 12 months would be enough for any actor’s entire career in terms of significance.”
These five movies Cumberbatch starred in over the last year include “The Courier,” “The Mauritanian,” “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” “The Power of the Dog,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
The Cinema Vanguard Award recognizes actors “who have forged their own path, taking artistic risks and making a significant and unique contribution to film.”
Previous recipients include Carey Mulligan, Laura Dern, Michael B. Jordan, Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Nicole Kidman, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ryan Gosling.
Cumberbatch, whose parents are both actors, talked about starting to act young, with a role as Titania, queen of the fairies, in his all-boys’ boarding school production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at age 12.
“(My parents) worked incredibly hard to afford me an education where I had the choice to do anything but something as ridiculous, as unpredictable (as acting),” Cumberbatch said. “I kept on throwing it back in their face and it worked out alright.”
Cumberbatch’s 20-year career includes roles in a variety of movies and television series, such as “The Imitation Game,” “Sherlock,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and his role as Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, among others.
In addition to his television and film acting, Cumberbatch has also acted on stage in several theatre roles, including the Royal National Theatre production of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” at the Barbican Theatre.
“I don’t really do favorites,” Cumberbatch said when asked if he preferred the stage, screen, or television. “I feel there’s a way of focusing, or being attentive to, being in the moment and just trying to let something intuitive come through — just a little moment of something flowing through you — where all the work’s been done, you’re just letting go, which can happen in any version.”
In writer and director Jane Campion’s 2021 Western psychological drama film “The Power of the Dog,” which is available worldwide on Netflix, Cumberbatch stars as Phil Burbank, a “charismatic and ruthless” rancher in 1925 Montana. When his brother George (Jesse Plemons) marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and she and her teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) move to the ranch, Phil continuously taunts and mocks them — at least until he takes Peter under his wing.
“(Phil) is abhorrent, his behavior is horrible and dangerous to himself and others, and yet the searing pain of the man, because the reason behind that is his repression,” Cumberbatch said. “We aren’t going to be able to really move beyond toxic masculinity arising — whether it’s on a global scale with our leaders, or on the local scale in a partnership, or a situation in a bar or in a car — unless we can look under the hood of it and understand.”
The film, adapted from the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, received the most nominations for the 94th Academy Awards this year with 12 nominations, including one in the Best Actor category for Cumberbatch.
Campion was also present Wednesday to present the Cinema Vanguard Award to Cumberbatch.
“Your Phil Burbank exposed the grief and tenderness in a terrible man, a difficult man, I never knew could be saved,” Campion said. “Every generation has their wunderkinds. First there was (Laurence) Olivier, then there was Daniel Day-Lewis, now there’s you.”
The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues through Saturday with celebrity tributes, industry panels, and films screenings scheduled. More information on the film festival and its full lineup can be found here and in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s digital program guide.