Benedict Cumberbatch at Cheltenham Literature Festival
TRADING a deerstalker for a duffle coat, Benedict Cumberbatch cuts an effortless dash before having the audience on its feet within minutes.
Few of the sell-out Centaur crowd could have imagined they'd be joining the star of BBC drama Sherlock in his breathing exercises, but this is an event which revels in the extraordinary.
In conversation with co-star and journalist Louise Brealey, the 71st actor to don the mantle of the archetypal detective initially believed his nose made him completely wrong for the part, having watched the "hawk-like" majesty of Jeremy Brett's portrayal as a child at his nan's house in Brighton.
He and Louise enjoy a playful rapport and swells of cheers and applause, and even the occasional wolf whistle, rise and fall on a tide of bonhomie as Benedict discusses the role and other aspects of his bustling career.
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While describing Sherlock as a man at times intolerant of everything from kindness to brilliance, conversely Benedict is generous in appreciation of his colleagues and gratitude for how fortune has smiled on his life.
He believes the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes is the "thrill of the relationship at its core," enthusiastically praising right-hand man Dr Watson, Martin Freeman. And following recent press reports he is quick to set the record straight regarding his friend Jonny Lee Miller and his portrayal of the 72nd Sherlock Holmes, adding: "I have seen it and it's fantastic, he is phenomenal."
He also discusses his surprise at suddenly becoming "the poster boy for anti-posh bashing," and how this can belittle the complex arguments on issues such as class. Described by Louise as a "six syllable well-kept secret" until relatively recently, Benedict is keen to continue taking the Tube and riding his motorbike despite his enormous fame. And as an ardent and passionate supporter of the Prince's Trust, he will be getting on his bicycle for a sponsored bike ride to raise money for them on October 14.
Offering advice to a budding actor in the audience, he says, after a lot of experimentation and grafting, "you will get there in the end, with a smile on your face." And for Benedict, it's elementary.