Benedict Cumberbatch on keeping politics out of his acting for Brexit: The Uncivil War

  • The British actor focuses on character, not controversy, in new telemovie on how the pro-Brexit “Vote Leave” campaign won hearts and minds
  • Star of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Strange supported the “Remain” side at the time
PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 9:45pm

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch had to cross political lines to take up his latest role in the Channel 4 telemovie production Brexit: The Uncivil War.

The Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Strange actor portrays Dominic Cummings, the political strategist at the nexus of the pro-Brexit “Vote Leave” campaign who helped to deliver his side’s win during the 2016 referendum on Britain’s place in the European Union.

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Though Cumberbatch had signalled his own support for the “Remain” side at the time, the actor says he kept politics out of the film.

“It’s not going to enhance anyone’s viewing experience of this drama if I or anyone else is talking about what their personal feelings are about it,” he says.

Brexit: The Uncivil War will be available on BBC First (via Now TV in Hong Kong) from January 8.

Written by political screenwriter James Graham, the film hits the small screen just a week before British Parliament votes on how that split will roll out when Britain makes its official exit from the European Union on March 29.

The plot follows Cummings as he employs big data, social media and an iconic bus to steer voters to support Brexit.

Cumberbatch says that he was not interested in making any moral evaluations of Cummings, or his controversial campaign strategies, as he stepped into the role.

“Dominic is a brilliant political strategist. But to judge his character or his motivation – that is not for me to do,” says Cumberbatch, who spent time with the real-life Cummings to prepare for the role.

“As with any character you play as an actor, you suspend judgment. It’s not about acting, it’s about taking on a character. I have to be able to have empathy for my character.”

Instead he hopes the film’s back-room focus, covering pro-Brexit infighting and the unleashing of algorithms on new voters, will bring into sharp relief how Britain arrived at its current moment as it teeters on the brink of a final decision on how to leave the EU.

“It isn’t really a drama about now; it’s about how now came about,” he says.

Brexit: The Uncivil War is available from January 8 on BBC First (Now TV).