Benedict Cumberbatch is a busy man this month, appearing as Doctor Strange in ‘Spiderman : No Way Home’ and as an eccentric cat artist in the biopic ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ alongside The Crown’s Claire Foy. It’s not the first time Benedict & Claire have worked together, they previously teamed up in 2011’s ‘Wreckers’ and are currently working together on a new film adaptation of climate change ‘novel Migrations’.
You have worked together before. What was it like to reunite?
Benedict: It was awesome. I mean, I knew how brilliant Claire was, but that was before the world saw it, so I just sat on the sidelines cheering her with every ounce of righteous success that she has had. It is so great when you see the world find your friend. To have her back in my company, making something with her as a friend but also as one of the great actresses of our time, was heaven. I would say the one thing, not that it wasn’t the first time around, but just I really noticed that this time around she lights up a set, it’s not just her character, it’s how she is as an actress, that’s a joy.
Claire Foy: I remember very clearly; we were talking about ‘Sherlock’ and Ben saying he was going to do the TV series, and it’s so surreal when it becomes a phenomenon, and your friend is in it, and you’re sitting there going ‘oh my god’! I knew Ben was going to become something great, and he has gone from strength to strength. What is the most amazing thing about Ben is he is always brave. He is one of the bravest actors I’ve ever worked with. Ben is always ready to try anything. He wants to explore every single avenue in every crevice. It’s amazing to see how much that’s grown and how much he has grown. As a producer, he puts so much love into a film.
Claire, what drew you to this story and character?
I think this was very much a life choice, as much as it was the excitement of working with Benedict again and working with Will. I hadn’t really done anything for a while, and I wasn’t really interested in doing anything that was going to be a big, massive undertaking. I wanted a nice, long rest, but then Ben [Benedict Cumberbatch] texted me and said, you’ll have a lovely time; you can still go on your summer holidays when you do this. I read the script, and I just thought Emily was such a beautiful character. I thought that Louis’s story was really amazing and could benefit a lot of people and would be a really beautiful story to tell. Then I met Will [Sharpe], and I just knew he was going to make something that I wanted to be a little part of. I knew he was going to make something original and unique, and that’s all you can ever do. I’m constantly trying to make sure I am not jaded or bored by a role, life’s too short. This job was such a wonderful experience.
The direction is so wonderfully stylized, especially concerning the use of colours. How aware were you of the aesthetic of the film while shooting?
Benedict: I was aware of it through developmental conversations with Will and how he pitched his vision for the film to very much see it as something where the colours are shot where everything resonates and comes with the kind of electricity that reflects the state of mind. Will’s pitch of refracting this subjective idea through Louis’s art was a real winner for us as a producing team. We talked about how things would be manifesting and present on the screen. I was trying to inhabit him and feel and see through that already as myself. Will then gave that to the world as an experience for the audience. I could still sit there and be surprised at the world that we’re in, but not like a Marvel film where it’s a load of a green screen and that you have to pretend there are humans or monsters. Green screen can be fun; it’s play, it’s a different kind of focus, but this was shot in an original way.
Claire: I had absolutely no idea. There were certain moments when Will was shooting through a kaleidoscope, and I thought, ‘oh, that’s interesting’. What was amazing about this film was that all departments were in on the act, and I know they always are, but it felt like it was a symbiotic thing that happened where Will’s vision was so strong that it was in every single frame, every single second of the film.
Benedict, Louis experiences a lot of emotional pain. Was it a difficult role for you to play?
It was, by and large, a joy. There were moments of extreme distress, loneliness, and isolation, which drew me into our understanding of what he must have endured in a similar way to what Alan Turing went through, which really took me out of the scene and made me grieve the character’s real-life experience. We’ve tried very hard not to be prescriptive about what his condition was, but he did have mental health difficulties. I think the term now is possibly atypical, but it encompasses a lot. I don’t believe he was necessarily schizophrenic, although he was diagnosed as that in his life. If he was alive now, he would be thriving. We live in a more tolerant, supportive time where people like him are given the ability to have self-worth and value and be celebrated, despite the fact that sometimes it’s difficult. Victorian England is certainly a lot more judgmental than now, but we still have mental health as a stigma, so his bravery was something I really leaned into. It was difficult because I wanted to try and do justice to him and his story, but the effort was a joy.
The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is in cinemas New Year’s Day