Benedict Cumberbatch's Accent Game Is Beyond Impressive

Benedict Cumberbatch's Accent Game Is Beyond Impressive
Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the most esteemed actors in the industry, with critical acclaim for his searing work in dramatic films, along with massive box office wins in some of the biggest blockbuster franchises. Plus, he’s got a few iconic small screen roles under his belt to boot. Though Cumberbatch hails from London, England, and enjoyed an auspicious start to his career with his celebrated work in theater and British television productions, he’s since proven that he can portray characters from essentially anywhere across the globe.

In Jane Campion’s thrilling adaptation of “The Power of the Dog,” Cumberbatch delivers an outstanding performance as the villainous Phil Burbank, a successful ranch owner who’s both cruel and deeply conflicted. The film is set in 1920s Montana, so to prepare for the role, Cumberbatch learned to ride horses like a rancher, play the banjo, and actually braid rawhide ropes.

Considering that Phil’s every utterance is chilling, it may be easy to forget that Cumberbatch isn’t naturally such a steely and stern sounding individual. In real life, his voice is actually quite soothing and gentlemanly. His authenticity with the rancher’s accent is a powerful part of why his “Power of the Dog” performance resonates so well, but it’s hardly the first time Cumberbatch has impressed with his command of elocution. Here’s a look at why Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent game is beyond impressive.

Benedict Cumberbatch goes stateside

Benedict Cumberbatch's Accent Game Is Beyond Impressive
Marvel Studios

Throughout much of Cumberbatch’s filmography, particularly when it comes to his early work, he retains his natural British dialect. However, the actor revealed his strength for adopting an American accent relatively early on, in his role as Nick Kaufman in 2010’s “The Whistleblower.” His ability to slip into such a convincing American accent would prove to be an asset in some of his biggest cinematic roles to follow, as fans have since heard him utilize his U.S. accent in films like “Doctor Strange” and “The Grinch.”

In those cases, however, it was Cumberbatch himself who had to fight for the right to use an American affectation, instead of sticking to his British roots. Cumberbatch revealed in 2018 that he was initially asked to portray his MCU superhero, Dr. Stephen Strange, as someone who was originally from England, but he insisted otherwise, saying, “Doctor Strange, for a while, was going to be English, and I went, ‘No, no, he’s an American doctor. He works in New York.'” 

The actor had a similar experience when it came to voicing everybody’s green holiday favorite, the Grinch, in the animated adaptation. As he explained to Uproxx, “They said, ‘Oh, could you do it in your own voice?’ And I went, ‘Oh, right, I have played some other socially awkward, talented, but at times very rude English characters. So now I kind of get why they might want me to do that.’ I was really flattered, and then I just pushed back and said, ‘It has to be in an American accent from my point of view.'”

Of course, his efforts and insistence paid off with both of those films, and his source of inspiration for the American accent he uses in his Marvel movies might surprise some fans. As he told Vulture in 2016, he looked to “Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson for notes on how to speak with an American accent, but he also leaned on his memory of another movie icon: Harrison Ford. “You want a man like Harrison Ford in any film of this nature, but I don’t think it’s a Harrison Ford impression,” Cumberbatch explained about his MCU role. “But I think he’s just subconsciously a great influence on my childhood era.” 

Interestingly enough, there was one very inconvenient word that gave Cumberbatch a bit of trouble in the pronouncing process. No, we’re not talking about “penguins” this time, but rather, he struggled with the word “sorcerer” while tackling the part, which was especially humorous since, you know, Doctor Strange is a sorcerer, so he has to say it quite a lot in the films.

The man can do some incredible dialects

Benedict Cumberbatch's Accent Game Is Beyond Impressive

It’s not just generic American accents that Cumberbatch has come to conquer over the years. He’s also honed in on some of the most specific sounds from across the country and around the world. In addition to his vintage Montana rancher tones for “The Power of the Dog,” audiences have also heard him tackle everything from a Southern sound to portraying an infamous Aussie.

For his role in the harrowing 2013 biopic “12 Years a Slave,” which features Cumberbatch as antebellum Louisiana plantation and slave owner William Ford, Cumberbatch’s dialect coach, Michael Buster, looked to a very specific source for inspiration. Buster told the Los Angeles Times that he helped Cumberbatch develop an accent for the film that was based upon “upper-class New Orleanians from the ’30s.”

He soon mastered the Australian accent to portray Julian Assange in “The Fifth Estate,” and in the critically acclaimed 2013 adaptation of “August: Osage County,” he took on a rural Oklahoma accent to portray “Little Charles” Aiken. In “Black Mass,” audiences could hear him mastering the vowel sounds of a native Boston accent. In “The Current War,” he played inventor Thomas Edison with a Northern U.S. sound. And in “The Mauritanian,” he portrayed the North Carolina-born Naval prosecutor Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who provided the actor with some of his own voice recordings for reference and was pleased with the Southern drawl he heard. As the actor revealed to USA Today, “Stuart heard my accent and said I did it ‘spot on.'”

Cumberbatch's hearty humor

Benedict Cumberbatch's Accent Game Is Beyond Impressive
Funny or Die

Even though many of Cumberbatch’s screen roles can be very serious and intimidating, in real life, he’s a complete card. Look no further than the outtakes from “Between Two Ferns” for an example of his willingness to laugh at himself, as Zach Galifianakis jokes, “If you didn’t have an accent, do you think people would be able to tell that you’re not a very good actor?”

At the same time, he’s able to switch into another accent altogether on a dime. While appearing on “The Graham Norton Show” in 2014, for example, he was challenged to share his quirky impression of “Star Wars” character Jar Jar Binks on the spot and turn on his sound for Smaug from his fire-breathing role in “The Hobbit” trilogy, and he didn’t miss a beat. He also pulled off an on-the-spot Brooklyn accent when challenged by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel in 2019.

All in all, Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the most vocally versatile actors in Hollywood, and with “The Power of the Dog,” he adds yet another accent to his impressive catalog of achievements.

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