TIME movies

See Why Benedict Cumberbatch Is So Photogenic

Behind the scenes of TIME's latest cover shoot with Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch’s face doesn’t have a good side or a bad side — he’s very symmetrical, says photographer Dan Winters, who shot him for this week’s TIME cover.

“I’m not as concerned as I would normally have to be about where I’m positioning him, where I’m lighting from,” says Winters. “A lot of actors are pretty asymmetrical, and you have to work around that.”

In the cover image, Cumberbatch is seated behind a table, framed by both real and recreated World War II items: a rare vintage Enigma machine, a bomb wheel made by Winters, and more. The setup was meant to capture Cumberbatch as an actor with a nod to his upcoming film, The Imitation Game, says Winters.

“He showed up with a cool and modern retro version of what he wore in the film — something, he told me, he thought Turing would have worn if alive today,” Winters told TIME LightBox. “He had done his work and we used that in the shoot.”

The resulting mood of the photo was “quiet, a little pensive, sort of contemplative.” And yes, Cumberbatch looks great in it.

Click here to read more about the shoot.

Read next: Go Behind TIME’s Benedict Cumberbatch Cover With Photographer Dan Winters

TIME movies

Benedict Cumberbatch Talks About Playing the Role of the Genius

The actor talks about the challenges of his various roles while on the set of TIME's cover shoot

Geniuses, no matter how smart or intimidating, still have some things in common with the rest of us.

Benedict Cumberbatch says of portraying them, “It’s also, actually, the great gift I suppose — is to realize that they’re bound by the human condition. They’re blood and flesh like us. They live in the same worlds as us.”

Cumberbatch is no stranger to portraying individuals of remarkable intelligence, having taken on roles ranging from Star Trek‘s super-human Khan to Alan Turing in the upcoming film The Imitation Game.

“I suppose being remarkably stupid in comparison to any of these people’s abilities is difficult sometimes, but that only really manifests when you’re actually asked to do something that they can do,” says Cumberbatch.

For example? Playing the violin as Sherlock Holmes.

Above, watch Cumberbatch reflect on his past roles and what he relishes about the experiences.

TIME movies

Review: The Imitation Game: Dancing With Dr. Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game' Jack English—The Weinstein Company

Benedict Cumberbatch embodies the isolation of a man with a machine-like mind

Cumberbatch: It sounds like something you’d find in an eccentric prelate’s vegetable garden. Benedict’s mother Wanda Ventham advised him to choose a moniker less … cumbersome … for his acting career; his father went by the stage name Timothy Carlton. But the young man must have appreciated the curious loftiness of this word, which comes from Old English and loosely means “stream in a valley.” And after all, the name was his. So he found roles suitable for a Benedict Cumberbatch: men above and apart, like Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series, Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, Stephen Hawking in a TV movie. Fantasy filmmakers recognized his intimidating radiance and cast him as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and the Necromancer and Smaug in the Hobbit movies. Soon he will be Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange.

Alan Turing in The Imitation Game may be the actor’s oddest, fullest, most Cumberbatchian character yet. The Cambridge genius who fathered the modern computer, known as the Turing machine–and who presciently asked, “What if only a machine could defeat another machine?”–seems part machine himself. Carrying himself with the hauteur of some creature from an advanced species on its first trip to Earth, he joins the Bletchley Park team charged with breaking the Nazis’ devious Enigma code and airily dismisses the theories of team leader Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), while defying the orders of Army Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) by going directly to Winston Churchill. A marathoner as well as a mathematician, Turing is the lonely long-distance runner who intellectually laps his colleagues while insisting on making all the crucial decisions. Why? “Because no one else can.” They are merely clever; he is brilliant. And in wartime, when results trump politesse, brilliance wins.

On its bright face, The Imitation Game, written by Graham Moore and directed by Morten Tyldum, fits into that cozy genre of tortured-genius biopics that sprout like kudzu just in time for the Oscars. But that’s not fair to the film, which outthinks and outplays other examples of the genre (The King’s Speech, The Theory of Everything) just as Turing outraced those around him. For this is a superhero movie of the mind. Unlike the Marvel troupe, whose skills are physical and endlessly watchable, Turing makes magic in his head. The beautiful wheels spin inside; that’s where he flies. And he defeats the villains of unsolvable equations not with a punch but with a keypunch. The “action” here is Turing tinkering with his machine. Or simply thinking–which, as Cumberbatch portrays it, is adventure of the highest order.

The actor doesn’t play Turing so much as inhabit him, bravely and sympathetically but without mediation; that’s your job. He recognizes that this supernal machine had a flaw, or thought it did. Turing’s Achilles heel was his heart, and his shielding his sexuality from his colleagues helps explain his emotional reticence, as the bullying he suffered at school almost justifies the pleasure he takes in being top dog at Bletchley Park. He even proposes marriage to the Enigma team’s one woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), as a cover for homosexual activities that were illegal in Britain throughout his life, and the penalties for which hastened his death. This superhero is really a tragic hero, doomed not by his “crime” but by society’s ignorant prejudice.

Critics won’t need a Turing machine to pick one of the most smartly judged, truly feeling movies of the year or its most towering, magnetic performance. And though the star’s achievement should be its own reward, he is sure to receive many prizes this Oscar season. He deserves a Cumberbatch of them.

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