Interview: Benedict Cumberbatch
Q. If you had to choose one place in the world that has inspired you the most, where would it be?
Probably India. As a country, it is absolutely swimming with life – there is so much energy, it’s constant and everyone is trying to get on. It amazed me that there is so much history and religion in a place where people are all striving for betterment. It was a long time ago now – I was still a teenager when I went there to teach English as a foreign language. I was there for six months, based in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Darjeeling. There were English, Chinese, some Nepali, and we were all on this incredible escape, all investing in this project. There wasn’t any wealth there and technology at the time was very sketchy, so all we really shared was being travellers with a common goal to teach our languages and understand each other’s cultures. That felt very special.
Q. Have you returned to Asia since that visit?
I went back to Kathmandu at the end of 2015 to film some scenes for Dr Strange. That was amazing, particularly because the earthquake had happened there only seven months before. But I was absolutely adamant that we had to forge ahead filming there, and Marvel and the insurers were like ‘OK, we’ll do it, don’t worry’. It was fantastic for the locals but far more fantastic for us, and a nice reminder of my teaching experience.
Q. What has stayed with you most from your time in Asia?
Probably the people’s appreciation of the power of belief. People always need it in their lives, and even though we live in a far more science-based environment these days, where logic and technology and our understanding of the natural world is permitted far more, in many places I have visited, it is still the power of belief that gets people up in the morning. A belief mindset is a wonderful addition to any culture.
Q. Do you like to meditate when on holiday?
Yes. I find it incredibly soothing. People are increasingly turning away from or trying to escape modern society through meditation, through spirituality. Again, that all comes from my time in Darjeeling (pictured) – I’m so glad I had that opportunity because I can safely say it was a travel experience that shaped a lot of whom I was going to become.
Q. What other places amaze you?
I’ve always felt the openness of Scandinavia is incredible. It’s such a clear, expansive place, and there is an element of calm there that I don’t think you would ever find in the UK or US.
Q. What inspires you to travel – the places or the people?
It has to be a combination of both, doesn’t it? The character of every place in the world reflects its culture, which is the presence of people combined with things like architecture and nature. I’ve been in amazing places that are bereft of emotion and feeling – people always point to Vegas as somewhere that feels lacking in basic humanity. Similarly, I have visited very underprivileged places where material possessions are completely incidental, and it is the personality and the spirit of those who live there that feels so inspiring.
Q. Do the travel demands of being an actor frustrate you?
Not really. Actors are very fortunate – a lot of work comes to us in England anyway, but even when it doesn’t, I have a suitcase and can travel, so I am happy to go with the work and it settles me really.
Q. Is there something that you take with you when travelling?
My friend gave me a Swedish band as a present – it is made of silver and represents good luck. That comes with me wherever I go and I am quite sentimental about it, perhaps even a little bit superstitious. As for other things, generally, I tend to overpack. My friends would be laughing if they heard me say this because I am very Cancerian, but I always end up with far too many clothes and books.
Q. Do you have certain rituals when travelling?
On every break, I like to lose myself in nature at some point. That could be in the countryside or just throwing pebbles into the sea. It’s those very simple experiences that mean the most, and often it is a holiday or just the very action of travelling that gives us the best opportunity to switch into a more relaxed, philosophical mode and take in this incredible world around us, rather than just let it pass us by.