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Way Back When: Benedict Cumberbatch

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Benedict Cumberbatch became a breakout star with the BBC miniseries ‘Sherlock,’ followed by appearances in Steven Spielberg‘s ‘War Horse’ and an upcoming part in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.’ In today’s Way Back When, we explore his pre-fame roles.

‘Fields of Gold’

Benedict Cumberbatch’s first role was in the TV movie ‘Fields of Gold,’ which explored the effects of genetically modified crops and big pharmaceutical companies — you know, stuff that’s really bad for you. In it, Cumberbatch plays Jeremy, a reporter:

‘Tipping the Velvet’

Up next was ‘Tipping the Velvet,’ a BBC miniseries about a lesbian love affair between a woman named Kitty Butler, who masqueraded as a male performer, and her lover, Nan Astley. Cumberbatch appears in the first episode, and you can watch all of his scenes below. Don’t worry, he only gets just under three minutes of screen time:

‘Silent Witness’

The BBC series ‘Silent Witness’ has been on the air since 1996, making it the British answer to ‘CSI’ or something. Cumberbatch plays forensic student Warren Reid in this two-parter about a body found decomposing in the wall of an old factory building, and a simultaneous break-in on the school campus resulting in the theft of drugs.

‘Cambridge Spies’

In 2003, Cumberbatch starred as Edward Hand in the second episode of the miniseries ‘Cambridge Spies.’ Yes, it was on the BBC — are you sensing a pattern here? The show takes place in 1934, when four Cambridge University men are recruited as spies for Russia. Scandal!


Cumberbatch plays the son of Hugh Laurie in this miniseries, about a 40-something doctor who lives with his wife and three sex-obsessed sons. Cumberbatch plays sex-obsessed son Rory, who has sex-obsessed problems or something.


In 2004, Cumberbatch had the distinction of playing renowned British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant people who has ever lived. The film follows Hawking on his quest for answers to the mysteries of the universe. Hawking was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, the first symptoms of which occurred when he was 21. We’ll never know what his real voice sounds like because the disease left him unable to speak, and he now does so with the aid of a computerized voice — but Cumberbatch helps us imagine:


Cumberbatch plays a wealthy gentleman who’s made his fortune in the chocolate business in Joe Wright’s ‘Atonement.’ Yeah, the clip below is cute and all while he’s describing his favorite drink, a “choctail,” but please be advised that Cumberbatch is a total creeper in this movie. Sort of like Willy Wonka for British period drama:

‘The Other Boleyn Girl’

In 2008, Cumberbatch starred as William Carey in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl,’ a movie that totally botches history — for fun! See, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) was supposed to be offered as the new mistress to King Henry VIII, but she messed it up and was sent away to learn some ladylike manners in France; meanwhile, her family offers up her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) instead. But that’s not all! Mary’s own husband (Cumberbatch) is totally down with it because who doesn’t want to live in a castle?! When Mary has the king’s baby, Anne comes back and steals the king away, leaving Mary, her simple husband and her bastard son to move back to the country.

next: see connie britton before she was famous

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