Benedict Cumberbatch: “Telling ‘The Courier’ story is the ultimate honor”

Liam Daniel / Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

By María Estévez, MWN

The best actor to play Sherlock Holmes in recent history has proven his talent from portraying Khan in “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) to acting as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in “The Fifth Estate” (2013). The 44-years-old’s role as British mathematician Alan Turing, who cracked Nazi Germany’s Enigma military code during the Second World War, earned him Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

This year, the performer stars in true-life drama “The Courier,” directed by Dominic Cooke and is based on a screenplay by Tom O’Connor. Cumberbatch plays a British businessman turned spy in the movie, which narrates a real story about Greville Wynne, who’s recruited by the MI-6, the English intelligence service, to infiltrate the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Liam Daniel / Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Were you inspired by the story of Greville Wynne once you read the script?

My parents had a very vague memory of it. I think for my generation it is an odd story and that was one of the draws. Domenic brought me the script but it was the pitch of the role and this journey that really hooked me in. Domenic and I always wanted to work together. I wanted to collaborate with him over the years and I thought this could be really exciting. But the hook was the story about this man who went from an everyday salesman to become an extraordinary hero. He sacrificed two years of his life and nearly his actual life going to and returning from Moscow to deliver us the most essential information from the most highest-ranking Soviet service during the missile crisis. He basically allowed the American, as well as the English intelligence to challenge the Russians. And gave an opportunity for Kennedy to play his move in the game as the rest of the world hold the breath. You can’t get more of a dramatic move from an overweight middle-age golfing middle-class guy. It’s so farfetched that it seems unbelievable. The more I investigated the story, the more I read the script. It just became a real passion for me.

These two men, a Brit and a Russian literally saved the world.

Yes, at that moment they really did. It is an incredible achievement. If there is a vital message that keeps historical events relevant today it would be that everyone can play out a part however powerless we may feel. It may come at a time when we are asked to do something which would have a huge influence on the well-being of others and it costs a lot of bravery to do that.

Indeed, the movie conveys an important message.

I think so, but again you can argue it was so black and white from the sense that there were communism and capitalism. It was a game to win. Of course, there are grey areas but I think that’s the main thing about the friendships that show you that, whatever differences, we can find a common purpose despite the loyalty to our countries. He thought the direction of Russia was aggressive, paranoid and potentially world-threatening, too dangerous to be loyal to an ideal that was reached by a ruler that was becoming an egomaniac. So, yes, I think it has a strong message today. It is the equivalent of someone saying, ‘I believe in my party, I believe in this country but I don’t believe in the actions of that leader.’ So there are parallels with what is going on in America.

You played Alan Turing, a man who was jailed for being gay. But sometimes history corrects itself. Do you think these men deserve a special mention for what they did?

To make this story known is enough for me. Turing was prosecuted for something of his nature which is possible in this era. It seems to me that he was one of the thousands of men prosecuted for their sexuality at that time. I am very happy to do this movie, but while it is terrifying, Penkovsky didn’t survive. Telling the story about what an incredible sacrifice they made and what risks they took is the ultimate honor.

Your film could be nominated for Oscars.

That would be amazing. I’m very honest when I say that I hope it has a life, especially in the times of a pandemic when watching a film in a theater is, at the moment, certainly not allowed in some countries. The movie took a lot of passion, efforts, hard work and love to make, so having an audience would be enough. To get something beyond is fantastic and always an amazing recognition, but I want an audience to watch it first.

“The Courier” is now showing in theaters.  

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