Benedict Cumberbatch Defends Decision to Play Gay Character: 'I Feel Sensitive' About 'Diversity'

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a cattle rancher who unexpectedly falls for a young man in the modern Western The Power of Dog

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Benedict Cumberbatch is defending his role as a gay man in his latest movie.

Cumberbatch, who is straight and has previously played a gay character, spoke about his latest turn in the upcoming The Power of the Dog. Cumberbatch stars in the modern Western as a grizzly cattle rancher who unexpectedly falls for the young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) of a widow (Kirsten Dunst) who recently moved to his ranch.

"I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion," Cumberbatch, 45, said at the Telluride Film Festival, according to IndieWire. "One of the appeals of the job was the idea that in this world, with this specific character, there was a lot that was private, hidden from view."

Still, Cumberbatch knows the conversation that comes along with a straight actor taking on a gay character. The actor previously played mathematician Alan Turing, a gay man, in 2014's The Imitation Game.

"It wasn't done without thought," he said of being in the same position again. "I also feel slightly like, is this a thing where our dance card has to be public? Do we have to explain all our private moments in our sexual history? I don't think so."

In the end, Cumberbatch punted the question back to director Jane Campion who "chose us as actors to play those roles," he said. "That's her question to answer."

The conversation surrounding whether heterosexual actors should play gay characters has been building in recent years.

In December 2018, Glee star Darren Criss said he would no longer play gay characters after his breakout role as Blaine Anderson in Ryan Murphy's hit show.

"There are certain [queer] roles that I'll see that are just wonderful," he told Bustle at the time. "But I want to make sure I won't be another straight boy taking a gay man's role."

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In late 2020, Kristen Stewart told Variety she thinks about the topic "all the time" during an interview promoting her Hulu film Happiest Season. The movie was the first major lesbian holiday rom-com, yet the casting of straight actress Mackenzie Davis opposite Stewart drew some backlash.

"I would never want to tell a story that really should be told by somebody who's lived that experience," Stewart said. "Having said that, it's a slippery slope conversation because that means I could never play another straight character if I'm going to hold everyone to the letter of this particular law."

She continued, "I think it's such a gray area. There are ways for men to tell women's stories or ways for women to tell men's stories. But we need to have our finger on the pulse and actually have to care."

"You kind of know where you're allowed. I mean, if you're telling a story about a community and they're not welcoming to you, then f--- off. But if they are, and you're becoming an ally and a part of it and there's something that drove you there in the first place that makes you uniquely endowed with a perspective that might be worthwhile, there's nothing wrong with learning about each other. And therefore helping each other tell stories. So I don't have a sure-shot answer for that."

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