By Gillian Telling
November 29, 2014 06:20 PM
Jake Chessum

Not so very long ago, Benedict Cumberbatch was best known for his moniker, which is endlessly fun to say and hard to squash onto a marquee.

But by last year the 38-year-old Englishman had become a global sensation: starring in four major movies (12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, Star Trek Into Darkness and The Fifth Estate), voicing the dragon Smaug in the Hobbit films and becoming a geek icon thanks to his title turn in the British TV series Sherlock.

Now, he’s garnering Oscar buzz for his role as a mathematician-war hero in The Imitation Game.

But what the self-effacing Londoner never saw coming was the whole sex-symbol-whose-fans-call-themselves-Cumberbitches thing.

In China they call him “Curly,” and in Japan they wait by the thousands for a glimpse of him at the airport.

“It’s surreal,” he says of his newfound fame.

“But I want to be doing this in 30 years. This is just a moment. Hopefully not the moment.”

PEOPLE caught the ‘Batch in New York City to decipher why he melts hearts worldwide (maybe it’s those glacial blue eyes).