Benedict Cumberbatch is reflecting on playing a closeted cattle rancher who falls in love with a young man in 1920s Montana in his new movie “The Power of the Dog.”
The Oscar-nominated actor plays Phil Burbank, a hypermasculine rancher who inspires fear in awe in those around him – a reign of terror that comes from a deeply closeted sexuality.
His made-up persona runs into some trouble after his brother (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her queer son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.
On Friday, Cumberbatch was joined by the film’s director and writer Jane Campion, co-stars Dunst and Smit-McPhee, and Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos for the film’s New York premiere, at the New York Film Festival.
Based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, “the film is clearly a complex way of approaching masculinity,” Campion told reporters.
“I think it’s a solid container for thinking and rethinking the men in this world,” she added.
Cumberbatch, 45, added his own take understanding of the character.
“He’s a tough guy,” he told Variety at the premiere. “He’s an alpha male who had this burning love affair in his youth, which could never be spoken of. The tragedy is what twists him into toxic masculinity, born out as angst and punishment and hate on the world,” he said.
“Yet it’s so hard to view the film through today’s lens,” the London-born actor added. “We look at this now as a queer text, but the story is tied to its time and place.”
“I think it speaks to a time of intolerance and a lack of acceptance where people couldn’t live any kind of their authentic self,” Cumberbatch said.
“[Queer men] had to bury that and cloak it in masculinity, which while not necessarily inherent on the face of it, became so,” he continued.
Cumberbatch – who’s straight and previously played gay mathematician Alan Turing in 2014’s “The Imitation Game” – faced some scrutiny for playing this role.
Last month he defended playing a gay character in “The Power of the Dog.”
“I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion,” he said at the Telluride Film Festival, according to IndieWire.