Beyond 'The Fifth Estate': 10 Roles for Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Fifth Estate'/Image © 2013 DreamWorks

In a recently published letter, the infamous WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who plays him in the new film “The Fifth Estate,” of being something of a Benedict Arnold.

The letter, dated January 15, 2013, implores the British actor to drop out of the project, claiming that the books on which the DreamWorks film is based (Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy) are “toxic” and “biased.” While Assange praises Cumberbatch’s talents and gives him credit for being a “good person,” he begs the actor to “reconsider his involvement in this enterprise.”

The film is now in theaters, so obviously Cumberbatch didn’t take Assange’s advice, but in a recent user-generated Q&A on Reddit, Cumberbatch admitted the letter rattled him. “To have the man you are about to portray ask you intelligently and politely not to do it gave me real cause for concern; however, it galvanized me into addressing why I was doing this movie,” Cumberbatch replied to a Reddit user’s question.

"I wanted to create a three-dimensional portrait of a man far more maligned in the tabloid press than he is in our film to remind people that he is not just the weird, white-haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden, hiding in an embassy behind Harrods,” Cumberbatch wrote during the interview.

And the consensus from most reviewers is that Cumberbatch did just that. Even those who haven’t given the film itself wholehearted commendation have praised his performance. The Guardian raved, “Cumberbatch is brilliant, getting the peculiar vocal and physical mannerisms of Assange just so, playing him as saint and sinner, perfectly capturing his shabby charisma.”

It’s not the first time the chameleonic actor has tried his hand at portraying a real-life notable figure. In 2004 he won raves for his performance as physicist Stephen Hawking in “Hawking,” a BBC television movie. (Here he is talking about how daunting that characterization was.) The next year, Cumberbatch dipped back into the BBC biopic pool to play Vincent van Gogh in “Van Gogh: Painted With Words.” And this year he even did a turn as Alan Rickman on “The Simpsons.”

The busy, insanely popular actor has three more movies coming out this holiday season (“12 Years A Slave,” “August: Osage County,” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”), so he’s clearly not starving for parts. But in honor of the upcoming release of “The Fifth Estate,” we thought we’d throw out some suggestions for more real life people we’d like to see him embody on the silver screen.

Sir Isaac Newton
Cumberbatch specializes in playing brilliant but troubled geniuses (Khan anyone?), so we think he’d be spot on as the prickly, depressive, and hugely influential mathematician/physicist, Sir Isaac Newton.

Peter Jennings
Not only does Cumberbatch share the late ABC anchor’s chiseled features and piercing eyes, but the actor also possesses the gravitas necessary to depict Peter Jennings’ storied coverage of some of the world’s gravest days, including the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and the 9/11 attacks.

John Edwards
Cumberbatch would totally nail the smarmy/sexy/did-I-do-that vibe of disgraced senator John Edwards.

Tennessee Williams
And while he’s brushing up his Southern accent, we’d love to see him take on the great playwright, taking us through the heady days of his early successes to his spiraling decline into substance abuse.

If he hadn’t become an actor, we feel like Cumberbatch might have fit in just fine as crazy sadistic emperor Caligula.

Tim Gunn
We would absolutely fall in line if Cumberbatch told us to “make it work.”

Rudolf Nureyev
If you’ve seen the video of Cumberbatch grooving his way through “Thriller,” you know the boy’s got some moves. So we have no fear that with some serious training, he could bring to the screen the life of the great Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. Plus, they’ve both got those cheekbones.

Tom Hardy
Perhaps the only actor whose buzz rivals that of Cumberbatch. So if Cumberbatch played “Inception” star Tom Hardy, just think of the titillated tizzy that would encircle the world. In fact, the film should be a two-hander with each actor playing the other.

Vince Offer
Is there anything creepier than high-octane ShamWow zealot Vince Offer? And who does creepy better than anyone? Cumberbatch, that’s who.

Steve Martin
Cumberbatch as the comedy king himself. Actually, this should really happen. Like right now.