Monday, July 8, 2013

An open letter to Benedict Cumberbatch re: PoshGate:

**warning: the word "posh" will be used unendingly in this letter/post/diatribe**

Dear Benedict Cumberbatch:

With you being the new "it" dude of the summer of 2013 (rather deservedly I say), there are countless articles out now where you're featured and most all of them have some sort of claim about you not being as posh as people think you are or might be and that you want to stretch your acting muscles out beyond the posh roles you've played in the past, get out from under the posh stigma* (most always with some posh photo set featuring beautiful clothes, beautiful people, worn leather, tea and cigars). I applaud your eagerness to grow and expand in your craft however, I don't think posh is as bad as you, or the people writing the articles, make it out to be. To start, you must know that the definition of "posh" has expanded in direct proportion to the income gap experienced in the past decades. Posh forty years ago was drastically different than posh is today. Perhaps you should look at the posh stereotyping from a different angle: you are tremendously adept and gifted at playing posh upper and upper-middle class people, both modern and classic. I think there are several factors that contribute to this, namely, 1. your unflinching acuity, eloquence and alertness; 2. your posture and bearing; 3. your mouth.

One of your most prominent and fawned about features are your amazing eyes. Not only are they a gorgeous, ever-changing, speckled and brilliant blue, there is an unerring, hawk-like sharpness about them. You can't hide that they are taking everything in - making mental notes of the goings on in the corner of your eye. You have a perpetual look of mental calculation on your face because of this and, as such, you come off as highly intelligent and alert. Highly intelligent and alert translates to well-educated (incorrectly so most times, but few choose to understand that distinction) which translates into posh. Additionally, your well-measured honey baritone does little to dissuade a posh demeanor. You're articulate and eloquent in your speech and you pause to breathe or quickly, but not anxiously, collect your thoughts often, both of which show a calmness and command that, combined with the molten rumble coming from your diaphragm, demands one listen to you, demands attention, demands respect (posh respect).

Another seemingly natural feature that screams posh is your posture and bearing. Your hold yourself very straight and very stiff but still demonstrate an elegance and efficiency of movement. At this writing I've seen everything you've acted in per IMDB's list except all but one of the episodes of "fortysomething" because that just hasn't made it over to the States yet, and the NINE things you are currently in production with. However, I don't expect it to be too long before "fortysomething" is here, I mean it's House, the original Duckface and you all in one show - it'll be on PBS or BBC America tout suite. Anyway, in all of that amazing stuff I've watched, I haven't seen you slouch once unless your character was sick. There are very few non-posh people in real life who aren't physically bowed by the trials life has thrown at them, hence regal posture and bearing equaling posh: well-bred, etiquette school, servants, different varieties of worry - survival versus maintenance of comfort - they all affect how people perceive you. I'm not saying that having amazing posture is bad, it just doesn't lend itself to your desired non-poshness.

Finally, one thing you can't change that really puts posh all over your face is your mouth. There's a way you tug the corners of it down when you're concentrating, trying to fight back an emotion - sadness, pride, hurt - or are otherwise touched by an act or situation, that brings great length to your face while enhancing the length of the rest of your features and it makes for a distinctly posh, "stiff upper lip" bottling of emotions. One can see the stopper being tamped into place when those corners go down.

So, I've come to the conclusion that this "poshgate" (great name by the way) comes down to two possible scenarios: 1. it's a massive PR move to show you as being more accessible to the plebes because there's some really generalized nonsense out there that your flame will burn bright but short if your fans don't feel like they can relate to you, or 2. you really are really really keen on branching out into non-posh roles. Lets take these one at a time.
PR move: let's be real here, you're not really going to be accessible** in the way that your fans want you to be accessible, which is constantly in our bedrooms lulling us to sleep with whispered dulcet tones of some completely soppy poetry after a wild romp of some kind. You don't have a Facebook account, you don't have a Twitter account, you don't have a Pinterest account, you don't blog - there isn't a way for people to know the real you and, to be honest, even if you did any of these, how would we know it really is you? It is your job to lie and/or go outside of yourself to tell the tale of another for a living - you're an ACTOR, you have two degrees in ACTING. However, there is a plethora of charming, down-to-earth, silly, fun, sweet interviews and tidbits all over the internet which paint you as this fellow that we would all get on with like a house on fire wearing sweaters over our shoulders with the sleeves tied, sipping tea and you schooling us on something like theoretical mathematical physics. You really don't need to be worried about accessibility, I think you're doing just fine with your Cumberbitches and your Sherlockian somethingorothers. They (ok, we) aren't going anywhere. We like you posh and fictionally petulant.
Branching out: let me work up a visualization scenario for you - go back to "Stuart: A Life Backwards". Could you play Stuart? Could you access the unintelligible intelligence that Tom Hardy brought to it? Can you let madness roll in and cloud over your impossibly clear and calculating eyes? Do you have the confidence in your well-trained voice to let it slur and tumble over words out of order? Can you let yourself have an irrational reaction to something rational and benign? Can you be filthy on the outside as well as on the inside? (I saw you play that posh pedo rapist, so you've got access to filth of some kind on the inside).
Tom Hardy has made a name brilliantly playing extremely clever, extremely mad antiheroes. You can see the fog of crazy rolling over him. He has a way of bringing the haze of inebriation (from drugs, drink, hate, revenge, exhaustion, insanity) to the forefront of his role and puts it right in his eyes because that's the only place it's believable. Can you do that? Actually, I think you can, but the more important question is, do you WANT to do that? Do you have the personal experiences yourself or with others to genuinely find, access and give respect to those actions and feelings that may seem so foreign to you? Yes, I saw you in the Vincent Van Gogh BBC1 bit you did and you were great, but seemed to play it more anxious than mad.
Christian Bale has taken a whole other tack to get into roles: extreme physical transformation. Would you emaciate yourself to properly play a role? Would you make yourself overly giant? Would you transform yourself into something wholly unrecognizable for the sake of a role? That may be a way to get you out of your posh box. They say the ladies have to get fat or old or crazy or drugged out to win an Oscar, maybe you need to do the same to release yourself from the velvet trappings of poshness.

I'm all for expanding horizons and trying new things (much to my own detriment) but I also fervently believe in knowing where you excel and accepting, appreciating and embracing where your talents lie. You don't strike me as one who would do something if you didn't think you'd excel at it. So, I'm glad that, in your breadth of work, you haven't thrown yourself into a role that was decidedly not posh, but wasn't the right part for you, simply because it was not a posh role.

To sum up, coming from one person who will very likely never meet you (which is a shame because I'm awesome and our powers of awesomeness combined would make the Wonder Twins blush with furious shame), I'd like to encourage you to embrace your inherent poshness and run with it. The posh have so much freedom of expansion within poshness: they can make fun of it without coming off as bitter; they can be silly as all get out, but are almost always subtly so; they can be searing, romantic or brooding (Heathcliff); they can be stiff, boring, unemotional and naïve (the perfect straight man). Anything and everything the unposh can be, but it's so much more fun because it's clipped and unexpected. Perhaps embrace the Alec Guinness in you: did he play a mad drunk who wasn't kind of posh? Most everything he did, he did well, even if he was typecast sometimes. He got to be funny, criminal, smart, mean, desert-y and wise but always had a little something poised, something regal, about him. Maybe you can help change the definition of posh once again into something you would desire it to be. Who knows? I just think there are so many better ways to think of posh than solely POSH per se. And you can help us find them.


* - the google search "benedict cumberbatch posh" spawns pages and pages of anti-posh articles
** - Hun, one of your charities of choice is the Prince's Trust. This means that you associate and hang out with a real life PRINCE. That's a posh mark that can't be done away with even with the strongest heroine addictions, impromptu prostitute blowies or crazy-haired B&E convictions. Prince trumps crime in Poshland.

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