‘It was genuinely horrible’ Benedict Cumberbatch suffered nicotine poisoning three times

The Power of the Dog official trailer from Netflix

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Celebrated actor Benedict Cumberbatch has detailed the “horrible” nicotine poisoning he experienced after smoking too much on the set of his new film The Power of the Dog. The actor explained how he smoked countless cigarettes in order to get into character.

Benedict, 45, started smoking heavily to prepare for his upcoming role as Phil Burbank in gritty Western The Power of the Dog. 

Speaking to Esquire UK about the role, he said: “[Smoking] was really hard. Filterless rollies, just take after take after take. 

“I gave myself nicotine poisoning three times. When you have to smoke a lot, it genuinely is horrible.” 

Montana ranch owner Phil rarely washes, plays the banjo, and smokes profusely – habits that Benedict felt he had to wholeheartedly commit to in order to get into character. 

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Talking about his preparations for the part, the star explained: “I wanted that layer of stink on me. I wanted people in the room to know what I smelt like. 

“It was hard, though. It wasn’t just in rehearsals. I was going out to eat and meet friends of Jane and stuff.”

The actor made reference to the film’s writer and director, Jane Champion, who is the second of seven women to have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in history.

Jane, 67, was also the first ever female filmmaker to receive the Palme d’Or, which she was awarded for her work on period drama film The Piano (1993). 

Her latest movie The Power of the Dog is based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the central protagonist.

Benedict is joined by a star studded cast, including celebrated Hollywood actors like Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Frances Conroy and Thomasin McKenzie.

IMDB describes the plot as follows: “Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. 

“When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.”

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Aside from the excessive smoking, Benedict also revealed that he learnt to play the banjo in order to better embody the character of Phil Burbank. 

“I really wanted to become world-class at the banjo … It’s like giving an actor something to eat, like Marlon Brando said. You’re constantly taking the nervous energy away,” he explained. 

“It did mean I was slightly antisocial, but you know, whatever. I don’t need to be gossiping around the coffee urn on every shoot.”

The actor went on to add that he “really, really enjoyed” learning to play the instrument and was pleased with the idea that he was making progress with it. 

Benedict’s career skyrocketed after his turn as the eponymous Sherlock Holmes in the 2010 detective series, in which he starred alongside The Office’s Martin Freeman. 

The actor went on to portray several notable figures, including Alan Turing in the Imitation Game and Dominic Cummings in Brexit: The Uncivil War.

The star has also made waves in the world of sci-fi and fantasy, appearing as Dr Strange in several Marvel films, the villainous Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, and even voiced the dragon Smaug in 2013’s The Hobbit. 

The Power of the Dog is scheduled to be released in cinemas on November 19 and will later be available on Netflix from December 1. 

The Winter 2021 issue of Esquire UK is on sale now.


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