Before we get to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic Doctor Steven Strange in Marvel’s upcoming Spider-man: No Way Home, he will be seen as a domineering ranch owner, Phil Burbank, in Netflix’s western drama, The Power of the Dog. But interestingly, while the former role had him interacting with countless actors within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he barely conversed with his co-star, Kirsten Dunst while shooting The Power of the Dog.
Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog takes place in 1925 and depicts the chaotic life of Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is a powerful ranch owner. While he is usually an okay fella, his life has hardened his exterior to the point that when his brother, George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) marries a widow (Kirsten Dunst) and brings her to the ranch, along with her son. Phil takes it upon himself to let his brother’s wife know how unwelcome she is in his house and in their lives. Thus, he embarks on a self-assigned mission of making her life so miserable that he drives her to alcoholism and depression.
While Benedict Cumberbatch has played his fair share of aloof characters who hold themselves in high esteem, portraying the cold-hearted Phil Burbank was a different story altogether. In fact, in order to perfect their turbulent on-screen relationship, he stopped talking to Kirsten Dunst on the sets of the film. In a chat with NME, he revealed that being rude and unfriendly is something that goes against his personality, but Dunst understood his need to completely live Phil Burbank’s character as she herself favors the same method.
“I didn’t want to be really mean to Kirsten, but I needed to stay in character. So I didn’t speak to her on-set. She was the same. We were the negative to each other’s positive. [We were] repelled by each other,” Benedict Cumberbatch shared.
While this must have created a rather tense atmosphere on the sets of the film, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst’s hard work has already paid off. The early reviews for The Power of the Dog are in and it is a favorite of the critics who have praised it for being a beautifully well-crafted story. Of course, the lion’s share of the credit has been given to Cumberbatch, who has done everything in his power to play his character as authentically as possible.
Benedict Cumberbatch learned everything from how to ride, fight, and lasso cattle like a cowboy. He took lessons from the world’s “third-best banjo player.” But his intensity for perfectly playing the character further amplified once the shooting began in New Zealand. He started with not taking a bath, covering his body with mud, and staying in character all the time (even when they weren’t filming) such that he point-blank refused to respond if someone called him Benedict. He even smoked filter-less rollies to imitate his character and ended up suffering from nicotine poisoning, three times!
Directed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, Kirsten Dunst as Rose, Jesse Plemons as George Burbank, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter, Adam Beach as Edward Nappo, Thomasin McKenzie as Lola, Keith Carradine as Governor Edward, along with Frances Conroy and Peter Carroll. The film recently debuted at the 78th Venice International Film Festival where Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Direction. After its limited release in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, the film is all set to premiere on Netflix on December 1, 2021.