Benedict Cumberbatch Calls His Controversial Role A Mistake

It's been a minute since Benedict Cumberbatch made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as Doctor Strange.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

benedict cumberbatch

It’s been a minute since Benedict Cumberbatch made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as Doctor Strange. The actor went on to reprise his role as the Sorcerer Supreme in three more movies – Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home – which increased his popularity among fans exponentially. And although Doctor Strange’s next adventure will only make its way to cinemas in a few months, the actor spoke about one of his more obscure, albeit controversial roles, in 2016’s Zoolander 2. Joining forces with Penélope Cruz for Variety‘s Actors on Actors series, Benedict Cumberbatch reflected on the backlash that followed his casting as All – a nonbinary character in the Ben Stiller-directed sequel.

During the discussion, Benedict Cumberbatch called the role a “mistake“. He went on to further explain how things would be handled differently now.

There was a lot of contention around the role, understandably now. And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a transgender actor. But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard. And it being more about two dinosaurs, two hetero-normative clichés not understanding this new diverse world. But it backfired a little bit.

Benedict Cumberbatch

When a trailer for Zoolander 2 debuted in 2015, a petition from LGBTQ activists spoke out about the character and the jokes surrounding their gender, calling for a boycott. Further arguing their cause, the campaigners said Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/nonbinary individuals. This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority. The online document was signed by 25,000 people at the time.

benedict cumberbatch zoolander 2

Interestingly, Justin Theroux, who co-wrote the movie, responded to the trailer backlash at the time, saying the moment in the trailer featuring Benedict Cumberbatch was taken out of context. “I don’t even know what to make of it, because it hurts my feelings in a way,” he told The Wrap about the boycott at the time. “I take great care in the jokes I write, and the umbrage being taken is out of the context of the scene.”

Upon its release, Zoolander 2 received mostly negative reviews, earning a mere $56 million at the global box office against a $55 million budget. On Rotten Tomatoes the film only managed an approval rating of 22%, with critics panning its scattershot rehash of a script. With more celebrity cameos (from Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomi Campbell, Justin Bieber, and others) than laughs and only a handful of memorable gags, the film was forgotten soon after its theatrical run ended.

Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch is coming off a successful run in Spider-Man: No Way Home. The Marvel star appeared as Doctor Stephen Strange who essentially took up Tony Stark’s role of mentor to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. His next outing as the superhero will be in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Following the events of No Way Home and Loki, Doctor Strange travels into the multiverse to face a mysterious new adversary. Fortunately, he will have some help from new and old mystical allies.

The 28th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness serves as a direct sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange. The film is directed by Sam Raimi from a script written by Jade Halley Bartlett and Michael Waldron. Starring alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange are Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Elizabeth Olsen, and Xochitl Gomez.