Unlike Justin Bieber and Billy Zane, Benedict Cumberbatch isn't just another celebrity playing himself in Zoolander 2. Instead, the British actor is playing All, the new hottest model in town, who crosses paths with Ben Stiller's Derek Zoolander and Owen Wilson's Hansel backstage at a fashion show. All had replaced Derek at the top of the male model food chain. With his eyebrows shaved (or camouflaged via movie magic), long, straight auburn hair and made-up face, Cumberbatch appears almost unrecognizable in the role. It was his crazy new look that made the actor the talk of the town after his character was teased in one of the early trailers. But despite all the talk, not much is known about the details of the Benedict Cumberbatch Zoolander 2 cameo, who he plays and what it means for the film.
As All, Cumberbatch caused quite a bit of controversy with his appearance in the trailer. The model doesn't conform to gender binaries, something All makes very clear upon meeting Zoolander. "I am All," Cumberbatch says when Zoolander and Hansel ask whether All is a man or a woman. After the trailer was released, some LGBTQ activists voiced their concerns, which led to the creation of a petition to boycott the film. In it, protestors called All "an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals."
Zoolander 2's co-writer and cameo star himself, Justin Theroux, defended the film against early criticism, telling The Wrap that the writers "never wanted to disenfranchise anyone." In fact, it's hard to condemn Theroux, Stiller, or Cumberbatch for the character. All appears in only a few scenes, and exists mostly as a way to make fun of the fashion world as a whole, just like Derek and Hansel. Like it or not, the character also serves to make the film more relevant to today's fashion world landscape, where androgyny and breaking gender barriers are much more accepted. (Just look at Jaden Smith starring in the Louis Vuitton womenswear campaign.) In the world of Zoolander 2, All is an exaggerated and over-the-top embodiment of this trend, for sure, but the character is certainly not hateful.
If All could be accused of any character flaw, it's cruelty. In his second and final scene, following his brief introduction to Derek and Hansel, he appears on the runway alongside our two male model protagonists, only to whip them as part of the show labeling them as "Old" and "Lame," respectively. For you Cumberbabes out there, I'm sad to tell you that All doesn't do anything else in the film. But, that's ok, sometimes a little bit of Cumberbatch goes a long way.
Images: Paramount Pictures; sherlockspeare/tumblr (2)