Benedict Cumberbatch's Accent In 'Doctor Strange' Is Actually One Of His Best
One of the most enduring and fervent trends of pop culture over the past decade has been the fondness among sci-fi fans and Anglophiles for Benedict Cumberbatch. The actor's role as enigmatic, maybe-sociopathic genius Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's Sherlock won him millions of fans who follow and praise his work on both the big and small screen. However, the one thing that seems to trip the distinctly British actor up is American accents, at least according to some critics. With his latest role as the lead character in Doctor Strange , Cumberbatch's American accent once again is the talk of the town. So I thought it was fitting to chronicle Cumberbatch's many forays into the beautiful and mixed-up patchwork of American accents by ranking his on-screen American accents from worst to best.
In the trailers for Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch takes on a direct, traditional American accent, but he's also tackled a handful of Southern ones as well over the years, as well as the always tricky Boston accent, with varying degrees of success. I've ranked them all below, but you should check them each out, along with the Doctor Strange trailer, for yourself and see if the fuss made over Cumberbatc's accent struggles is deserved, or if he's more convincing that folks give him credit for. (Never forget, though, that even in his natural accent he can't say "penguins.")
5. Black Mass (2015)
Cumberbatch's South Boston accent drew much debate over whether it was "spot on" or completely terrible. He has that classier, more nasally JFK-like accent, but he sounds almost cartoonishly villainous and over-the-top. Boston accents are tough, and Cumberbatch gives it his all, but that overcommitment could be the problem.
4. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
For this role, Cumberbatch's dialect coach told The L.A. Times that he trained the actor using audio clips from "some real upper-class New Orleanians from the '30s." In a movie full of actors trying a variety of Southern accents, Cumberbatch's accent slides under the radar for the most part, but is almost too studied in its thick, rich, and syrupy nature to ring natural. Cumberbatch never quite settles into organic, non-performative speech. Southern stylings may not be where The 'Batch's accent work shines.
3. August: Osage County (2013)
Cumberbatch tackles the mysteries of Southern dialects once again in August: Osage County, but this time he's just a shy and self-conscious young Georgian fellow in contemporary times, and his accent is a little more natural than usual. It's heavy, but in a way that makes sense, and the hangdog way he says "Mama" is so spot-on.
2. The Whistleblower (2010)
One of Cumberbatch's earlier attempts at an American accent is actually one of his most successful. Perhaps the only thing giving him away is his character's insistence on emphasizing that he's American.
1. Doctor Strange (2016)
Call me crazy, but my biggest takeaway from the Doctor Strange trailers is that when Cumberbatch turns on that "generic American" accent, he sounds not unlike Modern Family's Ty Burrell, if a touch more grizzled. Maybe that's just my ears, but it does suggest that The 'Batch's American accent is more convincing these days than some folks are giving him credit for, especially when he's allowed to take on a more generic, "everyman" American dialect.
Based on this roundup, it seems like most of Cumberbatch's American accent sins come down to overcompensation: he's so committed that it's hard for him not to sound studied. But the Doctor Strange trailer suggests he may finally have gotten it down for good.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures, Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures