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Benedict Cumberbatch Reflects On His Controversial Zoolander 2 Role

Benedict Cumberbatch as model All in Zoolander 2
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Spider-Man: No Way Home’s Benedict Cumberbatch has been a thespian’s thespian when it comes to acting on stage, film and television. His performances have earned him acclaim and multiple awards. And yet, like any celebrated actor, there are those questionable projects that pop up on Cumberbatch’s resume. One role, in particular, has haunted him for years – playing nonbinary fashion model All in Zoolander 2. Years removed from that character, the Doctor Strange 2 star chose to reflect on the controversy.

When Zoolander 2 hits theaters in 2016, the sequel was poorly received by both critics and audiences. Before the film even reached theaters, Benedict Cumberbatch’s All was already facing backlash for a cisgender male playing a nonbinary character. It served as a momentary bump in the Oscar nominee’s career, but the MCU star couldn’t help but bring up the lambasted cameo while chatting with Zoolander 2 co-star Penelope Cruz for Variety’s Actors on Actors. While they reconnected over the film, Cumberbatch opened about the media and online backlash he received.

There was a lot of contention around [his role as a nonbinary fashion model named All], understandably now. And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor. But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard, and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world. But it backfired a little bit. But it was lovely to meet you in that brief moment and to work with Ben [Stiller] and Owen [Wilson].

At least the Doctor Strange star came away with a better understanding of why those in the LGBTQ+ community were upset. While the role was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it came off more as lampooning that community rather than commenting on society. Looking back at the role, it should’ve been played by either a recognizable or unknown trans actor. That would’ve driven the point home while giving some from the trans community a shot. It seems like Benedict Cumberbatch grew from the situation, and his role choices reflect that.

Of course, Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t the first actor to face backlash from the trans community. Eddie Redmayne faced similar criticism for playing transgender painter Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. Years after receiving an Oscar nomination for the role, Redmayne expressed regret about taking on the role, as he believed he took away an opportunity from a trans performer. Of course, the Oscar winner learned from the experience and became an ally for trans rights, even speaking out against Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s controversial trans comments.

Benedict Cumberbatch has moved on from the Zoolander 2 character as he flourished with his status in the MCU, along with other roles. For instance, the actor has received acclaim for his performance in 2021’s The Power of the Dog. After his team-up with Tom Holland's Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home, he will be seen next in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which arrives on May 6, and Cumberbatch recently shared how thrilled he was over the teaser going viral.  If you want to see where else the good doctor might pop up, you can look the slate of upcoming Marvel movies.

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).