In just two short years Benedict Cumberbatch went from being an unknown Stateside to one of the most talked about rising stars. The reason is elementary: Sherlock. On the hit BBC show that airs in the U.S. on PBS, Cumberbatch plays a modern incarnation of the iconic Sherlock Holmes with the twist that his genius deduction skills make him nearly sociopathic, or at the very least wildly eccentric and hysterically rude. While Cumberbatch had been snagging supporting roles in costume dramas and various British TV shows, it was undoubtedly his prickly consulting detective that has drawn the eye of casting agents and acclaimed filmmakers from all over the globe.
Last year he appeared in two Academy Award-nominated features, Steven Spielberg's War Horse and Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and has just wrapped on J.J. Abram's much-anticipated Star Trek sequel, in which he is definitely not playing Khan. Now, Variety reports that Cumberbatch has signed on to something grittier, Steve McQueen's soon-to-shoot biopic 12 Years a Slave.
Based on Solomon Northup's harrowing memoir, which was first published in 1853, the drama will unravel the shocking story of how a black man born free was kidnapped in the northern United States and then was forced into slavery down south, where it took 12 long years to wrestle back his freedom.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Redbelt) will star as Northup, while regular McQueen collaborator Michael Fassbender will play one of the plantation owners who bought Northup over this torturous 12 years. For his part, Cumberbatch will portray another plantation owner, one who takes notice of Northup's engineering abilities. Also cast is Brad Pitt as the lawyer who fights for Northup's release, and extraordinary indie ingénue Adepero Oduye (Pariah), who is suspected to be tackling the role of Northup's wife.
Between this remarkable cast, the film's daring director and troubling subject matter, 12 Years a Slave has already become a 2013 release that critics are salivating over, and is sure to be a feature that will add a new dimension—and possibly some additional accolades—to Cumberbatch's body of work.
12 Years a Slave goes into production in Louisiana at the end of the month.