Method acting can see actors do all sorts of crazy things to enhance their performances, and a recurring method we hear about is extreme weight loss for a role. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in director Dominic Cooke’s The Courier is the latest tale of an actor dropping a lot of mass in order to play a character who undergoes serious peril. The story of this experience adds Cumberbatch to the ranks of actors like Christian Bale and Matt Damon, who have claimed such an experience to be absolutely horrible.
While CinemaBlend’s own Jeff McCobb was interviewing Benedict Cumberbatch on behalf of The Courier’s release, the question was asked about how rough the process was. There was even an added context of how, not too long after filming the film based on true-life British spy Greville Wynne, Cumberbatch would have to return to his regular shape to star in Doctor Strange in the Multivesrse of Madness. Here’s what the actor had to say about the experience, and why it was so crucial:
I lost about a stone and a half (21 lbs), and it was through the usual methods of dieting, but also some extreme exercise. I was very fit. It was all done in a healthy way. It wasn’t about atrophy or lethargy, it was very much about trying to shred everything to shrink wrap my body mass around muscle. But when you do start to feel slightly kind of, I can’t remember what the word is when you… it’s horrible, but it’s basically a description for self digestion, you also have to strip away muscle. And that’s a very nasty thing to be doing. And you get very disoriented, you feel dehydrated, you feel hungry all the time. You feel emotionally and physically very vulnerable, all of which plays very helpfully into a character that must have endured this for months, if not years.
Recounting his own experience with losing weight for The Courier, Benedict Cumberbatch brought back a lot of memories from other stories we’ve heard about actors doing that same thing. Again, Christian Bale is one of the most notable examples of someone going through the grueling process of eating light and working out hard. Daniel Craig’s experiences with keeping his James Bond shape is also another very intense experience we’ve all heard about, as No Time To Die required the man to keep fit and fighting.
However, the inspiration for Mr. Cumberbatch’s transformation for The Courier wasn’t on screen vanity, or on the more positive side of the spectrum, personal improvement. Rather, it was a tribute to the man he was playing. As Greville Vynne found himself in captivity due to his espionage activities being outed to Russian authorities, his imprisonment left him in rather dire straits. Benedict Cumberbatch described his motives behind that process as follows:
I helped augment this process with Dominic [Cooke] by producing it. But I think that even if we hadn’t produced it as a company, SunnyMarch, Dominic and I would have really really really driven for the hiatus we had in order for me to be able to lose the weight. It was imperative to me. … You look at those photographs, and you think it may only be four scenes of a film, but I have no choice but to honor the truth of what he endured for a far far longer period of his life.
The Courier is indeed a spy thriller, showing the efforts a common man was able to engage in during the height of the Cold War. Rather than giving the world another simple espionage tale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dominic Cooke crafted an effecting portrait of risking one’s life in the service of others. Those results can be caught in theaters now, as The Courier is currently in theatrical release.