Written by By Maureen Fitzmaurice, CNN
Benedict Cumberbatch says his character Tom Schroeder in “The Power of the Dog” was “possessed by the spirit of a dog,” an animal that died in the 1920s and was ignored for years by its owners.
“That dog was present in a way in my head for the three months I was filming,” he says, his impressive Oxbridge drawl masked by his stocky build and stubble. “His companionship really was present. You’ve got a dog who didn’t leave the screen with me for three months. The dog became part of that performance.”
Cumberbatch’s role in “The Power of the Dog” is very different from his U.K. hit “Sherlock,” in which he played a brilliant eccentric genius with a wry sense of humor who offers an energetic solo study of a mental diagnosis for a recently deceased friend.
From “Sherlock” to “The Power of the Dog”: Benedict Cumberbatch in a powerful new western Credit: Courtesy Needle Image Films/Michal Cizek
But on the talk with the Reuters correspondent who met him on the set of “The Power of the Dog,” in Slovenia, Cumberbatch was much more somber.
“I remember starting with a very heavy sense of responsibility, not only to this film but to the kind of craft I was going to do,” he says. “But also what I hoped it might lead to for the rest of my career.”
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Director Henry Bean saw Cumberbatch’s face on the poster for “Sherlock” and told producer Mark Forster, “‘You should have written something for him.’ And I thought about it and realized at that moment I was about to meet the biggest and most interesting actor I’d ever met.”
The film was both a period piece inspired by the production of “The Wild Bunch” in Mexico, a supernatural thriller that tells the story of a family feud that results in violence during the summer of 1922, and a Western — and a very rare one, in fact.
“This is the kind of western that William S. Burroughs might write or Robert Altman would direct,” Bean says, adding that he reached out to Shaver Brothers, producers of “The Wild Bunch” and recently celebrated with an Oscar for Best Picture.
However, the screenwriter is slightly more circumspect about the genre.
In this scene from “The Power of the Dog,” Tim Palmer (Christopher Eccleston) and his family are woken by roving sheriff Tom Schroeder (Benedict Cumberbatch). Credit: Needle Image Films/Michal Cizek
“The idea to tell the story of an aging sheriff in a small town in the southern US going through a certain crisis with family and still wanting to put law and order in place, led to a lot of Westerns.”
The film has been described as the missing link between an older Western and the low-budget era that produced “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 1974.
“I will say I have a very specific preference for older Westerns but I respect their archetypes. They are archetypes that took place at a time when a lot of Westerns began.
“Here is a period piece in which the violence doesn’t start until after the violence has started.”
Production alone was particularly testing, Branagh says.
“When we started filming, one of the things that you can’t afford is insurance on your mobile phone. Even a photograph of yourself, or a selfie, the insurance would kick in, so we had to use it,” he says.
“Without any insurance, this kind of imagery, it really made me want to get rid of it immediately and start again, which is a sad thing to say, but you have to.”
Bean adds: “You can’t have money, because the mobile phone you want to do selfies with you can’t have insurance. Sometimes you just have to put in a coin for the picture. There were times when we were so impoverished we had no money for food at all.”
Directed by Henry Bean Credit: Needle Image Films/Michal Cizek
Bean, whose credits include the BBC’s long-running rural crime drama “Sherlock” and the Oscar-nominated “Florence Foster Jenkins,” was inspired by Westerns of the 1960s and ’70s, such as Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and Jack Nicholson’s “The Dark Half.”
But there was also a series of films from the late 1960s to 1980s about Vietnam that he wanted to tap into. These films starred actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery and Jimmy Stewart.