Benedict Cumberbatch Learned to Brand and Castrate Cattle For ‘The Power of the Dog’

Benedict Cumberbatch has made a name for himself through his starring roles in movies like The Imitation Game, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and many others. He has done it again in his starring role as Phil Burbank in The Power of the Dog, which is showing promise at the 2022 Academy Awards. Cumberbatch worked hard to learn his role and got quite dirty along the way. 

Benedict Cumberbatch smiling
Benedict Cumberbatch | Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Cumberbatch got hands-on to learn his character

Cumberbatch may not be everyone’s first pick for playing the role of a hardened cowboy, but he took his role seriously. He threw himself into learning what it means to get dirty as a cowboy. In an interview with NewstalkFM shared on Twitter, Cumberbatch talks about everything he did to prepare for his role. 

A year before the movie started shooting, Cumberbatch spent time in Montana riding horses on ranches, learning how to play the banjo and how to waltz. He learned how to steer cattle and even attended two branding events. He also learned how to inoculate and castrate cattle. Cumberbatch definitely did not steer away from hands-on learning. There was also whittling, whistling, and how to roll a cigarette with one hand. Even taxidermy was learned even though it didn’t make it into the film. 

About his character Phil Burbank, Cumberbatch says, “I mean, in the book, he is a polymath. He’s a true master at everything he does. He has great dexterity and capability with his hands, which is one of the many things I actually admire about him and his kind of engagement with the world outside of the human intellect. Although he is a very bright classical scholar, he’s someone who sees himself as inured and deeply connected to nature and that thrilled me.”

Cumberbatch plays a cruel cowboy 

According to Tribute Movies, Phil Burbank is a cruel rancher who uses his tongue to harm. His crew of cowboys arrive in town and go for a bite to eat. They are served by Rose and her teenage son, Peter. Phil does not hesitate to hurl nasty comments at them. Phil’s brother, George, comforts Rose and grows to appreciate her.

George soon marries Rose and brings her home to the ranch along with Peter. Phil torments Rose with veiled comments and his whistling, but he also takes Peter under his wing. Peter learns how to ride and other ranch skills thanks to Phil. Could Phil be starting to soften toward his new family? Or is there something more sinister waiting to happen? 

The character of Phil Burbank played by Cumberbatch is an absolutely abhorrent character. Despite the negative attributes of Burbank, Cumberbatch was able to see into his character and relate to him on a more personal level. In an interview with the New York Times, Cumberbatch said about his character,

“There’s a simplicity to him and a directness, which I admire. There is also the so profound connection to nature. That’s becoming increasingly important to me as a father. He is someone who brings the outside in, and there’s an honesty to the way he behaves without dressing up and masquerading that I find appealing … he’s such a tortured soul. But despite his abhorrent behavior, you see through him, and you understand who he is and why he is the way he is. And he becomes very compelling as a character. 

‘The Power of the Dog’ has received critical acclaim 

The Power of the Dog made waves in the movie theater and accumulated quite an impressive list of Academy Award Nominations. According to IMDb, the film was nominated for the following awards: 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor
  • Best Supporting Actor
  • Best Supporting Actress
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Sound 

The Academy Awards are scheduled for March 27, 2022. 

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