Benedict Cumberbatch’s First Acting Roles Come With an Unexpected Twist

Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t always the Marvel hero he is today. The London-bred actor has a long list of impressive credits. But, things didn’t start out that way. Every actor begins somewhere. As it turns out, Cumberbatch’s “humble” beginning” is a lot different than what fans might expect.

Benedict Cumberbatch attended the same school as Winston Churchill

Benedict Cumberbatch
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch visits Morning Mash Up at SiriusXM Studios | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Doctor Stephen Strange may be Benedict Cumberbatch’s latest bigtime role, but the actor started much smaller. The Kensington native is an only child to actors, Timothy Carlton [Cumberbatch] and Wanda Ventham, who made careers in theater and British sitcoms.

Cumberbatch, who first went by Benedict Carlton, shared the small screen with his parents on Sherlock. Long before, Carlton and Ventham sent Cumberbatch to an elite boarding school, Harrow, with the aid of a paternal grandmother.

In a previous interview with Vanity Fair, Cumberbatch recalled his time at the school. Winston Churchill attended Harrow to which Cumberbatch called it “obscenely pampering and privileged.”

That said, the actor forged on towards building a dream he hadn’t yet fully realized.

What were Cumberbatch’s first roles?

The first two roles Cumberbatch ever scored weren’t anywhere near The Imitation Game, or Star Trek Into Darkness. During his time at Harrow, Cumberbatch garnered two Shakespearean roles. The catch? They were both female characters.

“The first time I stepped on stage in front of an all-male public-school crowd was dressed up as queen of the fairies, Titania, with a Cleo Laine wig and a pineapple crown,” he said.

His participation in cricket and rugby helped blur the target on his back. But, he eventually quit to pursue the arts. That move made others taunt him for different reasons.

“They presumed that because I was into art I was definitely gay,” he said.

Cumberbatch studied drama at the University of Manchester, then the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He worked hard to perfect his TV biopic about Stephen Hawking, among other things. The doors opened, but it still wasn’t enough.

“I wanted to do things that they didn’t get the chance to,” he said referring to his parents. Though acting runs in his veins, he had another dream, however brief, before taking the plunge into acting full-time.

Acting wasn’t the ‘Doctor Strange’ star’s first choice

You wouldn’t know by watching Cumberbatch’s talent on-screen, but he originally had another dream.

“[Acting is] a very odd, peripatetic, crazed, out of your control work and social schedule,” Cumberbatch told The Mirror in 2015.

“It’s very hard to plan a family life, let alone know where the next paycheck is coming from so they worked very, very hard as my parents, and actors, to afford me an education whereby I had the opportunity and the privilege to try and channel myself towards other goals.”

He continued: “For a while, I wanted to be a barrister because there’s definitely a crossover with criminal law—with trying to persuade an audience and a jury and a judge of the case and your client’s story so I did go down that route for a little bit. I think they would have been very happy if I ended up there.”

In a previous interview with Vulture, he said he “would’ve loved the performance of court, the idea of persuading people, storytelling and all that.”

He said criminal law “parallels beautifully with acting, lots of frustrated, amateur dramatics going on in court all the time,” and he’s not wrong.

“I think lots of barristers literally perform in amateur dramatic societies and are very good actors. It’s a massive crossover.”

Cumberbatch may have wanted to practice law, then transitioned into acting with two female roles, but he made his way to the top of the box office seamlessly. It’s almost like he’s incredibly talented or something.