How Benedict Cumberbatch Lost Weight Like Christian Bale for This Movie

Christian Bale is the gold standard for actors losing weight to play a character. He’s done it three times, in The Machinist, Rescue Dawn and The Fighter. Benedict Cumberbatch has a new role where his weight loss is just as dramatic. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the director and producer revealed how their star did it.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch | David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Ironbark stars Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne in the true story of how this ordinary businessman became a pivotal spy in Russia. Perhaps this story is a spoiler for Ironbark but it is based on historical events so one could look up what happened to Greville Wynne. 

Why Benedict Cumberbatch had to lose weight like Christian Bale

The story of Greville Wynne begins as a romp. He feels woefully unqualified to be a spy but British Intelligence and the CIA feel he’s an ideal candidate. It quickly turns serious as he continues going on more and more missions. Ultimately, the Russians catch him.

Greville Wynne spent years in a Russian prison where they starved him. By the end of his sentence, Benedict Cumberbatch appears emaciated as the real Greville Wynne was upon release. 

The director of ‘Ironbark’ asked Benedict Cumberbatch to lose weight

Director Dominic Cooke wanted Benedict Cumberbatch to play Greville Wynne. He had directed Cumberbatch in The Hollow Crown previously. When he first met with the actor for the film, he casually mentioned the drastic weight loss.

Ironbark director Dominic Cooke
Director Dominic Cooke | Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute

“When I read the script and I spoke to Benedict, I did think well I worked with Benedict several times before and it’s a shoe-in for this part,” Cooke said. “So I went up to see him and he liked the script and everything. I kind of dropped into the conversation, ‘What do you think about we stop shooting and you lose a lot of weight?’ There was literally no response, nothing. I was like well, that didn’t go very well.”

Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t the only actor to lose weight for ‘Ironbark’

Oleg Penkovsky was the Russian spy code-named Ironbark. Merab Ninidze plays Penkovsky. The Russians also captured Penkovsky and starved him, so both actors went through the weight loss regimen.

Dominic Cooke
Director Dominic Cooke | Stephen Speckman/SundancE Institute

“Anyway, he came on board and actually later on we started talking about how it might work,” Cooke continued. “We stopped shooting for three months and both Merab and Benedict worked very, very hard to do that. You saw what Wynne looked like when he came out. It was that dramatic and I thought it was important to see the sacrifice he made.”

Don’t worry, the filmmakers hired the best help 

Three months is still a short period of time to lose enough weight to appear on screen like you’ve starved for years. Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze didn’t do it alone. They followed the advice of top professionals. 

“We had to monitor it with nutritionists because it’s really hard to get it right,” producer Adam Ackland said. “You have to work hard and not eat very much but he wanted to do it. he was very passionate about it.”

You’ll see Benedict Cumberbatch’s sacrifice when Ironbark comes out after Sundance.