Benedict Cumberbatch drops clues — about his BBC series and his mysterious role in Starfleet.

By Geoff Boucher
Updated January 11, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

They may have the same face and brandy-hued baritone, but you could never mistake Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch for the BBC’s prickly savant of Baker Street. Not only is the actor relentlessly polite, he has also never clubbed a cadaver in the name of scientific inquiry. But the sleuth does shine through: Cumberbatch shows a Sherlockian impatience for unanswered questions surrounding his part in this May’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

”It’s achingly irritating,” he says. ”Believe me, I’d rather talk about the role and fantastic story and all the things [”director”] J.J. [”Abrams”] has come up with. But then I’d be getting a phone call from J.J.’s office…” Ultimately the actor endorses Abrams’ zeal for script and set secrecy: ”Mystique is rare now, isn’t it? People, especially Trekkies, want to know everything before they witness it themselves.”

Those fans have their money on him playing Khan, the genetically upgraded tyrant portrayed by Ricardo Montalban in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But no matter which villain he is, Cumberbatch, 36, is already killing it in Hollywood. Just last month The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (featuring the first look at the dragon Smaug that he’ll voice in the sequels) arrived in theaters with a special IMAX preview of Star Trek Into Darkness. The actor also earned a Golden Globe nomination for Sherlock.

He’ll be back on set in March for the third season of the BBC series, tackling a character he says is still a work in progress. Sherlock ”is more formidable — but he’s also more vulnerable, learning and changing, too,” Cumberbatch says. ”He is a dangerous man and dangerous to know. He is — despite being on the side of the angels — not one of them.”

There’s no doubt about his Trek character’s menace. ”He is a one-man weapon of mass destruction, a terrorist with a cause,” says Cumberbatch, who scored the role with a last-minute audition video recorded on an iPhone and staged in a friend’s kitchen with two chairs and a lamp. Still, as with his eccentric detective, there’s a lot of gray matter between the black and white.

”It’s very easy to come off as just crazy, and I tried with this role to look for something unsettling and investigative. He is a great story, my [”Trek”] character. I can’t say who the guy is, but his story has some amazing — and starkly modern — parables. And best of all, it’s been so much fun. Playing the not-good guy is really fun. But that’s all I can say.”

Star Trek Into Darkness

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 132 minutes
  • Alex Kurtzman