"I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor."
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Nearly six years after he played it, Benedict Cumberbatch says his role as a nonbinary fashion model in the 2016's Zoolander 2 didn't land with audiences as planned.

The Power of the Dog actor addressed the controversial character in a new conversation with Penelope Cruz, who is currently earning rave reviews for her performance in Parallel Mothers, for Variety's "Actors on Actors" series. The pair worked on Zoolander 2 together, albeit briefly, and reminisced about passing each other on the set in Rome, which led Cumberbatch to address his infamous part.

Zoolander 2
Benedict Cumberbatch and Kyle Mooney in 'Zoolander 2'
| Credit: Everett Collection

"I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor," Cumberbatch said, adding that "there was a lot of contention" around his role as All.

"But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard," he added, "and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world. But it backfired a little bit."

Cumberbatch's character — who becomes the butt of Owen Wilson's Hansel and Ben Stiller's Derek Zoolander's gender-related jokes such as whether they have a hot dog or a bun — was intended to be another satirical element in the comedy following the rise of transgender models in the fashion world. But following its release, LGBTQ activists called for a boycott of the movie, which they said perpetuated transphobia.

In an online petition, critics of the performance called Cumberbatch's character an "over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals" and "the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority."

"If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejić to be in the film," the petition read. "By hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual in a clearly negative way, the film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large."

Zoolander 2
Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kyle Mooney in 'Zoolander 2'
| Credit: Everett Collection

At the time of the sequel's release, Zoolander star Will Ferrell, who played villainous fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu, commented on the controversy to the BBC, defending Cumberbatch's role in the name of the film's tone.

"We are making fun of a bunch of different things," Ferrell said in an interview. "To me, I don't feel like it was over-egregious."

Representatives for Stiller and Cumberbatch did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.

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