The actor joins EW's The Awardist podcast to discuss how he had to drop his ‘apologetic’ default to portray the cruelty — and depth — of a complex cowboy in Jane Campion’s western.

As the 2022 awards race starts to take shape, Oscar-watchers would be remiss to underestimate The Power of the Dog.

Not only does the Netflix Western mark the big-screen return of filmmaker Jane Campion (who has not directed a feature since 2009's Bright Star), but it also offers a career-best performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. The MCU's Doctor Strange stars as Phil Burbank, a spiteful cowboy who runs a ranch with his brother George (Jesse Plemons) in Montana in the 1920s. When George gets married, Phil's hatred for his new sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) grows and twists into a force that threatens the fragile ecosystem of their shared home.  


The latest episode of EW's The Awardist podcast examines the evolving Best Actor race — in which Cumberbatch is poised to become a major player in the coming months. The actor sat down with EW to discuss the challenging role, which forced him to detach from his typically polite demeanor.

"Let's put it this way: My default mode is being a little apologetic and a bit of a people pleaser, and Phil is as far away from that as possible," he tells EW's Clarissa Cruz. Throughout the shoot, he stayed in character as the toxic rancher (for whose behavior he later apologized to Dunst and Smit-McPhee). "During filming, [Campion] gave me full permission to be him. She introduced me as Phil and said, 'Look, Benedict's very nice. You'll meet him at the end of the shoot. This is Phil, you'll be working with him.' That was it."

But Phil's cruelty was just one of the challenges the role presented; Cumberbatch also had to master the character's considerable talents — like playing the banjo, or effortlessly rolling a cigarette in one hand — as well as conveying the extreme depth of the complicated character's inner life. "All of it" scared Cumberbatch, he admits. But working with Campion was "an amazing thing. To have that friendship and that collaboration is gold — and that's Jane."

The Power of the Dog is now playing in theaters, and hits Netflix Dec. 1.

Listen to the full interview on EW's The Awardist podcast below or available wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe for new episodes every Monday. Our new season covers the road to the 2022 Oscars with in-depth analysis and interviews with Kenneth Branagh, Mike Mills, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ruth Negga, and more Oscar hopefuls.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a menacing cowboy in Jane Campion's twisty Western.

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