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Benedict Cumberbatch says non-binary 'Zoolander 2' role “backfired”

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Benedict Cumberbatch has reflected on playing a non-binary role in Zoolander 2, admitting that it “backfired”.

The Marvel actor played the role of model All in the 2016 sequel, which drew a huge backlash at the time and a petition launched to boycott the film gained over 25,000 signatures.

Reflecting on taking the role during a chat with fellow Zoolander 2 star Penelope Cruz as part of Variety‘s Actors On Actors series, Cumberbatch admitted he wouldn’t take the part if it were offered today.

“There was a lot of contention around the role, understandably now,” he recalled. “And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch – Credit: Getty

“But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard, and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world.

“But it backfired a little bit,” Cumberbatch added. “But it was lovely to meet you in that brief moment and to work with Ben [Stiller] and Owen [Wilson].”

Cruz, who played the role of Interpol agent Valentina Valencia in the film, told him that it “was funny what you did”.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch. CREDIT: Getty / Albert L. Ortega

The boycott petition’s creator Sarah Rose said at the time of Cumberbatch’s casting: “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 Pejic to be in the film.

“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.”

It comes after Cumberbatch spoke last year about taking on the role of a gay character in the recent Netflix film The Power Of The Dog amid the conversation about straight actors taking on LGBTQ+ roles, saying it “wasn’t done without thought”.

“I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion,” he said. “One of the appeals of the job was the idea that in this world, with this specific character, there was a lot that was private, hidden from view.”

He added: “It wasn’t done without thought. I also feel slightly like, is this a thing where our dance card has to be public? Do we have to explain all our private moments in our sexual history? I don’t think so.”

Speaking further of the film’s director, Cumberbatch said: “Jane [Campion] chose us as actors to play those roles. That’s her question to answer.”

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