DETROIT – Benedict Cumberbatch’s mission at the moment is to boldly go into a conversation by phone from London about “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
“They’ve let me off for a few days to have some fun with my ‘Trek’ family and say hello to the world awaiting the film and talk about it,” said the 36-year-old British actor, who’s in the midst of shooting the third season of “Sherlock,” the popular “Masterpiece Mystery!” series on PBS. “Then I’m back to sleuthing tomorrow in Cardiff.”
The man with the deep, melodious voice has been the subject of a thousand jokes about his name, mostly from Americans. There was a viral moment last year when the Web wrongly assumed the Washington Post had called him Bandersnatch Cummerbund by accident.
Starting this weekend, he’ll likely have a new moniker: blockbuster star. In “Star Trek Into Darkness,” he plays John Harrison, a man of mysterious motivations and an imposing combination of imperturbable calm and destructive capability.
The Web has been burning up with speculation about John Harrison that equals the overall anticipation for the movie, the second installment from director J.J. Abrams, who rejuvenated the franchise with 2009’s origin story “Star Trek.”
This one is shot in 3-D and bursting with summer popcorn goodness like breathtaking action scenes, fun asides and the ominous threat posed by Cumberbatch’s character, an intergalactic terrorist.
“The phrase I’ve been using is that he’s a one-man weapon of mass destruction. He both uses mind and body to great devastating effect, with an incredibly empathizable cause and reasoning behind his devastating, terrifying actions,” Cumberbatch said. “I think that was the great complexity that I just loved playing, whether it was in psychologically trying to manipulate Spock and Kirk to my point of view and to help me achieve my ends, or whether it was the amount of physical working out and muscle gain I had to get literally overnight.”
Up to now, Cumberbatch hasn’t had to bulk up for work. As the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and in cinematic dramas like “War Horse” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” he’s been more involved in cerebral battles than physical ones.
For the “Star Trek” role, the stage and screen actor went to great lengths to build menacing muscle mass. That involved eating 4,000 calories a day, a rigorous workout schedule and lengthy training in the art of stunts and onscreen fighting.
“I went up four suit sizes in just over a month,” he said. “The actual physical thing of eating that much food in a day is hard work. You hardly finish swallowing the last portion of ham wrapped around cheese before you’re then going for a boiled egg and more protein-based shakes or, thank God, maybe a salad or an apple in the middle of it all.”
Cumberbatch is the latest Brit to land a major role in a superhero/sci-fi movie, a group that includes Tom Hiddleston (Loki in “The Avengers”), Henry Cavill (Superman in “Man of Steel”) and Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spider-Man”). But he doesn’t bite at the suggestion that British actors are nabbing such roles because they bring Shakespearean depth.
“It could be just a moment of synchronicity and chance,” he said, adding that it’s thrilling to see so many of his contemporaries doing so well.
Cumberbatch will costar with Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County,” director John Wells’ adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning play. But his serious dramatic credentials, or the fact that he was more of a “Star Wars” kid growing up, don’t get in the way of his appreciation for the “Trek” franchise.
“It’s so clear to me why it’s still successful. They’re brilliant morality plays that explore what it is to be human and the human condition on such a universal level,” he said of the groundbreaking TV series that used an outer space metaphor to fight prejudice and intolerance and has continued to tackle important themes in subsequent spinoffs.
“At its heart, it’s about inclusivity, and that’s a really positive thing to be a part of,” Cumberbatch said.