By Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
Benedict Cumberbatch has revealed the biggest challenge of playing a American rancher in his new film was learning how to roll a cigarette with one hand while sitting on a horse.
The actor plays a domineering bully who responds with mocking cruelty when his brother brings home a new wife and her son in western drama The Power Of The Dog, which is Oscar-winning director Jane Campion’s first film since 2009.
Arriving at the movie’s premiere at the BFI London Film Festival with wife Sophie Hunter, he said the role also required him to play the banjo and look at home on a horse.
He said: “The hardest thing was actually rolling a cigarette with one hand on the horse.
“It was interesting, all the alpha males on set were like, ‘I could do that’, even some of the alpha girls, but it was really hard and it took a long time.
“The riding I’ve done a bit of before but the banjo, no, so I was a real pretender to the throne with that.”
Discussing the portrayal of toxic masculinity in the film, Cumberbatch said: “In an era where men are in a position of listening rather than mansplaining, it’s also important to understand as well as supporting survivors, what is the cause of some of the perpetrators of abuse?
“Unless we fix that… we’re talking about a story set in 1925, based on a real family that Thomas Savage wrote about in the 60s, but it’s still relevant today.
“So I’m really glad that Jane and her sensitivity and sensibility was able to be the director for this, to examine it, hold it up to the light, look under the hood and not be afraid to see that there is reason why this person is the way that he is.
“This behaviour doesn’t just manifest out of the ether, it’s about nurture, it’s about education, it’s about tolerance.
“It’s about understanding that… as well as supporting and listening to survivors.”
Cumberbatch, who was nominated for an Oscar for The Imitation Game, is tipped for a second nod for his role in the film, but he said: “Let’s get to that, all I can remember from last time is it’s amazing to be a part of the conversation and it means the work’s being seen and celebrated in whatever regard, and that’s a great thing.”
Cumberbatch’s co-star Kirsten Dunst said it was the return of Campion to the big screen that drew her to the film.
Dunst said: “She’s someone who’s inspired in my career. I’ve wanted to work with her for a long time, she had written me a letter in my early 20s about working together but it didn’t work out then, so to have it finally work out is really a dream for an actress.
“It’s Jane’s take on a western, it’s her interpretation and it’s her taste and her energy as a director.”
Campion told the PA news agency she was excited to return to cinema after the lengthy and tiring process of making the television series Top Of The Lake.
She said: “It’s exhausting doing 12 hours of television, and I began to think, ‘Two hours of cinema, that sounds really attractive’.
“And I also was yearning to do the opposite of going fast, and something more slow-cooked.
“You cannot argue with your psyche when it says we’re doing this, we love the story. I am the victim of my inspirations.”
The Power Of The Dog will be in select cinemas in November and on Netflix from December 1.