Benedict Cumberbatch and Alex Lawther
Benedict Cumberbatch is getting plenty of kudos for his portrayal of genius mathematician Alan Turing in the new drama The Imitation Game. But any award he might eventually receive will come with a huge assist from a 19-year-old novice screen actor named Alex Lawther.
Director Morten Tyldum’s biopic —in theaters now — hops between different eras of Turing’s life: Cumberbatch plays the idiosyncratic adult Turing, an emotionally troubled gay man who broke the Nazi’s Enigma code and helped the Allies win World War II. Lawther, meanwhile, portrays the awkward and bullied teenaged Turing.
“We were actually quite keen for me to not imitate Benedict, because it was Alan that we were playing, not each other," Lawther, who began his career on stage at the age of 16, told Yahoo Movies last week. “We thought the time difference between young Alan and older Alan was great enough to allow for some artistic flexibility — people grow over time.”
Lawther as the teenaged Turing in The Imitation Game
The actors’ physical similarities are obvious: Cumberbatch and Lawther both have unruly brown hair and high cheekbones. One physical trait, however, came courtesy of the costuming department, which managed to recreate a 60-plus-year old set of Turing’s false teeth. “We were wearing the same pair of teeth, copies of Alan’s own dentures,” said Lawther. The actors also both worked with the same vocal coach to develop Turing’s nervous stutter.
Cumberbatch as the grown-up Turing
While the pair of Turings worked together to create a unified approach to the character, they also made sure their performances remained distinct. "We spent a little bit of time in rehearsing, coming up with an idea of Alan,” Lawther explained. “We spent a bit of time reading through the script, but nothing so formal as organizing how to move."
The young actor arrived at Sherborne, Turing’s actual boarding school, midway through the shoot to film his scenes, and avoided watching Cumberbatch’s dailies so as not to overly influence his own choices.
For the most part, Lawther relied on gut instinct and the universally difficult experience of being a teenager. "Although it was 90 years ago since Alan was a teenager, that feeling of…being on the outside and wanting to be in, but not really understanding how the world works — I think that’s something a lot of people go through as a young adult,” he said. “Especially at a boarding school, I think it’s strangely timeless. The accents are more high class than nowadays, but the feelings are the same.”
Watch the trailer for The Imitation Game below:
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Jack English