A lot of people will be meeting Benedict Cumberbatch for the first time this weekend with the release of "Star Trek Into Darkness," where he portrays a certain well-known villain. No spoilers, but here's a hint:
Still others know him for redefining another iconic role on BBC's "Sherlock," now in production for its third season. But the British actor has been taking on well-known personas for even longer than that.
Stephen Hawking (2004)
In the biopic from the BBC, Cumberbatch plays Stephen Hawking during his early years at Cambridge, coming to terms with an early theory and the beginnings of his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The role earned him a BAFTA nomination (the delightfully named British version of an Oscar).In addition, Cumberbatch narrates Hawking's documentary series "Into the Universe" and "Grand Design," and he's a part of an upcoming documentary to be released in theaters also called "Hawking." To avoid any confusion, this more recent documentary also features Buzz Aldrin, Sir Richard Branson, and Jim Carrey. Yes, that Jim Carrey. No, we don't get it either.
Currently available on Amazon Instant Video (the old one, not the Ace Ventura one).
Vincent van Gogh (2010)
Taken entirely from actual letters written by and to Van Gogh, this documentary won a Rockie award at the Banff Festival in Calgary proving, once and for all, that the U.S. has the most boring award names in the world.
It was his work with idiosyncratic geniuses like Hawking and Van Gogh that would lead showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gattiss to cast him in the project that would catapult him to international prominence.
Not available commercially, but you can watch it on YouTube.
Sherlock Holmes (2010)
Purists (read: angry nerds) quickly rose up to condemn this modern take on the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character, but most were won over by the exciting new energy Cumberbatch brought to the detective.
Those same purists rose up again when CBS greenlit "Elementary," based largely on the success of the new BBC version. But fans of both needn't despair: Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller (the CBS Holmes) are good friends. In fact, they did a two-man Frankenstein (directed by "Trainspotting's" Danny Boyle) onstage in the U.K., trading roles every night.
Of course, any good actor will tell you the true measure of artistic success is how much merch you move. His signature wool coat and scarves are now as in fashion as Basil Rathbone's classic deerstalker cap; Conan Doyle's books reported a 180 percent uptick in sales during the first series; and Speedy's sandwich shop (seen in the show) sees new customers drawn, presumably, by Cumberbatch's prickly charms.
Available on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or just go up to anyone wearing a "Doctor Who" T-shirt, and they'll more than likely be able to recount every episode to you verbatim.
Originally brought on "The Simpsons" to play a charmingly dopey prime minister (in the mode of Hugh Grant in "Love Actually"), he happened to reveal to the producers a penchant for imitating the Rickman drawl. So in the episode, you can hear him play four roles: he is Hugh Grant who is a prime minister and he is Alan Rickman who is Severus Snape. Not bad for 15 seconds of screen time.
His trademark baritone will be a lot more recognizable come December when he voices the (sub)titular dragon in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" — reunited once again with "Sherlock" co-star Martin Freeman.
Hear Cumberbatch's impersonation of Alan Rickman singing Elton John:
Season 24, Episode 12 of "The Simpsons" ("Love Is a Many Splintered Thing") is available on Amazon Instant Video or probably still on your DVR.
Watch the "Star Trek Into the Darkness" trailer: