Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is center of his own ‘six degrees’ game


Benedict Cumberbatch is the Kevin Bacon of the “Hamlet” universe.

The popular British actor is currently performing in Shakespeare’s tragedy through October at the Barbican Theatre in London. On the big screen, he has frequently co-starred with other thespians who have at one point in their careers played Hamlet or appeared in stage productions or screen versions of the classic play.

Tickets for the London run of “Hamlet,” directed by Lyndsey Turner, are sold out, but the stage production will be broadcast live to movie theaters around the world, starting Oct. 15, as part of the National Theatre Live series.

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Reviews of “Hamlet” have skewed mixed to negative. The critic for the Guardian described it as “an intellectual ragbag of a production... full of half-baked ideas,” though Cumberbatch makes for a “good, personable Hamlet with a strong line in self-deflating irony.” A reviewer for the Independent called it “a rather mixed affair,” adding that Cumberbatch’s prince is “pointedly subversive if insufficiently spontaneous.”

Cumberbatch, 39, is no theatrical neophyte, having earned acclaim in a 2005 London production of “Hedda Gabler,” opposite Eve Best, and in Danny Boyle’s staging of “Frankenstein,” co-starring Jonny Lee Miller. But this marks the first time he has tackled Shakespeare’s most famous role.

An analysis of Cumberbatch’s filmography shows that he is frequently just one degree from some notable Hamlets of the past, both British and American. Herewith is a select look at the six degrees of the Cumberbatch Hamlet.

“Black Mass”: Cumberbatch has a supporting role in this Whitey Bulger biopic, starring Johnny Depp and opening in September. The ensemble cast also includes Peter Sarsgaard, who played Hamlet earlier this year at New York’s Classic Stage Company in a production directed by Austin Pendleton.

“The Imitation Game”:” In this World War II drama about codebreaker Alan Turing, the Oscar-nominated Cumberbatch shares the screen with Rory Kinnear, who played the melancholy Dane in 2010 at London’s National Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner.

“The Hobbit” movies: For Peter Jackson’s trilogy adapted from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, Cumberbatch donned a motion-capture suit to play the dragon Smaug. His co-star Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf, performed “Hamlet” back in 1971 in Britain and on tour.


“Penguins of Madagascar”: Cumberbatch lent his voice to this Dreamworks Animation movie, in which he played a grey wolf. The voice cast also featured Swedish actor Peter Stormare, who played Hamlet in an Ingmar Bergman stage production that came to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1988.

“12 Years a Slave”: Cumberbatch had a brief role in Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning drama. The supporting cast also featured Paul Giammati, who played a middle-aged Hamlet at Yale Repertory Theater in 2013.

“The Fifth Estate”: Playing Julian Assange in this movie based on the Wikileaks controversy, Cumberbatch acted alongside Dan Stevens, formerly of “Downton Abbey.” In the PBS series, Stevens’ mother is played by Penelope Wilton, who earned raves as Gertrude opposite Jude Law in a 2009 London production of “Hamlet.”

“August: Osage County”: Cumberbatch had a brief role in this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Tony Award-winning play. The cast also included Sam Shepard, who played the Ghost in the 2000 Michael Almereyda film adaptation of “Hamlet,” starring Ethan Hawke.

“Star Trek Into Darkness”: In this sci-fi sequel, Cumberbatch played the interstellar villain Khan -- a role originated on screen in 1982 by Ricardo Montalban. In 1961, Montalban dubbed the English-language voice of Claudius for a German-language screen version of “Hamlet” directed by Maximillian Schell.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”: This adaptation of the John Le Carre novel was one of Cumberbatch’s earliest roles in a major movie. The cast featured Ciaran Hinds, who plays Claudius opposite Cumberbatch in the current London stage production. (Gary Oldman also has a strong connection to “Hamlet,” having starred in the film adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”)


Bonus point: Cumberbatch has been cast in the upcoming live-action feature “Jungle Book: Origins,” directed by Andy Serkis. The movie will also feature Matthew Rhys, the Welsh actor who played Hamlet for a 2011 Los Angeles Philharmonic concert devoted to the plays of Shakespeare and the music inspired by them.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT