Benedict Cumberbatch.
Benedict Cumberbatch.
Image: Supplied

Stop reading right here. No, really, I’m warning you. If you’re not in the business of witnessing a usually cool and collected editor gushing about her supreme Hollywood crush, then move on. Just one caveat before you do, though.

Said crush is Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes — Sherlock. Or Doctor Strange, if you will. Yep, I figured as much; you love him too. Who doesn’t? The man can act. He’s suave, in an unassuming, English way. He’s the sort of stage-to-screen crossover that serious people admire. And the thinking woman’s catnip.

Which is why, if I do in fact qualify for the latter group, I’m all manic grins and purrs when we patch in digitally to talk watches, diving, and savouring time.

An apt list of topics, given that the minute Cumberbatch starts to talk, an air of calm descends. It’s only half an hour, but the minutes are suspended. His mindful responses and obvious thoughtfulness about the world, the pandemic, his craft, and the Jaeger- LeCoultre brand are mesmerising.

Watch enthusiasts will know that the actor is a friend of the maison. You may have seen him suited up at film premieres, sporting one of the Swiss brand’s Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel pieces. Or, more likely, all caped and cool as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Doctor Strange — wrist flashing a white-gold Ultra Thin Perpetual.

Cumberbatch actually came to the brand by way of this time-travelling character. Wearing the watch for the role, and then realising he was interested in what Jaeger-LeCoultre stood for, he’s since spent time with its craftspeople, knows his stuff as far as its product goes, and talks perceptively about the role it plays in his world. Including, wait for it, to tell time — and not rely on your cellphone for that. “I don’t like looking at my phone to tell the time,” he says, “because then you get distracted into everything that is the modern malaise with instant technology and you see message alerts, a notification or a news item, or a friend posting something. And you find yourself half an hour later in a YouTube wormhole when all you had wanted to do was just check the time.”

Ain’t that the truth.

In noted contrast to the whirl of mobile madness and digital onslaught we all face, Cumberbatch’s latest gig with the brand is a moment of Zen. It’s a short film he made with Jaeger- LeCoultre off the coast of New Zealand, just as Covid-19 really kicked off across the globe. In it, he wears the new Polaris Mariner Memovox and can be seen free-diving deep into an ocean of quiet. It’s a reminder to breathe. A reminder of the passing of time, appropriately.

“I think it’s alright for me to admit that there was a slight bit of miscommunication in that my initial suggestion of ‘diving’ [in the video] was translated as ‘free diving’. I had meant scuba diving, but the set up was constructed around me doing ‘free diving’ and I just said, ‘Well great, I’ve never done that before.’ Jaeger- LeCoultre said, ‘But you do like diving?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, I like scuba diving,’ and so it ended with me learning how to ‘free dive’.” Not that you’d notice he was any kind of diving novice in the video. But that’s consummate actors for you. He does add, with a chuckle, “Everyone was worried about me getting cold in the water and I said, ‘Listen, this is like a warm bath compared to swimming in the English Channel,’ which I do a lot, or freshwater swimming in lakes.”

Of course, the film makes the most of the new diving watch, but it also allows for Cumberbatch to segue into some introspection. “And with diving again you appreciate the precious nature of the value of every second of being submerged and able to hold a breath,” he observes.

WATCH | ''In A Breath’’: Benedict Cumberbatch x Jaeger-LeCoultre:

It’s clear that, for him, time is about treasuring the value of it and how precious it is. “Especially now, I think all of our gravity has been shifted by what has gone on globally and, if anything positive is to be taken from it, it’s being given a lens through which to view or review your priorities. Time with people and time itself has all taken on a massively different weight.” I’m impressed by his sense of responsibility as a celebrity and awareness of his privilege, but also his warmth. Of his best way to spend free time, he says, without hesitation, “I never talk about my family but of course it’s them — in every regard. And my friends. It’s people, and those closest to me are the ones I want to concentrate on.”

Not that he’s had much in the way of free time recently. Cumberbatch rattles off the films he’s been busy with over the past months. The second Doctor Strange film, which he’s just started filming, the Cold-War spy drama The Courier, and Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which is what had him in New Zealand in the first place. “You’ll be sick of the sight of me,” he says.

Incorrect. A glut of Benedict Cumberbatch on screen. I can’t think of a better way to pass the time.

 From the November edition of Wanted, 2020.

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