Hear Benedict Cumberbatch Reading Letters by Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Turing, Sol LeWitt, and Others

Many know Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as neu­ro­sur­geon-turned-Mas­ter of the Mys­tic Arts Doc­tor Strange. Orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed in the 1960s by Mar­vel Comics artist and writer Steve Ditko, the char­ac­ter has gained a new fan fol­low­ing through the films of the Mar­vel Cin­e­mat­ic Uni­verse. In 2016’s Doc­tor Strange, the upcom­ing Doc­tor Strange in the Mul­ti­verse of Mad­ness, and sev­er­al oth­er MCU pic­tures besides, he’s been played by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch. Open Cul­ture read­ers may know Cum­ber­batch bet­ter as the 21st-cen­tu­ry detec­tive pro­tag­o­nist of the BBC series Sher­lock — or, even more like­ly, as a read­er-out-loud of his­tor­i­cal and lit­er­ary let­ters.

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Cum­ber­batch’s onstage ren­di­tions of every­thing from Albert Camus’ thank-you note to his ele­men­tary school teacher to Kurt Von­negut’s advice to the peo­ple of the year 2088 to Franz Kafka’s The Meta­mor­pho­sis. Now we’ve round­ed up more let­ter-read­ings in the ten-video playlist above.

Begin­ning with Sol LeWit­t’s let­ter of advice to Eva Hesse, it con­tin­ues on to Cum­ber­batch’s read­ings of oth­er such works as “the best cov­er let­ter ever writ­ten,” more than one mis­sive by the pio­neer­ing and per­se­cut­ed com­put­er sci­en­tist Alan Tur­ing, a “let­ter about crabs (not the kind you eat)” by Patrick Leigh Fer­mor, and a Richard Nixon’s William Safire-com­posed speech to be read in the event that Apol­lo 11 did­n’t return to Earth.

The mate­r­i­al in this cor­re­spon­dence, all of which Cum­ber­batch reads aloud for Let­ters of Note’s Let­ters Live project, varies con­sid­er­able in both tone and con­tent. Lit­tle of it resem­bles the com­ic-book or detec­tive-nov­el mate­r­i­al with which he has won main­stream fame. But like any good actor, Cum­ber­batch knows how to tai­lor his per­for­ma­tive per­sona to each new con­text with­out los­ing the innate sen­si­bil­i­ty that sets him apart. At the same time, he clear­ly under­stands how to inter­pret not just dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, real­is­tic as well as fan­tas­ti­cal, but also the per­son­al­i­ties of real human beings who actu­al­ly lived. What­ev­er oth­er plea­sures it offers, hear­ing Cum­ber­batch read let­ters under­scores the fact that we could all do much worse than to be played by him in the movie of our life.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads “the Best Cov­er Let­ter Ever Writ­ten”

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Let­ter of Advice to Peo­ple Liv­ing in the Year 2088

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads a Let­ter Alan Tur­ing Wrote in “Dis­tress” Before His Con­vic­tion For “Gross Inde­cen­cy”

“Stop It and Just DO”: Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Advice on Over­com­ing Cre­ative Blocks, Writ­ten by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)

Hear Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Read John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightin­gale” and Oth­er Great Works by Shake­speare, Dante & Coleridge

Hear Moby-Dick Read in Its Entire­ty by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Til­da Swin­ton, John Waters, Stephen Fry & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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