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.
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.