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Benedict Cumberbatch Has No Time for Martin Freeman’s Whining About Sherlock

"Pathetic."

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock

Martin Freeman set the Sherlock fandom on fire with some not-too-nice comments about how fan expectations made the show “not fun” for him any longer. But co-star and actual superhero Benedict Cumberbatch begs to differ.

In what Vanity Fair calls “the most politely worded mini-feud in history,” Cumberbatch pushed back on Freeman’s remarks during an extensive interview with The Telegraph as part of the Avengers: Infinity War press extravaganza. (The Telegraph article is behind a paywall, but if you sign up you can read one free article a month.)

First, some background. When Freeman made his remarks—which he’s since tried to walk back, a little—I commented at the time that maybe fans were frustrated with Sherlock‘s decline in quality, leading to some of those outsize fan expectations:

While it’s true that Sherlock‘s fanbase was especially involved and vocal to the point where the show itself parodied them, I think there’s two separate things happening here. Freeman says that Sherlock started out strong and that quality is hard to maintain. True! An excellent point! But he appears to be particularly cranky about the fans’ investment, and their reactions to subsequent lower-quality seasons. He calls out “people’s expectations” rather than hold the show’s creatives accountable for not coming up with better material.

Fans are allowed to be less than enthusiastic when something they love seems to be going badly. While I personally feel that the less said about Sherlock‘s fourth season (or, erm, several before that), the better, it’s certainly not fans’ fault that they were disappointed and didn’t keep quiet about it.

That was my take. What we didn’t know was Cumberbatch’s opinion on the subject—but he didn’t mince words in his recent interview when asked about the Freeman kerfuffle. Per The Telegraph:

Did the fans’ obsession with Sherlock kill the fun for Cumberbatch, too? “Mmm, not really ’cause I didn’t engage with it that much,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the support, but that’s about it.” His attitude is that fan fervour becomes a separate, uncontrollable force, that “it takes on its own thing. But that happens with every franchise or entity like this.”

He pauses, frowns, then continues with what sounds like a bracing criticism of his co-star. “It’s pretty pathetic if that’s all it takes to let you not want to take a grip of your reality. What, because of expectations? I don’t know. I don’t necessarily agree with that. There is a level of it [where] I understand what he means. There’s a level of obsession where [the franchise] becomes theirs even though we’re the ones making it. But I just don’t feel affected by that in the same way, I have to say.”

Cumberbatch appears to have a healthy distance from fan fervor and an equally healthy understanding of how this sort of thing works. He’s politely respectful and appreciative of the fans’ support, but admits to not engaging with it overmuch, which is probably the best tack to take. Sherlock fans have been avid and enthusiastic from the start; I covered an event in 2012 where Cumberbatch’s appearance was greeted like a rock star, but I also watched him sign autographs and interact with the same fans for several hours afterward, kind and attentive to each. That’s the kind of treatment by an actor that you don’t soon forget.

Unfortunately, Freeman doesn’t seem to have his co-star’s grace in these scenarios nor seem inclined to consider how much impact his words can have on dedicated fan communities. While Freeman’s entitled to speak his mind, he could look to Cumberbatch for a bit of a masterclass in how to phrase things tactfully.

The whole Cumberbatch interview is worth a read, especially for his commentary on Harvey Weinstein, who produced his film The Current War prior to the abuse allegations (“if it takes us not releasing our film for a couple of years just to be rid of that toxicity, I’m fine with that”), his female-run production company (“Countless times I’ve brought up issues of equal pay and billing. And so to realise that this attitude is so deeply culturally ingrained – that was my rude awakening. We have to fight a lot harder”) and the fact that he calls Avenger co-star and friend Tom Hiddleston “Hiddlebum.”

(via The Telegraph, image: BBC)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.