In an extensive interview, Benedict talks about the newest Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox watch, meditation and his next projects, like Doctor Strange 2, The Courier and The Power of the Dog.
Also, check out some new photos from the watchmaker photoshoot:
Discover the launch of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox with the long-time friend of the Maison Benedict Cumberbatch. We caught up with the Marvel superhero on Zoom where he spoke at length about his passion for watches, meditation and diving. Excerpts below.
WTI: You spent some time in a monastery in Darjeeling. What did you learn from the monks about the concept of time?
BC: Yes I did live in a Tibetan monastery, it was a converted Nepali house near Darjeeling in West Bengal which is funnily enough on the eastern side of India. It’s an amazing piece of land above a tea plantation. It’s about 4000 metres elevation so the air is quite light and there were clouds rolling in the windows like dry ice. This house had a converted room at the top which was a Buddhist temple. Their idea of ritual and structure to the day was fascinating, but the deeper lessons were about impermanence – everything is constantly shifting and changing including your relationship to time. In a moment of meditation you could spend 10 minutes doing something that affords your life hours of benefit, or stretches of 10 minutes into what feels like an hour. Time passes and what you do in any given life is concentrated on a moment. You realise that you are constantly being seduced into thinking about the past or worrying about the future and that true happiness is attainable to all of us if we are in one moment of time – which is the present.
WTI: What is the first idea that comes to your mind when I ask you about time?
BC: I never have one idea. But sadly, I wish my life was that simple. You know, I played a character that had the time stone around his neck until late and that’s how this watch and the company came into my orbit. Time, in that regard, means a lot of things especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which you guys know about. But for me, time is about treasuring the value of it and the ever shifting nature of it. Especially now, I think all of our inner clocks and gravity have been shifted by what’s going on globally. And if there is anything positive to be taken from this, it’s about being given a lens by which to view and review your priorities. So, that’s a big old wormhole to go down. But I’d say the first idea that comes to my mind when talking about time now is the value of it, how precious it is.
WTI: How tough is it for you to balance the spiritual and the professional in everyday life?
BC: It’s a joy when you got a role like Dr. Strange because obviously the two things sort of tie in. I mean, it’s that whole movement in which Steve Ditko and Stan Lee came about because of the fusion between Eastern and Western thoughts. So it’s a part of the day job. I mean there was a fantastic force for making it a real presence in my life. I have a dear friend – a Tibetan monk who was on set quite a lot, who we meditated with when we were shooting in Nepal not long after that tragic earthquake. With the film we tried to make the infrastructure work to show that Nepal is open for business and that they are capable of having us. Also it’s so important for us as a collective, working on a film that’s based on an understanding that’s beyond the physical scientific realm, to try and bring ourselves into a space that’s more spiritual and my God, you know, filming in Kathmandu around the burning pyres, the Pashupatinath temple, just using those iconic parts, as well as the back streets and the people of Nepal to set that into context for cabotage. It wasn’t just window dressing, I think it was an important social statement and a real honing in for our work, but also beyond that.
So spirituality plays a huge role in my work. I mean, I just played a role of a very angry, depressed human being who tries to destroy the world before it destroys him in an intolerant society, in the shape of Phil Burbank in Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog. Jane is very realistic and immersive and she gave me a great deal of space to investigate subconscious to bring things up, either to do his things that were a part of my psyche or that chimed in with the work they were doing. It was something I could bring to the working day and to the characterisation, manifestation and understanding of Phil Burbank. But we both knew that it was just a cover for what was really going on in there. We could get some key private moments in that film where you’re just with the character and he is suffering his feelings, his thought process. So you always want to prise that open any which way you can. Sometimes it can happen by just being in the present and just letting something happen and then letting go. All of this is very much part of a spiritual practice, to work with the idea of everything being impermanent, to get back to a time issue. It’s something I think that feeds into lots of strength.
WTI: Are you the kind of watch enthusiast who would wear a watch on a diving expedition?
BC: Yeah, absolutely! I mean, that’s the whole point of it. You are more engaged if you’re wearing one of these watches than a dive computer. I have done both in the past and your care and attention means that you actually salvage more out of your time; you are much more precarious about it and you’re reliant on looking at it rather than beeping or vibrating. I mean, there is an alarm as well so that works but I like being more in touch with the time that’s so precious when you’re diving.
WTI: What do you like about diving?
BC: As a kid I used to dive with a snorkel just to look at the seabed. I used to bring up sea urchins and shells and give them to my mum, I used to love doing that. And I always used to push how much I could stay under the water and how long I could equalise at a greater pressure and greater depth and hold my breath for. And then later in life breath became very important and I have been doing a lot of the “Wim Hof” breathing method to oxygenate blood. And I love diving but of course it was scuba diving which I have done quite a bit of. I have a friend in Italy who free dives but I hadn’t done it until this film (for Jaeger-LeCoultre). So the thrill of doing that on the day was really special and I know it’s something I could really get into. It has a very low impact on the environment and it’s an extraordinary feeling to be that immersed in an activity. The calm you see in me during the film was real – it was really easy to go into that bubble. I think I’m going to keep doing it.
WTI: What are the features you really like in the new Polaris Mariner?
BC: I think it’s a very elegant timepiece. It’s a dive watch, so it obviously has a classic link chain and good legibility, thanks to its luminosity. The watch face is easy to read under water in the dark, thanks to its high luminosity hands and the differentiation between the size and shapes of the hands. I guess one of the most important things about a diving watch is always going to be its safety; how secure is it as a piece to rely on at a depth of 300 meters, so it functions well beyond most recreational and commercial dives. The new Polaris Mariner has a lock on the central crown—on the bezel so that if by accident it did come out or it did get knocked—anything can happen on a dive—it will only give you the impression that you have less air rather than more. So you’ll come to the surface with air to spare rather than the other way around. And it’s a beautiful, classic timepiece.
WTI: Besides the Polaris which is your favourite watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre?
BC: The Memovox because I have worn that more than anything else and it was the first watch that I was part of when I started representing Jaeger-LeCoultre as an ambassador. I wear it day-to-day. It’s very pragmatic as well as a beautiful piece.
WTI: Have you ever tried waking up to the Memovox alarm?
BC: Yes, I have and the alarm can be really loud! The alarm is perfect, especially compared to a digital alarm as it’s a lot softer and quieter. If you’re wearing the watch, it gives a very gentle vibration.
WTI: How many timepieces do you have in your collection?
BC: I’m hoping to get my hands on a Polaris but I have a Memovox and I love it. But sometimes I ask for a slightly smaller watch if I’m wearing something that has a very finely cut sleeve. People say I shouldn’t wear the same watch all the time but I think it’s a good wristwatch to wear everyday.
WTI: What surprised you the most during your visit to the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture?
BC: I don’t know how things have changed at the Manufacture since the pandemic but when I was there, I met craftsmen who’d worked there for an entire lifetime and also some who had only come in a month ago or a couple of weeks ago. And to see that continuation was very impressive and it surprised me. I would have thought that the turnover would be faster in the company that’s producing these watches. The fact that it’s the same people over a long period of time personalises the experience even more.
WTI: Have you always been a fan of watches? Can you tell us about how your appreciation of watches has grown or changed over the years?
BC: Swatch was my first and that was kind of a go-to watch for kids. I loved it; it was a Mickey Mouse one. And then I got into a few other sort of choice items like Italia. But those watches were a bit like sunglasses, you would keep losing them and replacing it. But the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox is different. I’ve held on to it for a long time and I want to pass it on so that it can continue its journey into my life and my family’s life.
WTI: How was your experience of being with Stephen Hawking?
BC: Transcendent. Extraordinary. I would put it on par with meeting a spiritual leader like His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was a Royal Society talk about the future 10 years from then, a possible pandemic, nanotech and wonderful talks from Roger Rees who is a fantastic comedian. We hung out afterwards and drank margaritas. Is he the most amazing character I have performed so far? Possibly. I am very lucky to have played an extraordinary list of characters, each with their own value, but certainly it was my connection with someone that profoundly, extraordinarily talented and remarkable in his life that makes it special. It was a very personal experience. And I would just say he is the most amazing character I’ve played.
WTI: If you could control time, like Dr. Strange. What would you change?
BC: I probably would go back in time and say, we have to make everything that wasn’t a priority before COVID-19 appear a priority. Whether it’s tracking and testing, whether it’s a global response that’s unified, whether it’s a lack of PPE kits, whether it’s stabilising a health system, or making sure there are enough respirators or other means of dealing with patients who are suffering symptoms or dying of COVID-19. I would go back in time and show people a future where human actions have brought us closer and closer to destroying an environment and a world that we share with many other species including our own. I would definitely go back in time and say, “Can we just talk about a few things coming up on the horizon that we need to be concerned about?”
WTI: What is your next project?
BC: I’m in pre-production with the second “Dr Strange” film, which is very exciting. We will start filming in late October or early November. And I’m in post-production with two films. One that is actually ready to come out , called The Courier and we are just trying to find the right time for it to be released. It’s the true life spy drama set in the Cold War about Oleg Penkovsky and Greville Wynn. And I am also in the edit with a couple of other films. One is a project about Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s New York Times bestselling account of his 12 year incarceration wrongly in Guantanamo Bay. And then another about the extraordinary artist Louis Wain about his career and life from age 25 right up until his death. So that’s three films in the bag, which is exciting. You’ll be sick of the sight of me and of course this extraordinary experience I’ve just had with Jane Campion in New Zealand which was The Power of The Dog, which I was filming at the point of lockdown and afterwards. The older I get, the more I make choices on who I work with (rather than the role), who will push me in a direction that’s new. I want to work with great artists and people who have inspired me.