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Benedict talks “The Courier” with Total Film magazine

The October issue of Total Film magazine features a new interview with Benedict about The Courier! Please check the scan out below:

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Here’s a transcription for those who may need it:


THE COURIER | Benedict Cumberbatch plays a real-life secret agent in amateur-espionage thriller.

Like 99.9 per cent of the buildings in London, Hornsey Town Hall has recently been converted into flats (£774,950 for a two-bed, if you’re interested). But in November 2018, the Grade II-listed modernist structure provided the perfect backdrop for Cold War story The Courier. “We did an awful lot there,” smiles director Dominic Cooke during a catch-up almost two years later. “It stood in for bits of London, bits of Moscow… we wrung every bit of juice out of that building that we could!”

Though not a space designed for filming – down a corridor no wider than an armchair, Teasers carefully tiptoes between bunched cables while admiring the original Art Deco light fittings – today Hornsey Town Hall is home to one of the world’s biggest film stars: Benedict Cumberbatch. In The Courier, he plays Greville Wynne – the real-life British businessman recruited by MI6 to transport information from Soviet double agent Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) to London at the height of the Cold War.

“As a genre I find spy movies a bit cold,” admits Cooke. Instead the Hollow Crown director, who made his feature debut with 2017’s On Chesil Beach, was drawn to the warmth of Tom O’Connor’s script. “It’s a hybrid between a spy movie and a platonic love story,” explains Cooke of the forged-in-fire bond between Wynne and Penkovsky. “The film it reminded me of was Brief Encounter. They knew they were doing something very important together, so they were fuelled by the danger and secrecy.”

Also starring The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan as CIA spook Emily Donovan and Jessie Buckley as Wynne’s wife Sheila – who didn’t know a thing about her husband’s unusual side hustle – the key piece of casting for Cooke was Soviet war-hero-turned-defector Penkovsky. “I really wanted a genuine Russian-speaking actor for the role, so [the producers] reluctantly allowed me to go off to Moscow,” Cooke recalls. “Merab actually came in for another part, but he was so good I said, ‘Look at Penkovsky.’ These days, you need authenticity.”


You’re no stranger to spy stories…
True but the difference for me is the transition.You see someone going from innocent to victim to survivor. He’s a 40-year-old drifting towards early retirement and it’s because of his ordinariness that he gets chosen to do this extraordinarything.

Is he a Hitchcockian ‘wrongman’ in a sense?
There’s a slightly comedic element to a man who’s an absolute amateur inthis very professional, dangerous world. It’s not Johnny English but thereare moments that leave you chest-thumping and hands-sweating to knowwhether he’s going to manage it.

What does Penkovsky see in him?
As personalities, they got on very well. But I think he also saw the potential for Greville to get in under the radar because it was an era where everything was compromised. But it fascinates me, because what is it othen than civilian recruitment?

How was it filming during the year-long Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame shoot?
It’s delicious. Wonderful. Lucky me! It’s nice to feel your entire physical environment around you, and it’s also nice to do the smaller character brushstrokes on a crazy-large canvas like that. I love the fact that I’m able to shift gears, and have different focuses.


Interview by Jordan Farley.


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