In a interview for The Times, Randy Rieman talked about how he taught Benedict all the skills in order to play Phil Burbank in Jane Campion’s movie and how he was a good guest at his house. Read more below:
It was one early summer morning in Montana that Benedict Cumberbatch perhaps thought twice about the life he had chosen.
The calves were on their sides, the sharp knife was in his hand and the bovine testicles were waiting to be removed. And after the half-day of castration there was still the hot iron branding, the prospect of which, the actor quietly admitted, was making him feel “nauseous”.
Cumberbatch’s preparations for his acclaimed performance as Phil Burbank in The Power of the Dog have now been revealed by the “real deal” Montana cowboy who schooled the actor in rope braiding, stock handling, branding and, yes, castration.
“He was a really great sport,” Randy Rieman, 67, said of Cumberbatch, 45. “He was clearly quite intimidated because it was so far removed from his normal environment. But he was brave and he was game. He was just as bloody and dirty as the rest of us by the end.”
For two weeks in 2019 Cumberbatch stayed with Rieman and his partner Jenn Swanson, 52, at their remote Montana home after Jane Campion, who directed The Power of the Dog, sought an “authentic” 1920s ranch environment the actor could immerse himself in and learn the skills.
“They must have thought he had a big red ‘S’ [Superman] on his chest,” Rieman said. “It takes most of us 40 years [to learn the skills].
“But he was so game that he really won our respect. He was really gracious and had a great learner attitude. We ate every meal together, camped together and really felt that we had made a friend. There is a big social aspect to these brandings and we all sit around the campfire in the evenings telling stories. He held court himself. He was comfortable and so unpretentious. We had a blast.”
Rieman was speaking ahead of Sunday’s Bafta film awards, with Cumberbatch the frontrunner for leading actor for his portrayal of Burbank, a cowboy with repressed homosexual longings. He has also been shortlisted for a best actor Oscar while The Power of the Dog is a frontrunner in the best film categories.
Rieman, who has moved away from cowboying and now runs horse clinics around the world, said that Cumberbatch had been the perfect house guest — even if they had been told he was vegan.
“We got this special food for him and then we met him and asked about dietary restrictions he said, ‘No, I want to eat what you eat, the whole ranch experience.’ He said he had tried veganism ‘for a while but it was not for me’.”
Rieman said that unlike other Hollywood actors who turn up for the “authentic” experience with a large entourage, Cumberbatch had left his wife, Sophie Hunter, 43, and their three children at home.
“Every day he was here he spoke to his wife and children,” he said. “We would be braiding and he would say, ‘I have got to phone’. Or one day we were riding and he said, ‘I have got to show the boys’. We were so impressed. The man was so in love with his wife and family.”
However, the castration and branding lessons were unlikely to have appeared in Cumberbatch’s FaceTime dispatches home.
“It is a hot iron,” Rieman said of the branding tool, adding that Cumberbatch told him it was making him feel nauseous. “It sure is not a tattoo parlour. But he didn’t let on at the branding that any of it was intimidating at all. He received instruction well and took it to heart.”
And, for all budding cowboys out there, just how did he castrate the calves?
“It is done with a sharp knife and your hand,” Rieman said. “The calf is on its side. You remove about a third of the bottom of their cod, or sack, with a sharp knife, remove the testicles, there is a vein or tendon that has to be severed. It bleeds less if it is pulled or until it tapers like a piece of bubble gum being stretched. There is a bit of a knack removing it without the bleeding.”