LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Oscar-nominated British actor Benedict Cumberbatch apologised and said he was "devastated" after he referred to black colleagues as "coloured" in an American television interview.
"I'm devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology," he said in a statement.
Cumberbatch, who shot to prominence in the British TV series Sherlock and was nominated for an Oscar this year for The Imitation Game, said using the sensitive term while talking about racial inequality made the misstep even more "shaming".
"I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done," he added.
"I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive."
He was being interviewed on the PBS network on Wednesday when he used the word. He was speaking with the host about a lack of racial diversity in British culture compared to American culture.
"As far as coloured actors go, it gets really difficult in the UK and I think a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here than in the UK, and that's something that needs to change," he said.
The controversy comes weeks before the Oscars. In the Oscar-winning 2013 film 12 Years A Slave, he played a sympathetic slave owner.
Cumberbatch has acknowledged that his ancestors were powerful slave-owners and that his name became common in Barbados as a result.