Co-star with cats? Never again, says Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch's Wain, like his Turing, fails at comprehending simple social cues. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

SINGAPORE - Add British actor Benedict Cumberbatch to the long list of film and television professionals who have sworn to never work with cats.

To play the famously cat-loving title character in the biopic, The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain, he shared the set with several furry co-stars.

At an online press conference with his co-star, British actress Claire Foy, he says it was "really, really hard to make a film with grown cats".

"I wouldn't recommend it and it's not something I want to do again. My contract riders will now say, 'Forever Foy, never cats.'"

Kittens are "extraordinary" to work with as they can be bribed with treats and toys, he adds. Adult felines, however, are less predictable and will refuse to perform despite repeated tries by the trainer, leading to filming delays.

The film opens in cinemas on April 7.

"Don't expect your working day to be smooth if you're expecting a cat to do anything that needs to be done. It just goes on and on and on," he says.

While admitting that he is not a cat or dog person, Cumberbatch, 45, says that outside of the film set, he "adores" cats and finds them "magical, mysterious, majestic, sometimes independent and sometimes very needy".

"They remind us of something wild in our own nature. Louis used them as a cipher to reflect on our own nature," says the actor, who has played other famous men, including cryptographer Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2014, for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor) and inventor Thomas Edison in the drama The Current War (2017).

This year, he was again nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for playing Phil Burbank, the villain in Jane Campion's Netflix western, The Power Of The Dog (2021). The award went to Will Smith for playing the title character in the biopic, King Richard (2021).

Later this year, Cumberbatch will be again seen as the master of the mystic arts in the Marvel superhero movie, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness.

In Electrical Life, he takes the title role, playing the eccentric turn-of-the-century English artist known for his whimsical paintings of cats performing human activities. His pictures were wildly successful in Britain and the United States and helped popularise the idea of cats as pets.

In later life, his cat portraits came to be filled with geometric swirls and jagged lines. This was seen by experts to be a reflection of his declining mental state.

While he held odd ideas from an early age - he believed that almost everything in nature was caused by the flow of electricity, for example - his mental condition worsened with age. He spent his final years in a mental institution.

Some experts have diagnosed him with schizophrenia while, in recent times, others have claimed he had autism or Asperger syndrome.

Cumberbatch says the film avoids medical interpretations, new or old.

"We were careful to portray a human being, first and foremost," he says.

He believes the artist suffered a great deal because of Victorian-era attitudes that attached shame to the diagnosis of mental illness.

The actor noted that when Wain had the support of his wife, Emily (played by Foy), and mentor, magazine editor Sir William Ingram (English actor Toby Jones), he produced art loved by millions. After they left the picture, his deterioration hastened, he says.

"I wanted to show that it's all right to be different, that we should go towards people with mental difficulties with love and understanding. A massive body of art exists thanks to Ingram's support and Emily's love."

The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain opens in cinemas on April 7.

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