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Benedict Cumberbatch is reflecting on controversy surrounding his role in the 2016 comedy Zoolander 2.
While speaking with Penélope Cruz for Variety's "Actors on Actors" series, Cumberbatch addressed backlash to being cast as a nonbinary character named All in the Ben Stiller-directed sequel. Cumberbatch admitted he would not be put in the role today. Cruz, 47, starred as Valentina Valencia in the film opposite Stiller and Owen Wilson.
"There was a lot of contention around the role, understandably now. And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor," said Cumberbatch, 45. "But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard, and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world."
"But it backfired a little bit. But it was lovely to meet you in that brief moment and to work with Ben and Owen," he told Cruz.
"In the Zoolander 2 trailer, an androgynous character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is asked by Zoolander and Hansel if he is a 'male or female model', and if they 'have a hot dog or a bun'. Additionally, Cumberbatch's character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/nonbinary individuals. This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority," read the petition, signed by 25,000 people at the time.
"... By hiring a cis actor to play a nonbinary individual in a clearly negative way, they film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large," they added.
P. Lehman/Barcroft Media via Getty Benedict Cumberbatch
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Justin Theroux, who co-wrote the movie, responded to the trailer backlash at the time, saying the moment was out of context.
"I don't even know what to make of it, because it hurts my feelings in a way," he told The Wrap about the boycott at the time. "I take great care in the jokes I write, and the umbrage being taken is out of the context of the scene. I wish people would see the movie first. Satire is a thing that points out the idiots, and we went through it on Tropic Thunder with the 'R' word."
"The goal was not to mock or be cruel to the mentally challenged, but exalt in the stupidity of people who use that word. I'm all for letting words be ugly when the target is correct," Theroux added about his 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder. "With social media and all the rest of it, people's issues need to be heard … at the end of the day people are looking for bandwidth. People are looking for places to inject their voice. But our target is not, and never was, to disenfranchise anyone."