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Benedict Cumberbatch voices regret at non-binary ‘Zoolander 2’ role

The actor's portrayal of a trans model caused a backlash back in 2016

By Joe Goggins

Benedict Cumberbatch and Kyle Mooney in 'Zoolander 2'
The actor said that today, the role would "never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor." (Photo: Alamy)

Benedict Cumberbatch has expressed his regret at his role in ‘Zoolander 2’, saying that playing the part “backfired a little bit”.

Cumberbatch played the non-binary model All in the 2016 comedy sequel, provoking a major backlash at the time. A petition was launched encouraging people to boycott the film, and garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

Now, in a new interview with his ‘Zoolander 2’ co-star Penélope Cruz, the British actor has conceded that he would likely have turned the role down if he was offered it today. Sitting down with Cruz for the latest instalment of Varietys ‘Actors on Actors’ series, he said: “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.” 

“But I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard,” Cumberbatch continued, “and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world…it backfired a little bit.” Cruz, who played the role of Valentina Valencia in the film, responded by saying that it “was funny what you did”.

At the time of Cumberbatch’s casting in the role, the instigator of the petition calling for a boycott, Sarah Rose, said: “If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film.” 

“By hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual in a clearly negative way, the film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large,” Rose went on. Last year, Cumberbatch discussed his decision to take on the lead role in Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the dog’, for which he is being tipped for Oscars glory; his character’s sexuality is shrouded in ambiguity. 

“I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion,” Cumberbatch told IndieWire. “One of the appeals of the job was the idea that in this world, with this specific character, there was a lot that was private, hidden from view.” 

“It wasn’t done without thought,” he went on. “I also feel slightly like, is this a thing where our dance card has to be public? Do we have to explain all our private moments in our sexual history? I don’t think so.”