Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Thomas Edison in The Current War, on Sunday said he'll leave it to others to debate whether the light bulb inventor was a genius scientist or a robber baron.
"It's deadly to judge your character if you're portraying someone you have to inhabit with a certain understanding and empathy," he said during a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's movie has Cumberbatch face off against rival American electricity pioneer George Westinghouse, played by Michael Shannon.
Both men battle to develop the predominant electrical current (direct or alternating, respectively). Cumberbatch said he felt no need to come down on either side of a long-running historical debate about whether Edison helped or hindered the invention of electricity as he competed against Westinghouse and other visionaries of his time.
"I leave it to other people to judge characters I play. I find it very hard not to be defensive.... I have no vanity about my characters," Cumberbatch argued. He also expressed sympathy for Edison as he battled the same challenges of celebrity that Cumberbatch knows as a stage and screen star.
"It was interesting to examine ideas of fame, and how that can poison integrity, about how you can lose the ideal in the machinations, jealousies and emotions which are very human, despite your best instincts not to — those seem to me to be very human flaws," Cumberbatch said.
"I still have a great deal of sympathy for him (Edison), even though he didn't go about it the right way," he added. The Current War will be released by The Weinstein Company on Nov. 24.