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The Imitation Game follows how Alan Turing and a team of geniuses cracked the German Enigma code and helped win World War II. But it turns out Benedict Cumberbatch and co. are only convincing cryptographers onscreen, since the cast can’t even successfully complete a crossword puzzle.
When they attempted to solve one together on set, “we all did pretty poorly,” Allen Leech told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s New York City premiere, held on a rainy Monday night at the Ziegfeld Theater. “It took us four days, and we still didn’t complete it.”
See more The Making of ‘The Imitation Game’
Screenwriter Graham Moore was no help whatsoever. “Because I’m a writer, people think, ‘Oh, you’re the sort of person who would be really good at crossword puzzles!’ So it’s really embarrassing that I’m terrible at them,” he laughed. “Matthew Beard was the only one of us who was even capable of cracking puzzles. I thought Benedict would be good — he’s not. None of us are.”
For a cast portraying the creators of the precursor to the computer, the actors weren’t a very technologically savvy bunch either. “I’m an absolute technophobe,” Keira Knightley — who plays Joan Clarke, the lone woman on the team — told reporters, while Mark Strong proudly admitted, “I’m not on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any of that stuff.”
Even Cumberbatch, who is not active on social media but is himself an Internet sensation, chose to break the news of his engagement to theater director Sophie Hunter the old-fashioned way: announcing it via a London newspaper. So how does he feel about breaking millions of woman’s hearts? “Fine, in the sense that I’ve made one person’s heart — the most important heart in my life — very happy,” he told reporters at the premiere, which drew Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Lucci, Josh Radnor, Keke Palmer, James Murphy and Ric Ocasek, and was followed by a bash at Tavern on the Green.
The eight-week production schedule was impressively tight, and the all-British cast became close. “It was a heavy dialogue piece — a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time — so it was really just heads down and everyone supporting each other,” Knightley told THR, adding that she was thrilled to reunite with Cumberbatch after 2007’s Atonement. “He’s a mate of mine. I think it’s always fantastic to work with friends, but also just people that you’ve worked with before, because you have a shorthand with them and you feel free to make mistakes. You feel free to try new things because you trust each other and you know how the other one works. It happens very rarely for actors. He was as wonderful as when I first worked with him.”
Bonding moments on set occurred around the kettle, naturally. “The little downtime we had, we would usually just sit around and have cups of tea,” Strong recalled. “We’d film in these amazing places, wood-clad baronial manors. It was all very British.”
“All very British” was exactly what producer Teddy Schwarzman wanted to convey. Initially, American actors like Leonardo DiCaprio were in talks to play Turing, but it “didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” Schwarzman explained. “We had an American screenwriter, three American producers and an incredibly British story that was of great national import, and frankly that deserves to be played by a Brit. … With Benedict, we were incredibly lucky. I think it takes a very skilled, talented, genius actor to be able to pull off the intelligence, the nuance, the acerbic nature, and yet the empathy that Benedict is able to express with the flash of his eyes. He can emote so much while doing so little.”
“I always pictured Benedict,” agreed director Morten Tyldum. “There’s something enigmatic about Benedict, something you can’t really put your finger on. It’s really fascinating; the camera is really drawn to it. To me, he’s always been Alan Turing. After watching the film, there’s no one else who could have done it.”
Cumberbatch recently proved his acting chops by impersonating 11 celebrities — including Owen Wilson, Sean Connery and Taylor Swift — in 60 seconds. So did he prepare beforehand? “No, no, I didn’t practice those,” he told reporters. “Alan Rickman I’ve done before, Tom Hiddleston is a friend of mine. … So no, he said ‘go’ and gave me names!”
The Imitation Game hits limited theaters Nov. 28.
Nov. 20, 6 a.m. An earlier version stated that Cumberbatch is active on social media. THR regrets the error.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek