Fans are used to watching Benedict Cumberbatch deal with death-defying situations on screen, but what they might not know is that the Doctor Strange star has experienced a terrifying threat on his life for real. A few years before he got his big break in 2010’s Sherlock, which turned him into a global star and set him up for his future role in the Marvel universe, Cumberbatch appeared in 2005’s BBC miniseries To The Ends of the Earth.
While filming the series in South Africa, Cumberbatch and a couple of his co-stars went on a trip to learn scuba diving during a weekend off. While heading back that night, one of their tires blew so they pulled over by the roadside — where they found themselves ambushed by armed men. The British actor opened up about the shocking ordeal while appearing on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast:
“We stopped and out of the bush, these guys came and threw us back into the car, drove off the road, and plundered the car…There were intimations of a gun but I didn’t turn around to see it because at the time I was out of the car. I was then put in the boot of the car and at one point my shoelaces were bound to my wrists…They eventually left us alone once we gave them cards and money. But because of needing to take the card to a bank machine, it lasted for two and a half hours.”
Once the hijackers took off with their car and belongings, Cumberbatch and the other two actors involved were finally able to call for help. Though they were left severely shaken after the experience, all three were physically unharmed. Cumberbatch told Maron that he considers himself lucky to have lived through that intact and revealed that it had a profound effect on his outlook. Surviving the kidnapping convinced him that he wanted “a life less than ordinary”.
It’s remarkable that Cumberbatch was able to spin such a harrowing event into a positive, going forward with a fearless attitude to life that led him to make bold choices in his career and take risks. And clearly those bold choices paid off. Fast forward 17 years on from that 2004 incident, and Cumberbatch is one of the biggest stars in the world — and possibly headed for his second Oscar nomination for his new movie, The Power of the Dog, which you can find on Netflix now.
Next, Benedict Cumberbatch will return as Doctor Strange in Spider-Man: No Way Home, out this Dec. 17.