Benedict Cumberbatch Admits His Non-Binary Zoolander 2 Character 'Backfired A Little Bit'

Sometimes actors take roles that really aren't a good idea and only realize the depth of their mistake years after the fact. That appears to be the case for Benedict Cumberbatch, who came under fire in 2015/2016 for appearing in "Zoolander 2" as the non-binary character All, a crude and harmful stereotype of transgender and non-binary people. 

Even at the time there were calls for a boycott in response to the character's appearance in an early trailer. Activist Sarah Rose elaborated in her online petition against the film:

Like any rational person, I think there's a place for discourse and humor in society, but the last thing the transgender community needs at this moment is another harmful, cartoonish portrayal of our lives.

Cumberbatch has finally spoken out about the controversial role, agreeing that it was a mistake that "backfired." In Variety's Actors on Actors series with his "Zoolander 2" costar Penélope Cruz (via ScreenRant), Cumberbatch discussed his feelings about the one role that went very wrong. 

A Non-Binary No Thank You

Actor Justin Theroux, who co-wrote the script for "Zoolander 2" with several others, defended the character as a joke intended to point out how backwards Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) were in response to a changing world. If Hollywood were properly representing trans and non-binary people, and life for us wasn't growing increasingly dangerous every day, then maybe the joke would have landed differently. Unfortunately, 2021 was the deadliest year on record for gender non-conforming people in the United States, with a startling rise in both violence and anti-transgender legislation. If simply existing weren't currently so hellish, maybe we'd be a bit more patient with jokes in very poor taste. 

Cumberbatch told Cruz:

"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, and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world. But it backfired a little bit."

A trans (or non-binary) actor portraying the character wouldn't have made it any better, but at least Cumberbatch is on the right track and understands that he was coming from a place of privilege. Stereotypes like All make it harder to exist in a world that's already tough on anyone who doesn't fit neatly into the binary. Cumberbatch has given nuanced performances with other LGBTQ characters in films like "The Imitation Game" and "The Power of the Dog," so this misstep felt particularly out-of-touch. 

Hopefully this means that Cumberbatch will be more considerate about his roles in the future, and other performers will start thinking harder about the impact of the roles they take.