The Painstaking Process Behind Benedict Cumberbatch's Power Of The Dog Performance

"The Power of the Dog" is lauded for carefully breaking down the barriers of intimacy before ripping them to shreds, but director Jane Campion made sure that the performances were just as methodically planned out as the vengeful relationship at the heart of her film. The entire cast has been at the center of glowing acclaim, but Benedict Cumberbatch in particular has garnered fascination for the intensity of his work that had him herding cattle and probably smelling like Montana cow dung.

Campion is a filmmaker who places characters at the forefront of her vision, which means that she has to form a close working relationship with her actors in order to draw out the full potential of their performances. The director spends time training her cast to become fully acquainted with the psychology of their roles before she gathers them to set, having them workshop and practice exercises with each other. In one particular instance, Kirsten Dunst, who plays Rose Gordon, had to clean Campion's apartment with period-specific materials. It was Benedict Cumberbatch playing the toxically masculine yet tragically repressed Phil Burbank, however, who went through the most intense training.

Benedict and a Bull

In order to truly manifest the complex depths of Phil, Cumberbatch worked with Campion to bring his inner cowboy the surface. The most infamous and headline-grabbing of the actor's strategies was refraining from bathing for a week, but there was more that went into Cumberbatch's method acting than just odor. The English thespian traveled to Montana and spent weeks on a ranch with a real-life cowboy in order to master the tools of the trade and become intimately familiar with the lifestyle. That included learning how to ride horses, rope cattle, play the banjo, and even castrate a bull. "I can even roll a cigarette with one hand," Cumberbatch playfully boasted in The Guardian.

The meanness of Phil's character meant that Cumberbatch's method acting created somewhat of a tense environment on set. He states in a Variety interview that Campion would introduce him to the cast and crew as the bullyish rancher:

"Jane would say, 'This is Phil. You're going to be working with Phil. Benedict is really nice but you're going to me meet him at the end of the shoot.' That just gave me permission to commit to this character whose behavior is at times repugnant, and not feel apologetic or embarrassed or self-conscious about it in any way."

In the same piece, co-star Jesse Plemons, who plays Phil's brother George, tells about a moment in which an insult from Cumberbatch-as-Phil legitimately made him upset. On the other hand, Cumberbatch's heightened argumentativeness also contributed to the finer details of the character, according to Campion. The actor shaped the crucial scene in which Phil gets intimate with his former mentor Bronco Henry's scarf, for instance, by suggesting that he pulls the garment out of his pants. Considering the heaps of praise that the "The Power of the Dog" has enjoyed, Cumberbatch's ranch rigor seems to have paid off in full.