Director Jane Campion has been speaking to her collaborator Holly Hunter (star of The Piano), as reported in IndieWire, about Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in Netflix‘s The Power of the Dog. Both Campion and Cumberbatch are expected to be named when the Oscar nominations are announced on February 8.
The Power of the Dog is adapted from a novel by Thomas Savage. As well as Cumberbatch, it stars Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Campion says that she choose upper class English actor Cumberbatch to play Montana rancher Phil Burbank despite him having “no apparent qualities that would work for the story, except he’s charismatic. How’s that going to work?”
She also says that it was hard to not turn the audience off Phil completely, but that Cumberbatch helped reveal that there was a lot going on under the surface of the brusque cowboy. “As the onion comes undone, we really see this fragile human who’s not living his life because underneath his cover, he’s actually the opposite of what he’s pretending to be.”
The climax of the film, during which Phil throws a raging tantrum, after Rose (Dunst) sells his cowhides, was mostly improvised. “I didn’t have a clue what he was going to do,” says Campion. “In rehearsal, we never went there. We never went to that place to look at what he might do there.”
She added; “What I tend to do is just really work on a 360-degree presence of that character so no matter what happened, if we went off script, anywhere we went, he could be Phil. He could improvise in any situation. When I first saw him let it rip, I was absolutely stunned, thrilled, because I felt like this is what we need, this is what the film needs, to see the threat of Phil explode.”
The Power of the Dog is the first film that acclaimed director Jane Campion, who is from New Zealand, has made after a ten-year gap. She is one of the few women directors to ever be nominated for Best Director, for The Piano. Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin both won Oscars for their roles in the film. Cumberbatch is expecting his second Oscar nomination for his leading role in The Power of the Dog, which has been highly praised.
If you’re a fan of The Power of the Dog, check out our guide to the best drama movies.