By Neil Simpson author of Benedict Cumberbatch: Behind the Scenes.
IT'S pretty much the best of times and the worst of time for upper class actors in England these days.
On the one hand there's loads of work going round. Period dramas like Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge are stuffed with posh roles for posh people. Then there's the fact that upper class actors seem to be taking over the world. It's amazing but true that Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hidddleston, Damian Lewis, Dominic West and Hugh Laurie all went to the same school - the poshest of the posh Eton.
But there is a backlash. One of the less lucky Downton actors Rob James Collier (double barrelled name, but born in gritty Stockport and firmly below stairs on the show) has triggered a debate on whether privileged kids with rich parents are getting all the breaks. The story goes that these are the only one who can afford to slog it out at auditions and in low paid jobs before their big moments arrive.
In the middle of all this stands Benedict Cumberbatch. At first glance he's just another lucky posh boy. He went to school at Harrow - which is almost as fancy as Eton. He had Downton- writer Julian Fellows as an old family friend. He admits himself he's 'a posh bloke with a funny name'.
But he's also something more. I've spent the first part of the year digging away at his life to write the new biography Benedict Cumberbatch: Behind the Scenes. I found someone who's got a class-defying desire to succeed. A man whose job very nearly got himself killed in a South African car-jacking. And a man whose professional life hides a very real sadness at home.
There are plenty of surprises in the Benedict Cumberbatch we see in Sherlock, in Star Trek and alongside everyone from Brad Pitt to Meryl Streep in a raft of big films this year. There's actually a man who's feared his background would count against him. A man who thought he'd spend his entire career playing 'slightly asexual, sociopathic intellectuals'. A complex, workaholic of a man who cancelled every holiday and changed every plan so he could break free from the stereotypes and try to destroy the world in the sci fi hit of the year.
Where does he go from here? He's starring in a Dreamworks film about Julian Assange. He's filming the new series of Sherlock in Wales. And he's trying to rebut the critics by laying down as deep a professional footprint as possible. He's the first to admit he grew up in a 'privileged bubble'. But there's a lot more to his life than that. He was a boy in a hurry and he's turned into one of the most driven actors of his generation. His journey is the perfect template for anyone who's hungry for success. Wherever they went to school.
Benedict Cumberbatch: Behind the Scenes, is out now as an e-book from Endeavour Press.Suggest a correction