How Tom Hanks Made Benedict Cumberbatch A Star

Alice Eve, James McAvoy, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Elaine Tan in 'Starter for 10'

Alice Eve, James McAvoy, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Elaine Tan in ‘Starter for 10′

Here’s a nice thing that emerged yesterday. It seems Tom Hanks is directly responsible for creating the careers of at least three, possibly four hugely talented British actors, and he’s been keeping fairly quiet about it until now.

In an interview with the Radio Times, he explained that he was the producer of a British film called Starter for Ten, about a team of students that wind up on the TV quiz show University Challenge. And with the benefit of hindsight, it appears to be the best stocked repository of the current generation of British actors this side of The History Boys.

He told Radio Times: “We had James McAvoyBenedict Cumberbatch in his first or second movie, Rebecca Hall – it was definitely her first movie. We even had that guy – James Corden? Right. It was like a Murderers’ Row of British up-and-comers.

“Unfortunately, they hadn’t quite upped and come because we didn’t do much business, but there were scenes in there that were just, dare I say it, perfect.”

Part of the problem with the lack of audience may have been due to cross-cultural differences, of course. Anyone in Britain who grew up watching the original University Challenge while off sick from school knows the catchphrase “your starter for 10,” but as Tom reveals, this did not translate globally:

“You know, in America they wanted to call it Brian Knows Everything?”

Ick, as I believe they say on your side of the pond.

He also revealed that he’s something of a fan of classic Doctor Who, having been won over by Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. Or at least, I THINK it was Tom Baker he saw:

“We got our first colour TV in 1968, and in California that meant all these extra channels nobody watched, filled with trippy Japanese cartoons – and Doctor Who!”

Confused note: In 1968, the Doctor was Patrick Troughton and his adventures were firmly in monochrome.

“And we always watched because the English video just looked so weird, and you had the guy with the big red hair and the bow tie.”

More confused note: Tom Baker did not start being the Doctor until 1974. Jon Pertwee, who did wear the occasional bow tie, did not have red hair.

“And everyone talked in English accents and there were these big salt and pepper shaker robots and we’d look at each other and say ‘Can you make any sense out of this?’”

Bewildered note: Now you know how we feel.

“But it was… intriguing. And that’s the root of my affection.”

Well I suppose it’s thematically right that a movie star should be a big picture guy.

See more:
WATCH: New ‘Sherlock’ Teaser Trailer – #Sherlocklives
WATCH: Stewart, McKellen AND McAvoy In ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’ Trailer
12 British Actors Who Got Started In Soaps
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Great-Great-Uncle Was Tried For Murder

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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