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We know Benedict Cumberbatch is comfortable playing both heroes like Doctor Strange‘s title character and villains such as his Star Trek into Darkness baddie Khan. But his latest role in upcoming TV movie Brexit could be his most polarizing yet.

In the HBO/Channel 4 co-production, Cumberbatch portrays Dominic Cummings, a major behind-the-scenes player during the U.K.’s historic 2016 European Union membership referendum. Cummings helped to strategize the “Vote Leave” campaign which would ultimately prove successful when close to 52% of voters decided that the U.K. would be better off pursuing a “Brexit.”

More than two-and-a-half years later, the referendum campaign and what “Brexit” should actually entail is still dividing the nation. Cumberbatch met Cummings in preparation for the role, for which he adopts a dramatic new look, and says he aimed to find common ground with the strategist.

“As with any character you play as an actor, you suspend judgement,” he told The Independent. “I have to be able to have empathy for my character. At whatever level that may exist, you have to understand as well as is possible.”

Explaining that the two-hour film is “an examination of key players who weren’t necessarily in the public eye, behind the closed doors of the campaign,” Cumberbatch insisted that Brexit offers no judgment on the referendum campaign or its result.

”This is about a specific aspect of the referendum campaign. It’s about revealing and unearthing that,” he explained. “It is not about how to solve it or what went wrong or right, it’s just about how those moments occurred. It doesn’t lecture. It’s not censorious, and it’s certainly not didactic.”

Brexit premieres January 19 on HBO. In the meantime, Cumberbatch will compete for the Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film prize at the Golden Globe Awards this Sunday (January 6).

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Filed Under: Benedict Cumberabatch
By Nick Levine