Inspiration is everywhere, and for Josh Brolin, he found it in Benedict Cumberbatch.
Chatting with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle during a recent appearance on SiriusXM’s Entertainment Weekly Radio, Brolin revealed that Benedict Cumberbatch was a pretty big reason why he accepted Marvel Studios’ offer to play Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. The British actor inadvertently informed Brolin’s performance later on as well.
While Brolin was deciding whether or not to take on the role of the Infinity Stones-hunting despot, he was looking up YouTube videos of motion-capture actors to get a better idea of what the gig would entail, since he had little clue what to expect. “I had never done anything like that, mo-cap. You know, I thought I was gonna be behind a bunch of lights and a bunch of cameras,” Brolin admitted.
The actor wound up stumbling upon a video of Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) doing scene work for The Hobbit, in which he played the fire-breathing dragon Smaug.
“I saw Benedict Cumberbatch do — I think it was for The Hobbit. And I looked on YouTube when I was deciding whether I wanted to [play Thanos] or not. And he [had] this mo-cap suit on and he was in this big warehouse, and he’s crawling around like a snake, snapping his tongue out, doing this incredible performance,” Brolin said. “I saw that and was like, all right, that’s the bar. Like, this is not, like, bulls**t. This is something you can actually … [you] have to sink your teeth into conviction, embarrassment, and all this kind of stuff. So then I decided, yeah.”
Brolin clearly took what he learned from watching Cumberbatch as Smaug and applied it to his own portrayal of Thanos, which has been applauded as “surprisingly sensitive” and has earned him a spot in the MCU villains hall of fame (you know, if such a place actually existed).
“I think Thanos is a marvel,” Avengers: Infinity War co-director Joe Russo once said. “It really reflects every level of nuance in Josh Brolin’s performance. You’re watching Josh as a giant, purple alien, and you’re seeing all of his movement, all of his facial expressions, on the most subtle level. I don’t know that we’ve seen that level of photo-real performance capture before. Maybe in the Apes films, but this is really groundbreaking.”
Added fellow co-director Anthony Russo, “Even though he’s despicable on so many levels, there’s a part of Thanos that is very empathetic. He has a very complex inner life, and he’s not all bad. Josh is a performer who’s capable of delivering that kind of complexity, where you have that level of violence in him, but at the same time you have that level of sensitivity.”
Combined with gorgeous and incredibly life-like CGI work, Josh Brolin’s performance as Thanos is one for the film history books — and we now know Benedict Cumberbatch is partially to thank.