The Jane Campion movie, which has just premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, sees the Doctor Strange actor take on the role of “sadistic” cattle rancher Phil Burbank, who forms a relationship with Peter Gordon (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
The conversation about whether straight actors should take on LGBTQ+ roles has gained increasing prominence in recent years, with It’s A Sin‘s Russell T Davies saying earlier this year that gay actors should play gay roles.
“It’s about authenticity, the taste of 2020,” he said at the time. “You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places.”
The specifics of Peter’s sexuality in The Power of the Dog are shrouded in some ambiguity, though Cumberbatch addressed the potential controversy over his casting while speaking at the Telluride Film Festival (via IndieWire).
“I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion. One of the appeals of the job was the idea that in this world, with this specific character, there was a lot that was private, hidden from view.”
The actor added: “It wasn’t done without thought. I also feel slightly like, is this a thing where our dance card has to be public? Do we have to explain all our private moments in our sexual history? I don’t think so.”
He also said of the film’s director: “Jane chose us as actors to play those roles. That’s her question to answer.”
The actor previously played a gay character on screen when he took on the role of Alan Turing in 2014’s The Imitation Game.
Smit-McPhee, who also isn’t gay, also weighed in on his status playing his character, saying: “Sure, I’m a straight man, but I’m extremely in touch with my feminine side. I was raised by my mother and my sister.
“Of course, my dad has a huge masculine influence on my life but he could never really take me away from the feminine side that I just intrinsically have in myself. It was just a matter of bringing it out… and letting it be in the world. It was a really experimental but beautiful thing to do.”