Not Benedict Cumberbatch, the British actor who plays the fire-breathing beast Smaug.
For him, it’s sexy time, an urge he felt when he first stretched himself atop the huge stack of gold coins in the winged dragon’s mountain lair.
“I was like, bow chicka wow wow, there’s going to be a little bit of dragon porn up here! But I didn’t strip off, despite what Peter says,” Cumberbatch jokes from Los Angeles.
“Peter loves to exaggerate, as we know,” continues Cumberbatch, 37, but he concedes that there was indeed a fur rug and a good deal of physicality involved in lifting Smaug off Tolkien’s page and onto the 3D screen.
He did method dragon acting, decked out in mo-cap equipment while writhing atop a stack of materials designed to realistically imitate Smaug’s heap of purloined dwarf gold.
“A lot of imagination was used. I kind of squeezed my feet together when I was doing the mo-cap, my legs together and crawled on my elbows and hands, and my hands were permanently splayed out so my fingers were like claws.
“They facilitated it so I had this platform with foam padding on top of the woods so I wasn’t killing myself or my limbs and my bones and stuff. On top of that they had a fur rug, which was terrific, because for Smaug those coins are like little beads of polystyrene, a wonderful, luxuriant, ever-moving sand dune of pleasure to bury yourself under.”
Lowering his voice to create the deep hissing sound humans imagine a serpentine beast would make took a real toll on the actor.
“I ripped into my vocal chords quite literally, I had blood at the end of the day from tearing my throat to pieces … I dropped my voice a couple of octaves so I could then layer on nuance and character colour.”
He takes a very personal interest in Smaug, calling the dragon “he” instead of “it” and insisting that the name be pronounced properly. Cumberbatch bristles when he hears people call his dragon “Smog,” an aural abomination.
“It’s Smowwwg. That’s how Tolkien writes it. In one of the readings, that’s how he pronounces it.
“I’m very particular about who I answer to and how I answer to them. If they get my name wrong, that’s not a good start for a dragon.”
He’s also quite particular about how Smaug’s scaly exterior is described. The film’s production notes call them “reddish-gold” but Cumberbatch — who in a previous Star interview took pains to describe his own hair colour as auburn and not ginger — begs to differ.
“I think the (scales) are more of an oxtail or oxblood red. He’s way beyond; he’s a great rich colour. I wore a lovely velvet jacket last night by Dolce and Gabbana, which has a little hint of his colouring in it, more than my hair does. There’s a subtle difference, but I like to deal in nuance.”
His personal attachment to Smaug, and to all of the characters in The Hobbit, stems from happy childhood memories of his father Timothy, an accomplished stage actor, reading the book to him with great theatrical flourish.
“The book is just the best source material. My dad read it to me when I was a young kid, 6 or 7 years old. It made a huge impact on me to the point where it really ignited my love of literature and the ability that the printed word has.”
Despite his fondness for Smaug, Cumberbatch doesn’t disagree with Jackson’s assessment that the gold-hoarding, dwarf-threatening and self-aggrandizing dragon is psychopathic.
“He’s completely psychotic,” the actor says.
“He devolves into that. There’s an element of control and charm in and amongst all the other negative human emotions, avarice and vanity. When he gets his rage on he’s sort of an unstoppable napalm bomb and it’s very easy to rile him.”
Smaug is also quite the talker, as is Cumberbatch, but the actor wouldn’t at all like to be confused with the dragon.
“I hope it’s not my personality! I don’t think I’m too much like Smaug in real life. He’s very richly written in the books and while he’s a thing of great visual splendour he only really works if he’s inhabited by something relatable. I think that’s what Tolkien did so magically in the book.”
Cumberbatch’s Smaug is indeed a ferocious and imposing creature, but the actor thinks he’s more frightening in his other role in the film: the Necromancer, a shadowy figure of evil whose motives and methods will soon be known.
“I think the Necromancer actually leaves so much more to the imagination. He’s the more unnerving character, more uncanny character, because he’s sort of a not-formed, unembodied spirit of evil. And that’s more terrifying, that’s the stuff of haunting. The dragon is a physical object — we know the story — and he’s not invincible.”
Much of Smaug’s screen time involves his interaction with Bilbo Baggins, the brave hobbit played by Martin Freeman. This pairing has been seen in another form: Freeman plays sidekick Dr. Watson to Cumberbatch’s sleuthing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series Sherlock that vaunted Cumberbatch to global fame.
Yet it wasn’t a reunion for the two on The Hobbit set. When you see them together on the screen, Bilbo vs. Smaug, it’s all just movie magic.
“We didn’t actually work together at all on this film,” Cumberbatch says.
“Not even for rehearsals. It’s the one sort of con, I guess, of working that (mo-cap) way, but it’s far outweighed by the pros, which is that I didn’t spend months doing this. I literally had about eight days work on it and that was about over a year and a half.”
We can’t leave an interview with Cumberbatch without asking him for news about the third season of Sherlock, which the BBC begins airing next month.
He instantly shifts into succinct Holmes mode, a garrulous dragon no more.
“There’s going to be a reunion, an explanation, a marriage and a new villain.”
A new villain, you say? Presumably one without scales, wings and sexy slithers.