When Benedict Cumberbatch says he wants to play a certain part, others listen.
The actor who has given Sherlock Holmes and Hamlet new images found such a part in Patrick Melrose, the centerpiece of five novels by British author Edward St. Aubyn, who applied many of his own experiences to Patrick's journey from an abuse-fraught childhood into an adulthood of overcoming addiction and struggling to live his best life. With each of the five episodes covering one of the books, Showtime debuts “Patrick Melrose” on Saturday.
“They are the most extraordinary prose,” Cumberbatch says of the original “Melrose” stories. “They're an exceptional achievement, and at the heart of the subject matter was a world that I thought I knew ... turned on its head through the perspective of this really unique character, who suffers so much and goes on this extraordinary journey from victimhood to survivor, and (is) a champion of his circumstance in a way.
“When you have books that are that rich in detail and have that extraordinary depth of character, you've got an amazing blueprint to work off,” adds Cumberbatch, “and you can only ever hope to try to do justice to that kind of work. That's the biggest challenge of this project, to bring it to the screen and give something back to readers who have already had the most amazing cinematic experience by just reading the novels ... as well as bring it to a wide audience who haven't yet read the books.”
Also an executive producer of “Patrick Melrose,” Cumberbatch has an impressive cast to work with. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Hugo Weaving play Patrick's unsupportive parents, and Allison Williams (“Girls,” “Get Out”) appears as one of the women who crosses Patrick's path.
“It was so much fun to go back in time and get that sort of '80s experience,” Williams says, “after having been firmly planted on 'Girls' for so many years, it was very fun to sort of reach back not so far and find that character.”
Leigh reports she had read the “Melrose” novels and “didn't think a film could be made of them. And then when I found out that Showtime was doing it and each one was going to be an hour, so you had all five of the novels each at their due time, it made sense – but it still didn't seem doable. And then I read the adaptation, and it was so fine.”
“Patrick Melrose” is a major checkmark on Cumberbatch's professional bucket list, he maintains: “I can retire after this,” he muses. “This is me signing out. It really has been the most fantastic, rewarding, fulfilling, challenging, innovating and just wonderful experience.”