Benedict Cumberbatch burst into tears at ‘truly extraordinary’ Eric scene

Watch: Benedict Cumberbatch discusses his experience making Eric

Eric is quite the emotional series to watch but it also proved a moving show to film as well as Benedict Cumberbatch tells Yahoo UK that he was brought to tears by one emotionally-charged scene.

The Netflix show sees Cumberbatch play Vincent, a puppeteer whose life is turned upside down when his son Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe) goes missing. He and wife Cassie (Gaby Hoffmann) find themselves and their relationship pushed to the brink because of the experience, with Vincent's struggle to cope resulting in him starting to see his son's 7-foot puppet creation Eric.

Eric, in a way, is an extension of Vincent's psyche and as his mental health — and substance abuse — worsens he isolates himself more and more, coming to believe that the only way to bring Edgar back is to bring Eric to life. One scene in the series sees Cumberbatch don the Eric suit himself, a symbolic moment where he accepts the darker side of his psyche and reaches out to his son in the hope that it'll make him return home.

"It read on the page as a challenge, as something extraordinary that I've never seen or read before as a way to examine a character going through what Vincent goes through," the actor says.

Eric (Netflix)
Eric stars Benedict Cumberbatch as puppeteer Vincent, who starts to see and hear a puppet named Eric after his son goes missing. (Netflix)

"And in the playing it was just a joy, a lot of humour, a lot of lightness as well as the dark, whether it was the technical aspect of what Ollie was having to cope with inside that suit with his vision mask that shows two or three points of view of the actual scene — he's not seeing as we're seeing, he will see as the camera sees.

"People [ask] what moved you most about the job, but actually putting that [suit] on in one of the last days filming in New York and just I cried afterwards. I put my arm around [the puppeteer] afterwards saying I can't believe this is how you've done what you've done, it's truly extraordinary."

The actor also voices Eric in the series, a part he says was "very different" to his previous voice-acting role as Smaug in The Hobbit movies: "This is an extension of the same person, this is a psychic split and Eid, a Devil. It's very unusual to get to play against the version of yourself, albeit a 7-foot tall, walk around white, purple and blue puppet monster.

"So it was also the opportunity to work with an amazing puppeteer, that whole world is just absolutely captivating, always has been since I was very young. And now, as a father watching my children get utterly —and all of us, the child in all of us— get utterly bewitched by this animation of the inanimate.

Eric (Netflix)
In Eric, there is a scene in which Benedict Cumberbatch dons the monster's suit in a symbolic gesture of accepting the darker side of his psyche and the moment brought the actor to tears. (Netflix)

"The voicing, within the limits of that, he's analogue, he's still part of Vincent. He isn't an extraordinary thing with visual effects, he's not a 400 year old fire-breathing serpent of Hobbit fame. He's something that we recognise from the worlds of the Henson puppets that we've grown up with, so it was important to authenticate him."

Cumberbatch explains that he was keen to distinguish Eric's voice from Vincent, making him "gruffer" and more "rough around the edges" in a way that would embody "the humour, the ribaldry, the advice, the terrorising, the nannying" that he brings.

"I tried, it's hard when you're going low, you know, to get all that expression in, and that was a struggle sometimes, but it was a fun one," the Sherlock star adds.

It's not just Vincent who struggles with Edgar's disappearance, his wife Cassie also finds herself torn apart by it. The character's arc is brought to life with aching realism by Hoffmann, who shares how much she appreciated the way Cassie's pain was approached.

Eric (Netflix)
Eric 'read on the page as a challenge, as something extraordinary that I've never seen or read before as a way to examine a character going through what Vincent goes through,' Benedict Cumberbatch said. (Netflix)

The actor explains: "I thought it was really beautifully and brilliantly drawn and there was so much to tap into and explore there. And as a mother myself who has found that life just gets more expansive and more beautiful, and more illuminated by the experience of being a parent, I was thrilled to find a character that was written that was giving me a chance to further explore all of that."

Created by Abi Morgan, Eric is influenced by the writer's own experiences growing up in the '80s in New York, and other cities.

"I'd spent time looking after a child in living in New York in the mid 80s and I'd sort of seen the city from their perspective, and I suddenly thought I really want to go back into that city and back into that time again because there's a kind of near history to it," Morgan says of coming up with Eric.

"It feels like this other time, this place that was vivid and exciting, amazing music, amazing culture. But also we knew it was the time of the Aids epidemic, and so much vilification of that community, and stories of institutional racism and homophobia, and the gentrification just came out of that."

Eric (Netflix)
Vincent's wife Cassie also finds herself torn apart by Edgar's disappearance, and actor Gaby Hoffmann describes her character's arc as 'really beautifully and brilliantly drawn'. (Netflix)

These social issues are tackled in Eric because Morgan felt "it was kind of impossible to avoid those" matters when writing a story set in New York City. "Suddenly they became an engine," the writer adds. "And a real kind of vehicle for change within the show itself, and so that was kind of the starting point."

The part of the narrative that examines institutional racism and homophobia revolves around Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III), the detective who is put on the case to find Edgar. Ledroit, who is still haunted by a previous missing child case, keeps his personal life a secret from his co-workers on the force, who often use homophobic language in their day-to-day lives and who constantly tell the detective he should find a woman to settle down with.

Belcher III says he "fell in love with [Ledroit's] heart first" and the aspects of his personality that he gets to share when with his partner William (Mark Gillis).

Eric (Netflix)
Created by Abi Morgan, Eric also examines social issues like institutional racism and homophobia through McKinley Belcher III's character Ledroit (pictured), the detective put on the case to find Edgar. (Netflix)

"I was thrilled that the show that Abi has written was interested in him as a whole human," the actor says. "I thought a lot about this managing of public and private self and what it is to compartmentalise your life. I think it's kind of beautiful what he's found in that apartment with William and that he can just be, there is a joy and an acceptance to the love that they found together.

"And then how much of a counterpoint that would be to walking out of that apartment and into the world, into a kind of hostility where who you are is not OK and there is an opportunity to weaponise and use his queerness as leverage in a way that we see over the course of the show.

"I think he is managing what it is to be other, but his otherness is also a gift, because it means that he can see things that a lot of the other detectives he's working with take for granted or are not aware of, which in some ways makes him the perfect person to be looking for these children and to tackle some of the ways that the institutional racism is apparent in the NYPD."

Eric (Netflix)
McKinley Belcher III said he 'fell in love with [Ledroit's] heart first', and he 'was thrilled that the show that Abi has written was interested in him as a whole human'. (Netflix)

Despite its difficult subject matter there were moments on set that lightened the load, such as the scene where Cumberbatch dons the Eric suit — the one that the actor earlier said brought him to tears.

Sharing that it's "equally strange walking around New York City next to a puppet" as it was walking around in the suit itself, Cumberbatch says: "Running around with half of it, as I did in part of the show, is quite a diary entry, I suppose.

"You draw enough attention yourself and New York is so like 'ohh' and then back to the conversation, that amusingly happened on this as well — 'Is that [Benedict Cumberbatch]? Oh yea it is, cool' back to the conversation.

"Nothing fazes a New Yorker, so I got over my self-consciousness quite early on. It was really just trying not to fall over and run as fast as I could and trying to look less ridiculous, more heroic. But also giving in to the humanity and stupidity, and beauty of that kind of comedy as well."

Eric is out now on Netflix.