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Why I Love Benedict Cumberbatch and Charles Esten

Recently, a woman wrote a humorous blog for Huffington Post about how much fun it was to be a Benedict Cumberbatch fangirl even though she’s middle-aged. I suspect that folks who walk into my office and see my BC calendar might suspect she speaks for me as well.

Not exactly. Or, at least, not entirely. So why do I love Benedict Cumberbatch and Charles Esten?

Benedict_CumberbatchBENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

1) Enormously talented and serious about his work, Mr. Cumberbatch spent decades honing his craft and getting a good footing playing fops and “child-raping chocolate magnates” and doing Ibsen on the stage  before his career and fame skyrocketed.  “The trajectory (of his meteoric rise) was extreme,” according to Martin Freeman, who ought to know.  You’ll notice I said he was getting a good footing–not paying his dues, as if there’s a certain amount you must pay and then you get to join the club. No such thing. But it makes all the difference in the world if you’ve gotten to work at your craft and know who you are before fame overtakes you.

2) His male co-stars go all fanboy on him. Even before the hairstylist for the second iteration of “A Study in Pink” got a hold of him and females world over took notice, seemingly every talented young man with whom he made movies had the best time ever with Ben.  I’m not sure what he and Tom Hiddleston were doing during the shooting of WAR HORSE, but whatever it was, when you see the grins they have when they talked about it, they were obviously having a grand time.  By his own admission,  Jonny Lee Miller, with whom he traded roles in Danny Boyle’s FRANKENSTEIN, used to call him up after each episode of SHERLOCK and “go all fanboy” in discussing his acting choices. But my favorite is Tom Hardy, with whom he made STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS. There’s a video interview in which Mr. Hardy talks about Ben’s acting: “He has a sensibility and a directness and an oddness and a fantastic sense of humor…in acting, he  makes “next level choices…He’s a very generous, very sensitive, very focused, disciplined actor. ..it allows me to be free to do whatever I need to do.  Not everybody runs in the Olympics–[As an actor] Benny should be running in the Olympics.” OMG. Who freaking cares about the shirtless wonders of People’s Sexiest Man Alive” issue. “Talk talent to me” is way beyond  “talk dirty to me.”

3) He’s a gentleman. And he was long before Colin Firth held forth about it in his TIME Magazine tribute. There’s another video from STUART in which Ben arrives on set and introduces himself to all the day players, shaking hands and making them feel important and included.

4) He can chop onions. There’s a segment of a cooking show to prove it. My husband can chop onions, also. That is one reason I am married. I have little patience for men of no practical use.

5) He was nearly murdered and it changed him. He has spoken on several occasions about the time he and some of his fellow cast members from TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH were carjacked and kidnapped in South Africa and he really thought he was about to be killed. Apparently, this had a profound effect on him; he decided, once he was safe and alive, not to play it safe–that you never know when your life will end and you’d better ring every ounce of living out of it, take risks and chances. It seems he has, and it has paid off. A profound lesson for each of us.

6) He’s a silly dancer, but he doesn’t care. Have you seen him dancing to THRILLER?  He is also in good shape without having 6-pack abs. To my mind, 6-pack abs on actors is like a female actress having a size-0, prepubescent body with breasts. They’re both shapes that do not exist in nature and signify a horrific buy-in to the Hollywood zombie culture. But that’s my prejudice.  Ben is also handsome without being pretty. Much of his handsomeness comes from inside. Others could not wear the same face as well.

7) He is loyal. He is willing to work with his parents on SHERLOCK, which demonstrates an alarming vulnerability to me. He also did his best to stand up for Mark Gatiss Steven Moffat when CBS asked them to write a modern-day NYC version of Sherlock and promised they wouldn’t do one without them and then they did. Ben had a difficult dance because he was also doing his best to also be supportive of his friend Jonny Lee Miller, who was cast as Sherlock; yes, the yin and yang actors at it again. You can’t make this stuff up.

benedict-cumberbatch-perfectly-photobombs-u2-on-oscar-red-carpet8) He is an innately decent human being. He takes his art and craft seriously, but he also sees the bigger picture in the bigger world. He recognizes that, compared with many in the rest of the world, the problems he has (such as being labelled “upper class” in Britain), are “champagne problems” (as Brad Pitt advised).  Yet this guy photobombs U2. What more can I say?

 

 

CharlesEsten1CHARLES ESTEN

1) Enormously talented and serious about his craft, he was spent decades being a guest star as everything from “Secretary 67” on MURPHY BROWN to a doctor on ER. He was a regular on one season of many many shows.

2) He is smart, funny and can carry a tune. Which came in really handy on 196 episodes of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?

10-14-12-chip23) He was known for years as Chip. Good ol’ Chip.

 

4) He has a wife and kids. And, God bless him, the same wife and kids.

5) He was into his 40s when he became a dramatic swoon-worthy, record-releasing leading man on the television show NASHVILLE. He now sings at benefits and, yes, at the Grand Ole Opry. Again, got his footing, plied his craft, and became a decent human being before “breaking out.” He also, apparently, sees a bigger world.

6) His young daughter nearly died from leukemia and it rocked his world. He and his wife now do a lot of fundraising and work for other families that have children with cancer.

 

WHY DOES THIS SPEAK TO ME?

1) First, and perhaps most obviously, I am no longer in my twenties, I have been plying my craft and getting a footing for a while now. And yes, half a million people have read the Eden Thrillers so far(!), but I wouldn’t mind a few more million. Could happen, right?

2) I can’t begin to describe the breeding ground for fiction that goes on in my mind. Nor can I describe how well both of these handsome, been-through-it decent human beings with a sense of humor are ripe with character potential.  (Have you read the movie mystery THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS? Written before I heard of either of them, but how could you tell?) They are EXACTLY who you throw into a maelstrom of intrigue and moral quandaries and then just step back and grab your laptop.

3) I don’t know these gentlemen, and likely will never know these gentlemen, but I will tell you these very same qualities are what force me to write. Biographies about Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swedish architect who saved 100,000 Jews in Budapest at the end of World War II. About Princess Kaiulani, heir to the throne of Hawaii who brought healing and aloha to the islands, and died of a broken heart at 23.  Like Jaime Richards, our protagonist in the Eden Thrillers, I am a sucker for nobility of spirit. This is also what attracts me to my closest friends, and made me marry my husband. And while I will tell you that B.K. Sherer, my Eden co-author, who happens to also be an active duty Army chaplain, is NOT the basis for Jaime’s character, I will also tell you that’s because B.K.’s own life and character is waaaay more compelling.

It’s important to me to remember that good guys win every once in a while.

Just look at Chip and Ben.

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The Thrill of the Story

I love storytelling! In fact, The idea of someone spinning a great yarn, gathering everyone’s attention and holding onto it, taking the listener through highs and lows, surprising them, wringing them out, and getting them to the end of the story, exhausted and exhilarated–there’s something truly wonderful about that. And the fact that it’s been happening since language was invented makes it a grand tradition. (In fact, I’m pretty certain storytelling is the World’s Second Oldest Profession, as folks enhanced their experiences with the Oldest Profession.)firetelling

When I was a kid, everyone wanted to ride to school in our car, because a little man named Bertram lived under the seat. In fact, my father, who is one of the great oral storytellers of all time, had all the children so captivated (and often in stitches) with Bertram’s stories, that it was nearly impossible to empty the car when we arrived at Wildwood Elementary.

Radio dramas played into this tradition. I would have loved to live in the early part of the 20th century and have the opportunity to  huddle in the living room with friends and family to listen to “The Shadow” or “War of the Worlds,” where all you have is a voice and the listener’s imagination.

oldtimeradio-1-1-2epting-300x257-126abvo

So, for me, audio books have become the modern day equivalent. When they were first gaining popularity, on CDs and cassettes, our friend Mary Ann put one on in the Jeep as she drove into town to run errands. She was so surprised by the erotic turn of events that she ran through a stop sign. I guess that’s the sign of a good narrator.

For years, I worked as a book abridger for Harper Audio, and it was a fantastic education. It was like learning how to perform surgery on books; recognizing all the layers, and knowing how to peel them back, excise what needed excising, and put them together again. (It also, hopefully, made me a leaner writer.)  Not every book merits abridging–in fact, I bought an abridged version of one of my favorite 600-page tomes to discover that they’d taken out all the good parts. But some books are actually strengthened by a good abridgment (and probably should have been better edited from the get-go).  And yes, I have had this argument with Stephen King.

One thing I learned at Harper was how grueling it is to record a book. Seriously, when my kids were little, I was running out of steam my third time through Good Night, Moon. But voice artists would come into the Harper studio and read for two or three days solid. With inflection and voices, and never losing energy. God bless them!
When we found out that CHASING EDEN, the first of the Eden Thrillers was going to be made into an (unabridged) audio book, we were excited. It was like joining the millennium of storytelling through the ages. I will post again, telling about the process of turning a print book into an audio book. (And no, we didn’t use David Tennant. Didn’t even think to ask.) It was indeed a journey: finding the right narrator, working with her to find the right character voices and narration tone, and remembering again a book we wrote 7 years ago. When words are spoken, you hear them in a different way than when they’re seen on the printed page. (And I realized that, for Jaime, the fact that “none of this made any sense,” was a theme through the book.)

dagger of urBut it was great fun. Our main characters, Jaime and Yani, were so much younger then.WE were so much younger then! In CHASING, the first book, Barb had to write all the military dialogue, because I was not fluent in Acronym-speak at all. It was fun, going back to the Indiana-Jones-with-a-theology-degree feel of racing through Iraq, through Ur and Babylon and Baghdad and the Southern Swamplands. Describing the halls of the Iraq Museum and the walls of the various eras of Babylon and the bricks of the Ziggurat at Ur. Seeing the horrific effect of Saddam’s draining of the Southern Swamplands, and how they were slowly re-irrigated. Being able to discuss (and pronounce) the Transflandrian Transgression.  Of remembering when Jaime first met Yani, and the immediate effect they each had on the other. Seeing that gorgeous Dagger of Ur. (In fact, had tears running down my face when I saw the replica in the British Museum. (Much the way I did when I saw Princess Kaiulani’s peacock hat in the museum in Hulihe’e Palace. But that’s a different story.)

There’s been a lot of talk about creationism-versus-evolution lately, with the Cosmos show on television. I rest happy in knowing that we provided an alternate ending. So, thanks for bringing the story to life in a new way, Kristina. I’d sit around your fire any night!

Chasing Eden: Eden Thrillers | [B.K. Sherer, Sharon Linnea]

So, if you’re curious, feel free to click on the Chasing Eden cover above and listen to a free excerpt from the audio.

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