Smaug, the character in The Hobbit voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, was one of the first roles to be cast. In his audition tape, Cumberbatch tried it as if being filmed for motion capture–or as he describes it, “doing serpentine stuff with my neck and the shoulders working a little bit.” But he was concerned: “Too much?” he asked.
No, it was good, came the reply. Then the suggestion: but just do one off camera, in case it’s not motion capture and they won’t want your face. And that was the one that did it. The video shows a shot of his torso alone in a grey t-shirt and fleece, but Cumberbatch’s ambient voice enchants and spooks and commands attention. He submitted the tape back in 2010, during the first season of Sherlock. It was a year before he got a call from The Hobbit camp, but it was a good one. As Peter Jackson says, “It wasn’t about what he looked like, it was about what he sounded like.”