‘Patrick Melrose’ EP Says Benedict Cumberbatch Will Transfix Viewers

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Ollie Upton/SHOWTIME

Should he start writing his Emmy acceptance speech now? With the emotional depth Benedict Cumberbatch brings to the troubled titular character on the new Showtime drama Patrick Melrose, he could easily snag another trophy. (He already won for PBS’s Sherlock in 2014.)

Based on Edward St. Aubyn’s five semi-autobiographical novels, the series introduces privileged twenty-something junkie and author Patrick, who in 1982 receives word that his father (Hugo Weaving) has died. Patrick’s reaction is surprising—he laughs!—but the real shockers come via time jumps to the 1960s and 2000s. (Cumberbatch plays Patrick from his twenties through his forties, while Sebastian Maltz portrays him as a boy.)

They reveal a torturous upbringing at the hands of a cruel, controlling dad and a complacent addict mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and, later, Patrick’s recovery.

Sounds fun, right? Actually, the production, like the books, delivers quite a few laughs along with the doom and gloom. “The culmination of horror and humor is one of the main reasons we wanted to adapt St. Aubyn’s books,” says executive producer Michael Jackson.

It was up to Cumberbatch (also an executive producer) to inject light into the darkness while also keeping a handle on a complex character that Jackson calls “a fractured personality with multiple voices in his head.”

Cumberbatch more than succeeds. Jackson recalls a time during filming when the actor had everyone on set transfixed. “He did a run-through of a three-minute scene when he’s doing the voices,” Jackson says. “After, the crew spontaneously applauded! It’s really Benedict at his best. You feel like he’s inhabiting the role.”

Remarkably, we have Twitter to thank for bringing the two men together. During a 2013 chat on online community Reddit, Cumberbatch was asked about his dream roles. “He said one was Hamlet and the other was Patrick Melrose,” Jackson recalls. “Someone retweeted it, we saw the tweet, rang his agent up and met Benedict!”

Now Jackson wants St. Aubyn to write a sixth book in his series so the show can continue. “I’ve joked with him that he should return to the story,” Jackson says. “Who knows?” Hey, it worked for Big Little Lies.

Patrick Melrose, Miniseries Premiere, Saturday, May 12, 9/8c, Showtime