It’s 2005, and a group of actors has stopped by the side of the road in South Africa, fixing a flat tire. Little do they know that soon they will be facing huge danger. And one of them, Benedict Cumberbatch, then a rising star, will later reflect on how lucky he was to survive to become Sherlock.
In the early years of the 2000s, Cumberbatch had been making his name largely as a theater actor. In 2005 he received a nomination for a prestigious Olivier Award for his performance in Hedda Gabler. When that play moved to the West End, it marked his debut appearance in the London theater world’s cultural heart. In the meantime, Cumberbatch was also becoming more visible on TV, with his 2004 role in Hawking representing his biggest part so far.
In 2005 Cumberbatch was cast in TV mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, and filming took him to South Africa. One day, he had gone to Santa Lucia to learn scuba diving in the company of a couple of friends. On the way home, a tire on their car punctured, so they had to stop to fix it. As they changed it, a bunch of half a dozen men came up, and suddenly the mood turned dark.
The men searched them for anything stealable and shoved the three friends into the vehicle. As they drove along in the dark, Cumberbatch began to fear for his safety. He told U.K. tabloid newspaper the Daily Star in 2012, “I could see the headlight beams bumping over the dirt track, and I thought of shallow graves.” The car eventually came to a halt, and the gang had a new idea.
The men moved Cumberbatch into the car’s boot. He argued that this would be too dangerous. He told the Daily Star, “I just tried to explain to them: ‘I will die, possibly have a fit, and it will be a problem for you. I will be a dead Englishman in your car. Not good.’” This argument eventually prevailed, and Cumberbatch would live to tell the tale.