Benedict Cumberbatch has been busy during the ongoing strangeness of 2020, with a number of major film projects in the pipeline, including Jane Campion’s much-awaited The Power of the Dog, filmed in New Zealand at the beginning of the country’s effective lockdown. Two-thirds through the filming, Cumberbatch took a quick break to film a short for legendary Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre, uniting filmmaking with his other love, diving.
The Jaeger on his wrist in the film is the new Polaris Mariner Memovox, the latest in a long line of very elegant dive watches from the storied brand, that surfaced just this morning. Where most classic dive watches generally err on the side of beefy, the Polaris is refined, with all the functionality of a true ISO6425-certified diver but with its unidirectional dive timer fitted inside the watch instead of on a chunky bezel, which makes for a far sleeker case. We caught up with Cumberbatch over Zoom to find out more.
Diving has long been a thing for you. Why is that?
I’ve always been interested in it, ever since watching [1988 movie] The Big Blue and, you know, trying in a vain, kind of amateur attempt to just go deeper and stay under for longer, just to get something off the ocean floor—or just for fun.
But your experience is more with a scuba tank on your back?
I’ve done a fair bit of it, yes. I just love the submersion, the quiet, the isolation, the sort of focus and sense of achievement. I’d done free diving in the way you do with it with a scuba mask, to get something on the bottom. Sometimes with flippers, but never with weights. Originally this was pitched as an idea to incorporate things that I enjoy doing and the environment that I was in at the time. So diving seemed like the natural option, but I meant scuba diving. It was misinterpreted, in fact, but I’m thrilled about that. I got to learn something new.
And then it had weirdly coincided with meeting someone in Italy who is a free diver who took me in a pool to teach me how do the breathing. Not at any great depth, but just how to maintain that kind of discipline and use it underwater. And then along came this pitch for the advert.
Are there parallels in the breathing process with your acting?
One of the rituals of the day, if I’m going in to film something, is that one is that I try to meditate for starters. It’s just a good place to begin the morning. But sometimes in the evening before sleeping, I’ve been working with the ideas of what the subconscious can dredge up with dreamscapes and what sort of things bubble from the kind of pond of that and ripple to the surface. It can be very, very helpful for work.
There’s a tremendous sense of meditative calm in the film, a sense of escaping the world.
Well, in fact, all the calm that’s in the film required a crazy effort, a lot of frenetic activity. They were remotely directing by video, so there were echoes of thoughts coming through, which is quite tricky to take in when you’re in the water and you’re being knocked about by the waves near a boat. You just block all that out, as you do with acting, and the sort of amazing amount of work that goes on around you to capture whatever you’re giving as an actor. So there’s a lot of movement and noise and freneticism, and you have to immerse yourself in your environment and the people you’re playing and forget everything else around you.
A mechanical watch is a good way to disconnect, too.
There’s no charging it, no electricity. It’s not going to connect you with anything other than what you’ve invested in it for—telling the time, marking a dive, or setting an alarm. And that’s it. I’m all about returning to that kind of functionality. You know, I’m as seduced as the next guy by picking up a phone and thinking, “I’ll just look at the time. Oh, there’s that email. Oh, that’s just happened on the BBC News notification.” You snowball into a relationship with a computer, not a timepiece, so I much prefer to do that. That’s it. Look at the time.
And a good dive watch is essential whether you’re free diving or on scuba?
It’s key to seeing how long you’ve held your breath for, of course, when free diving. But I want to take this scuba diving, as well. I think it’s a magnificent piece. It wears very easily with something like I’m wearing now, but also it just has all the other safety features and standardized requirements you need for any kind of diving that I would ever do. It’s 300 meters water resistant, it’s got the luminosity to cover low visibility at low light. It’s got the dive timer in the central dial which means should any very unlikely things happen to that dial to interfere with the time, you’ve set your air for lasting so it will only read as you having less air, not more. So you’ll come back up with air to spare in the tank. The time indicator is actually internal to the watch, unlike most dive watches, and it’s protected by a mechanism which is also good for the water resistance.
Dive watches that are usually somewhat chunky. This is a very elegant watch.
Well I don’t have Chris Hemsworth’s wrists, and even if I did, I just feel like normal dive watches stand out too much. This is very sleek. It’s a very beautiful piece, yet it’s got all the technology in a much smaller body. I like the elegance, the understatement. It is very classy, but it doesn’t scream “look at me!” Also, I don’t know many dive watches where you can see the mechanism at the back as well, which I just love with watches. I only realized you can have as much fun with the back when I first went round the Jaeger-LeCoultre atelier.