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Benedict Cumberbatch warns history is repeating itself as streethomelessness soars

Benedict Cumberbatch speaks out about homelessness in a new Big Issue interview ahead of his big new Netflix series Eric

Benedict Cumberbatch in Netflix series Eric with his monster pal

Benedict Cumberbatch in Eric. Image: Netflix

Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken out about the rise of homelessness in the UK ahead of his big new Netflix series Eric.

The actor’s latest starring role sees him play a puppeteer named Vincent Anderson in Abi Morgan’s emotional thriller set in 1980s New York. The series, which also features a seven-foot blue and white monster puppet called Eric, explores big themes – from the early days of the Aids epidemic to institutionalised police racism and homophobia, gentrification, and the brutal treatment of New York’s homeless population.

Cumberbatch, talking to the Big Issue, explained that he felt history was repeating itself in this country, when it comes to homelessness.

“Last night I walked past Tottenham Court Road station and I must have counted 50 tents in the first 100 yards,” Cumberbatch said, in a new interview with the Big Issue.

“It was like the cardboard city of the 1980s and 90s.”

The new Netflix series charts a real period in New York City history, when politicians in City Hall were trying to evict the city’s homeless population while skyscrapers – including Trump Tower – were going up. Huge protests, which are shown in the new drama, erupted.

“It feels like a tipping point, the end of the 60s and 70s idealism veering into that narcissistic capitalist driven consumerism we have now,” said Cumberbatch.

Eric tackles the structural failings of that time. Whether it’s healthcare, policing or even the domestic sphere of the family. It’s about the Gordon Gekko ‘greed is good’ thing that started in 85 and has carried on for the next 40-odd years.”

The idea that unhoused people were the problem, rather than the lack of housing or support, remains prevalent to this day. Cumberbatch even encountered it on his current press tour.

“The Angelinos I talked to recently doing press for Eric were saying, ‘There’s a big problem here but they’re cleaning them up. They’re moving them on,’” Cumberbatch told us.

“But that’s not the solution. Are they’re tackling the housing crisis? Are they helping the people falling through the cracks in the middle classes, let alone the working classes or people with mental health issues in that non-welfare state miasma of the dollar? It was terrifying to hear that. It’s like, out of sight, out of mind.”

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At the heart of Eric is the story of Vincent and Carrie Anderson (Transparent star Gaby Hoffman). whose son goes missing on his way to school. And Cumberbatch, famous for roles in Sherlock, Dr Strange and The Imitation Game, admitted the ‘missing child’ genre is not his favourite.

“As a father I find this kind of drama hard to watch. The missing child genre is tricky. It is not top of my TV wishlist,” he said, before adding “I probably shouldn’t say that!

“But Eric should be. Because it’s a redemptive story. And it’s actually about the lost child in all of the characters. It’s this amazing, imaginative odyssey about how they step into themselves and find themselves.”

Eric is on Netflix from 30 May.

Read the full interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, plus co-stars Gaby Hoffman and Mckinley Belcher III, and writer Abi Morgan in The Big Issue magazine on sale from May 27.

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