They might be leading men in their respective countries but it's not their famous faces which have got them heading to New Zealand to join the cast of The Hobbit.

English actor Benedict Cumberbatch - best known as the latest television incarnation of Sherlock Holmes - will be motion captured as dragon Smaug as well as delivering the voice of Necromancer (later known as Sauron in The Lord of the Rings trilogy).

The other, Swedish star Mikael Persbrandt, is already in the South Island playing Beorn, a shapeshifting mountain man who is sometimes a bear.

While The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a career launchpad for many actors, both Cumberbatch and Persbrandt come to The Hobbit with established profiles.


Right down to his name, Sherlock star Cumberbatch, 35, is quintessentially British, pale skinned, average in build, sharp-witted and calmly self-contained.

The imposing deep voiced Mikael Persbrandt, 48, (last seen in Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning In A Better World) is tall, tanned, muscular, a big fan of tattoos and over the years has been a fixture of the gossip columns back home for his partying lifestyle.

Cumberbatch's first encounter with The Hobbit was as a child. "My father [television actor] Timothy Carlton read it to me when I went to bed as a youngster, so it was the first book I had in my head and it fired my imagination. So I owe it all to my dad really. I've never been to New Zealand and I'm really looking forward to going there. I hope he and my mother can come and join me for some travelling around the North and South Islands after filming."

In Wellington Cumberbatch may well cross paths with Sherlock Holmes' Dr Watson, Martin Freeman, who plays the hobbit of the title, Bilbo Baggins.

It's been a big year for Cumberbatch. As well as the television series he's in the new adaptations of John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman, John Hurt and Colin Firth and stars in Steven Spielberg's War Horse. He was also acclaimed for his performance in Danny Boyle's London stage production of Frankenstein earlier this year.

"I am the novice at the high table of talent that I've been watching all through my life and I was hugely flattered to be asked to be in the film," Cumberbatch says of his call-up by director Peter Jackson.

"I'm having a wonderful time. I'm very excited about the second season of Sherlock ... and I'm very much looking forward to working on The Hobbit."

Persbrandt's stage achievements would be too many to list and he casually mentions his starting out as an extra in Ingmar Bergman's 1983 production of King Lear at Sweden's National Theatre, where he would later work with Bergman on other productions.


Persbrandt made his name in both Swedish cop shows and at the National. He's already worked in New Zealand performing during the theatre company's's 1999 world tour of Moliere's Don Juan. Helping his motivation to play Beorn is that he's a huge Tolkien fan.

"When I was young I searched for every book that Tolkien wrote in old bookshops in Stockholm. I had them all and I still have them. I was like 14, you know that age when you want to escape. I drew the maps; I was living in it. So it's a fabulous story that I'm in it now. For me it's a saga."

"It's a very big project, but it feels very small and familiar when you are on set, unlike other Hollywood productions."

Persbrandt's latest Swedish movie, Simon Kaijser da Silva's Stockholm East, is another gut wrenching drama like In A Better World. And after doing time in many Swedish cop dramas he is happy to spend some time in the fantasyland of Middle-earth.

"I've been doing too much running around with a gun ... . it thrills me to work with directors who have a universe of their own."