Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog is one of the best movies of the year. It's full of nuance, clever character choices, and Campion's auteur touch. Not only is it a new way to look at Westerns, but it subverts traditional masculinity in incredibly interesting ways.

Recently, Campion sat down with Indiewire to talk about masking the film and the trust she puts into great actors to deliver. 

Imagine casting a Western and knowing that your top choice was an Englishman who most recently starred in a Marvel movie. Campion knew that Cumberbatch had a great pedigree. So when it came time, she knew he was the right pick. 

“Just jumping in there and going, ‘I think this guy can do it. He’s English, he’s got no apparent qualities that would work for the story, except he’s charismatic. How’s that going to work?'” Campion said.

Yet as a director, you have to go with your gut and trust your instincts, even when there is pushback. You're betting on yourself as much as the actor.

Campion said, “But I put my bets on actors, their ambition and their performance, because I think Benedict, in everything that he’s done, has been extraordinary. I really guessed that he was wanting an opportunity to go very deep. I needed someone to feel that ambition that this character can bring into you, because it’s a big, big journey.”

The truth is, Campion had so much trust in Cumberbatch she let him run with the ending of the movie, not knowing how he would play it or what the character would do. She said, “I didn’t have a clue what he was going to do... In rehearsal, we never went there. We never went to that place to look at what he might do there.”

This was indicative of the whole movie, where she just let Cumberbatch act and be true to the character.

She said, “What I tend to do is just really work on a 360-degree presence of that character so no matter what happened—if we went off script, anywhere we went—he could be Phil. He could improvise in any situation. When I first saw him let it rip, I was absolutely stunned, thrilled, because I felt like this is what we need, this is what the film needs, to see the threat of Phil explode."

The movie was based on a novel. That book helped guide Campion and Cumberbatch through crafting the screenplay and Cumberbatch's character. He begins as a bully, but softens as another side of him is brought to the forefront. These choices are not simple to adapt from script to screen. It requires intense work. 

“It was a great blueprint for us to work with, for Benedict and myself, and create the script from... One of my biggest challenges I realized early on, when I started turning it into a script, it was very easy to be turned off completely. The sort of comments he makes all the time, calling [his brother, played by Jesse Plemons] ‘fatso,’ just out of habit: a casual dominance and shaming that Phil has with everybody. On the one hand, it’s kind of curious and funny. On the other hand, it’s kind of devastating. So it was like, how do we keep people interested in this portrait and not turn them off completely? We don’t want them to stop watching.”

So much of the character of Phil rides on being an alpha, but having deep-seated, self-hating tendencies. There's another layer to him, a side he's not allowed to show.

Campion said, “As the onion comes undone, we really see this fragile human who’s not living his life because, underneath his cover, he’s actually the opposite of what he’s pretending to be. He’s a misogynist in the sense that he doesn’t trust women, he doesn’t trust his mother. His mother never saw him, never saw the real Phil, the man who loves men. That’s a very painful and isolating position to be in and I think he makes it his business to isolate and undermine everyone else.”

Did you see the movie? What did you think about Cumberbatch's performance and Campion's directing? 

Let us know in the comments.