Jesse Plemons (‘The Power of the Dog’) on playing Benedict Cumberbatch’s lonely brother: ‘A very graceful punching bag’

George Burbank is “sort of a very graceful punching bag,” according to the actor who plays him, Jesse Plemons, in the Netflix drama “The Power of the Dog.” The film is set in 1920s Montana where George and his cruel brother Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) operate their family ranch. But George has “managed to deal with such a difficult person” while still maintaining his “dignity, and I think even compassion for his older brother.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Plemons above.

The film is written and directed by Jane Campion based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage. And it explores how the tension between the brothers rises when George suddenly marries a widow (Kirsten Dunst) and takes in her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). “We were really fortunate in having these few weeks of rehearsals before we started,” says Plemons about developing his uneasy sibling bond with Cumberbatch. “We were able to comb through the book” for character details, “but also fill in the blanks” with George, who “has been on the receiving end of this verbal abuse for years and years, but he doesn’t leave when he could … Finding a history that supported that was really interesting.”

Though the film is set in the American West, it was shot in New Zealand, where “the landscape itself sort of tells a story … New Zealand definitely lives up to its reputation for being one of the most beautiful places in the world.” Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, causing production to halt. “We had no idea when, or even if at a certain point we were going to finish the film, and we had about three weeks left of some pretty intense scenes,” Plemons remembers. But after about three months they were able to resume production, and “I think we were all just so happy to be able to do what we love and happy to finish telling the story.”

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