<i>What</i> Will Benedict Cumberbatch Play In Peter Jackson's <i>Hobbit</i>?

A little more than a week after Martin Freeman let slip that Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch will appear in The Hobbit, Ian McKellen may have dropped a tantalizing clue as to what his role will be.

Confirming the addition of Cumberbatch to the ensemble cast of the two-movie adaptation, McKellen wrote on his blog, "The cat is out of the bag.  The actor is named." Then he went on to release another cat, if not quite accidentally: "Now, what can he be playing in The Hobbit?"

Note that McKellen wrote what and not who, lending credence to initial whispers that Cumberbatch would provide the voice of Smaug, the cunning and fearsome dragon that seized the treasures of the Lonely Mountain and laid waste to the lands surrounding it. He serves as the primary antagonist of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel, as Thorin Oakenshield assembles the Company of Dwarves and hires the burglar Bilbo Baggins to regain the lost Dwarven kingdom (and its treasures) from Smaug.

But what if Cumberbatch isn't only providing Smaug's voice?

"Philippa Boyens showed me a snippet of his screen-test, played in close-up into the camera," McKellen continued. "It was electrifying, vocally and facially. Yes, what can he be playing?"

Yes, what? Given director Peter Jackson's use of motion-capture technology, most notably in Andy Serkis' portrayal of Gollum, it seems likely that Cumberbatch will be providing the voice and face of the Dragon Dread.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens on Dec. 14, 2012, and The Hobbit: There and Back Again on Dec. 13, 2013.

The Hobbit stars Ian McKellen, returning as Gandalf the Grey, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. Other actors reprising their Lord of the Rings roles are: Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Orlando Bloom as Legolas; Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum. The ensemble cast also includes Richard Armitage, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, Mike Mizrahi, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Mikael Persbrandt, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott, Jeffrey Thomas and Aidan Turner.

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