In the animated film The Grinch, Benedict Cumberbatch voices the cantankerous green Grinch who lives atop Mount Crumpit, despises Christmas, and plans to ruin Whoville’s holiday festivities. When asked to play the iconic Dr. Seuss villain whose heart is “two sizes too small,” the 42-year-old actor leaped at the chance. But he also wondered why producers thought he was so well-suited to play the despicable, conniving creature.

The British actor, who is known for his masterful ability to alter his voice, was the deep, snarling voice of Smaug in The Hobbit. And like the Grinch, Smaug is an angry old creature residing on a secluded mountain. But when Cumberbatch growled a few lines for the producers, they clarified, “No, we like your voice.” What they were after was more in line with Cumberbatch’s rendition of Sherlock with his unfiltered, socially awkward, and sometimes rude persona.

In an NPR interview, Cumberbatch spoke about the joy of portraying a character like the Grinch. “I had a lot of fun doing that,” he said. “It’s lovely being mean. It’s great fun. I wouldn’t, myself, go about knocking the heads off snowmen, or taking a jar away from a woman who’s trying to reach to the top shelf to get it, and then put it back out of her reach. But I quite like playing those things, because watching them, you get a vicarious thrill out of it.”

The Dr. Strange star worked from a voice-over booth in England without his fellow castmates present which, he says, helped him tap into a sense of loneliness. He worked on it for over two years with two-months gaps between each recording. This schedule allowed him to continue working on other productions over the duration.

The Grinch is based on the Seuss classic book, first published in 1957, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and so that’s where Cumberbatch started his research. But he quickly realized he didn’t want to model his interpretation of the disgruntled character solely on the book because he thought it might scare the targeted audience–kids.

“It was far too growly and angry and I just thought, yeah, we can’t do that for a whole kids’ film. So we then just managed to rediscover the joy he takes in being the Grinch. So then it just kind of opened up, and there were loads more different levels and expressions within that–more range,” Cumberbatch explained on the Today Show.

This is the third screen adaption of the holiday tale; the first being a 26-minute televised cartoon special in 1966, and the second being a feature-length live-action film starring Jim Carrey in 2000. Cumberbatch did not want to imitate any of the previous takes on the character, so he deliberately avoided viewing them.

“I have never seen the old versions. I think I saw a clip of the [original televised] Boris Karloff cartoon. I remember the trailer for the Jim Carrey movie,” Cumberbatch told Fandango All Access. “It’s a bad idea, I think, if you’re an actor playing a new version of an old character that’s already been played by other people to watch other people’s work because it could influence you and you might end up copycatting, which could get you into trouble with lawyers and angry Carrey fans and Boris Karloff nuts … and it’s not a good look–not a good look at all. Listen, I don’t know, maybe I have copied them accidentally. It’s such an iconic character. I’m sure at some point we all made similar choices, but one of the joys of it being done is I can now go back to those versions and watch them as well.”

Cumberbatch’s Grinch, for example, shows more love and sympathy for his loyal dog, Max, which stands in stark contrast to the abuse Max takes in the original animation.

The film is still in theaters and has grossed almost $372 worldwide since its November release.

Have you seen each screen version of The Grinch? If so, how do you think Cumberbatch’s version compares to the previous ones?