Benedict Cumberbatch has defended his decision to play a gay character in his new film, despite not identifying as one in real life.

In new movie The Power of the Dog, the 45-year-old plays Phil Burbank, a “sadistic rancher” who gets into a relationship with Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

The actor has since revealed that this “wasn’t done without thought” and frequent conversations took place about the topic.

Speaking at the Telluride Film Festival, Cumberbatch said: “I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion.

“One of the appeals of the job was the idea that in this world, with this specific character, there was a lot that was private, hidden from view.”

Although his character is never directly described as gay in the movie, Cumberbatch previously played a gay man in The Imitation Game when he acted as Alan Turing.

He added: “It wasn’t done without thought. I also feel slightly like, is this a thing where our dance card has to be public? Do we have to explain all our private moments in our sexual history? I don’t think so.”

The Doctor Strange star went on to state that director Jane Campion “chose us as actors to play those roles. That’s her question to answer.”

Smit-McPhee also commented on the issue, explaining that he relates a lot to his character even though he is a straight man.

The actor said: “Sure, I’m a straight man, but I’m extremely in touch with my feminine side. I was raised by my mother and my sister.

“Of course, my dad has a huge masculine influence on my life but he could never really take me away from the feminine side that I just intrinsically have in myself.

“It was just a matter of bringing it out… and letting it be in the world. It was a really experimental but beautiful thing to do.”

Smit-McPhee praised Campion, who he said helped get him out of his comfort zone.

“At first I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know if I can find anything more than what I’ve done for all these years’.”

“But when I just surrendered to it and accepted it and had fun with it, Jane helped me bring more to Peter than I could bring myself.”

The Power of the Dog will be released in cinemas on 17 November before arriving on Netflix on 1 December.