Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon explain history behind 'The Current War' film

The leading actors discuss the epic rivalry their characters have and why they are strong climate change activists.
5:24 | 10/21/19

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Transcript for Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon explain history behind 'The Current War' film
Now the other topic for both of you is you're both climate change activists which we all appreciate. Michael, you took your daughter to a rally to see Greta Thunberg, and Benedict, yes. It was at a so-called extinction rebellion event. It was a weekday and I was filming around the corner. I wanted to check out what they were doing. They had taken over the sites. That's it. It was an amazing festival of climate scientists talking about the crisis, and people you get to sort of explain what the mission statement is behind that kind of affirmative civil disobedience and positive action. Some critics are calling you and others in the entertainment business hypocritical. We are. We are. I'm here to talk to you about a movie, and really there should be an iPad here, which I offered. Everyone is complicit. It's systemic. What are we going to do? Well, you have to make your individual choices and you have to put pressures on your government to try and structure something that gives us and our children some kind of a future of hope that is in action and not just words and step up the promises for reduction in carbon emission and, you know, we're running out of time with the carbon budget that's going to be up in about 12 years, and by then, if effects will be irreversible. And who knows? It may be beyond human sort of the human condition to be able to do that. We're kind of stuck on short-term-ism, you know, as a species. Yep. We're all guilty of it. We can't keep voting -- I wasn't telling anyone how to behave in their own lives and that's an individual choice, and I think the media wanted to sort of slay the people that were there rather than talk about why they were there. Mm-hmm. They did a good job of that for awhile. They always do that. They always do. They come for you as hard as they can thinking that it's going to keep people from hearing what you have to say, but people who are listening are listening regardless. Yeah. So Mike, last time I know that you were around, you were on Broadway with Audra McDonald. Yes. Yes, I was. I love her and I love you, and I wished I had gotten to see the two of you doing this play because I was told it was fantastic, but this film now that you have done is a story that most Americans don't know much about because everybody says, well, of course Edison made the lightbulb having no idea that there's much more that went into all of this, and he created creation of the electric chair. Can you give us just a brief history of this film, and the two of you in it? There was an epic rivalry. There's this epic rivalry between the two. There was, but I also -- I play George westinghouse in the movie, and I was very excited about this opportunity because and it kind of ties into what we were talking about earlier. Westinghouse was an extremely wealthy and influential man in the industrial age, and a very brilliant man, but he was also a very conscientious man, and he was a man who managed to make money and be successful without, you know, ruining everything, and he was actually very considerate and thoughtful about society at large and how what he was doing was having a positive impact on society. So I was very anxious to get that message out there in this current climate. I thought it could be valuable, but anyway in the story we're telling, you know, it's basically the battle between alternating current and direct current. Yeah. And I'm a proponent of -- Yes. They're both winners though. They fought, but they both did incredible things. The thing is in their battle to illuminate the country because there is a battle, the consequence of the technology is putting the first human in the electric chair. Yes. Yes. That's one of the consequences. Killing off the elephant. Yeah. That's a whole thing. The obsessive competition between them, and the scene you're seeing, it ends with this idea -- it starts with the idea that there's -- you build a fence, both sides benefit from the fence, but really the best benefit is if you work together. Yeah. That's kind of the heart of the film. Edison often credited America's most famous inventor and he was very belligerent and defensive. He fought a campaign based on fear. Yeah. If only he had reached out and had the common courtesy to accept the dinner invitation, but he had a kid who was asleep. It was a domestic reason why he didn't in our story, and from that, this rivalry just sort of parked up.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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