Born in Clifton, Bedfordshire, England, Whishaw studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, six months after graduation in 2004 at the age of twenty-three, won the coveted role of Hamlet in Trevor Nunn’s modern-dress production at the Old Vic in London. His acclaimed performance was just the beginning for the young thespian, who was being touted as one of the brightest of Britain’s new generation of actors—an esteem that won him increasingly important roles in films and television shows.
Whishaw had earlier made his feature film debut as Private James Deamis in writer/director William Boyd’s taut World War I drama The Trench (1999), a film that starred Daniel Craig. He later won a role in Layer Cake (2004), another Daniel Craig starrer, and found himself in even more star-studded company as multiple characters in Cloud Atlas (2012), alongside such performers as Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, and Bond veteran Halle Berry. He portrayed the young novelist Herman Melville in director Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea (2015) and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins Returns (2018).
One of the ways the James Bond films have stayed relevant over the years is through the ever-advancing technological wizardry of Q Branch. Whishaw is the youngest actor to play the role of Q, and he represents a next-generation equipment officer whose mind is alert, computer-centric, and ready to engage in the latest form of techno-espionage at a moment’s notice. He admitted to the London Daily Telegraph that it was intimidating to step into the role after Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese had given such iconic performances, but that he took lessons from his Shakespearean work on the need to detach from what’s come before. “You can’t just start from scratch,” he explained. “You have to tick the boxes that people want ticked. Q has to be a bit snippy, tetchy and exasperated by Bond. But I felt very strongly from the script that this Q had to be something different from the past.”
Whishaw understood that by casting someone of his his age in the role, the producers were aiming for a different dynamic with 007 (Daniel Craig). “In the past, Q would be rummaging around in some huge suitcase. He was brilliant, but ramshackle. This Q is definitely slicker. He’s a Zen character who likes everything to be simple and refined. He’s pretty sharp, and Bond respects that.” And unlike the long-suffering, acerbic Q portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn, Whishaw’s Q sees Bond as a mentor and friend.
Given all the techno-speak he is asked to recite for the role, it’s surprising to learn that Whishaw confessed to not even owning a computer. “It was such fun for me to play an expert in an area where I’m completely not an expert,” he explained. “I’m really hopeless with technology.” He also enjoyed, he said in another interview, “the excitement that it generates in people. Nothing else I’ve done has generated that much anticipation. And it’s really been lovely because it’s unusual to return to work with the same group of people on a different film.”
 James Rampton, “Ben Whishaw on Playing Q in Skyfall,” London Daily Telegraph, October 26, 2012.
 Gerard Gilbert, “Ben Whishaw Interview: Spectre Actor Talks Q, Avoiding Press Harassment and Freddie Mercury Biopic,” Independent, October 23, 2015.