LOS ANGELES - Benedict Cumberbatch is having a very good year.
He had a great run playing the villainous Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness in May, followed by his headlining project The Fifth Estate, where he portrayed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
But if there is one role that will make him iconic, it would be that of Smaug - even though we never once see Cumberbatch's face.
The 37-year-old English actor was handpicked by director Peter Jackson to play the vicious CGI dragon because of "his great performance and great voice", said the Kiwi film-maker at the international press conference for The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug on Wednesday.
As told by J.R.R. Tolkien in his book The Hobbit and previewed in last year's movie, Smaug's powerful fire desolated cities.
The sequel, which opens here next Thursday, continues the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an epic quest to reclaim the dwarves' homeland, which is occupied by Smaug.
Other than encountering fearsome elves, the group, particularly Bilbo, has to outwit and outlast Smaug, who is eager to devour the intruders.
Jackson, 52, said: "What was important for Smaug was that we wanted a dragon that has a personality, obviously, and there has to be a psychotic, unpredictable danger. He is the Hannibal Lecter of the dragon world.
"(Smaug) is super smart. He's smarter than Bilbo, always one step ahead him. That makes a character truly terrifying."
We were gathered at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, where a gigantic "pop-up" book called The Book Of New Zealand was set up to showcase four locations that played big parts in the movie.
The mood was casual and fun, with the actors -returning castmembers Armitage, Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner (Fili and Kili) as well as new additions Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman) and Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel) - laughing at one another's replies and paying tribute to Jackson.