The Imitation Game actor feels an "idiot" and a "fool" after referring to black actors as "coloured" while discussing the lack of diversity in acting roles in the UK but hopes his remarks will "highlight" the need for "inoffensive terminology".
He said: "I'm devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive. The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was talking about racial inequality in the performing arts in the UK and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term. I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people. I apologise again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply."
The 38-year-old actor - who is expecting his first child with fiancee Sophie Hunter - spoke out following a live interview on PBS talk show Tavis Smiley.
He said: "I think as far as coloured actors go, it gets really different in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the US] than in the UK, and that's something that needs to change. Something's gone wrong, we're not representative enough in our culture of different races and that really does need to step up a pace."
Anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card said the actor's comments had "the potential to cause offence" but commended him for raising the issue of a lack of diversity in the entertainment industry.
They said: "Benedict Cumberbatch has highlighted a very important issue within the entertainment industry and within society. The lack of representation of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds within certain industries in the UK is an issue which needs addressing, and we are pleased that Benedict has spoken out in support of more appropriate representation. In doing so, he has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language. Show Racism the Red Card feel that the term 'coloured' is now outdated and has the potential to cause offence due to the connotations associated with the term and its historical usage."