I loved the ball scene. It was like in a Disney movie, so I had to do this!
Monthly Archives: November 2015
Sherlock Holmes: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were originally unsure about detective’s Victorian adventure
Having so successfully updated the detective stories for the BBC series, its creators wrote a special episode in which Holmes and Watson are seen in their original era. But its stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman explain that they had to be convinced
Benedict Cumberbatch fears he might have a reputation for being “a dick”. This endearing glimpse of a major star self-aware enough to see beyond the legions of so-called “Cumberbitches” and other worshipping admirers comes during a discussion of the coat that he wears in BBC1’s Sherlock. For a while, it seems, Cumberbatch used to wear Sherlock’s coat off-set as well, after Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss told him that the garment suited him.
“But then I started to get a bit self-conscious about being photographed,” he says. “I might be seen wandering out and about wearing his costume and seal my reputation as being a dick.” The coat – now tatty – is safely back in storage because Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is currently looking a lot suaver and smarter than the rather scruffy, overgrown undergraduate to whom we have become accustomed.
The upcoming Sherlock special, The Abominable Bride, takes place in Victorian times and his character’s normally unruly mop is slicked neatly back, and Cumberbatch is wearing Victorian evening wear. He looks more suited to a Pall Mall gentlemen’s club than to an unheated rehearsal room at the production’s home in a former bottling plant in Bristol.
“I was thrilled,” he says of playing Sherlock in his original 1890s form. “At last, I could get a haircut.” The snip, it transpires, is also something of a metaphor for the relief of setting Steven Moffat and Gatiss’s updated detective back in his original era. “You feel some of the weight is taken off you,” Cumberbatch says. “You’re no longer trying to establish this man in the 21st century. The other gorgeous thing about going back in time is that you can actually look to the books for source material, which I always do for our version anyway, but it’s even more qualifiable to lean on them for inspiration.”
Not that The Abominable Bride, unlike earlier episodes of BBC1’s triumphant series, is based on an actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale. Its inspiration is a case mentioned in passing by Dr Watson in the 1893 short story, The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual – a mystery that Holmes had solved before his acquaintance with Watson.
Cumberbatch claims that he wasn’t initially convinced by Moffat and Gatiss’s idea of a standalone episode transporting his painstakingly modernised detective back to 1895. “In fact, I went, ‘You’re mad’,” he says. “I genuinely didn’t understand how they were going to get away with it.
“And then I got the more detailed pitch and I thought, ‘OK, this is going to be great fun’, And it really is. It’s so nice to play him in his era. The things that are asked of me in the modern version, the sense that this is a man clearly slightly out of his time… to put him back in the era he was written in originally is just a joy. It feels easier.
“And then there are things I tried to impose on the modern version, like his stature and physicality – a lot of that’s done [in the Victorian version] by the clothing, the collars, the deerstalker and cape and pipe and things.”
Ah yes, the deerstalker, cape and pipe. Didn’t he feel a bit of a walking cliché when armed with the detective’s iconic accessories? “And yet it doesn’t feel like a cliché because you’re functioning in them rather than quoting them,” Cumberbatch says. “They were de rigueur items of fashion that have just become iconic for him, but they’re very useful. And there might be a magnifying glass that might be slightly bigger than the one I usually use…”
It has been nearly two years since the last full series of Sherlock, the final episode ending with a cliffhanger, that of a video close-up of Jim Moriarty’s face being broadcast all over London, asking: “Did you miss me?” Andrew Scott’s arch villain doesn’t feature in the Victorian special, which will be simultaneously screened in cinemas across the UK and across the world (including China, where Sherlock has a huge following). A full new series starts filming in the spring.
“We are very good at making people wait – it’s what we do,” quips Gatiss. “Whole civilizations have risen and fallen between seasons of Sherlock.” As they have established Sherlock Holmes and John Watson so brilliantly in the 21st century, I wondered why Gatiss and Steven Moffat wanted to now place them in a Victorian setting?
“It’s called the Adventure of Having Your Cake and Eating It,” says Gatiss. “No, to be honest, it was just too irresistible to see Benedict and Martin [Freeman] and everyone else in Conan Doyle-land. Given that it’s fair to say that Benedict and Martin are the Holmes and Watson of their age, wouldn’t it be awful if you never saw them do it properly? We sort of joked about the idea for a long time; the only other people who have done both period and modern Holmes and Watson are Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, who started Victorian but eventually fought the Nazis in the 1940s.”
Moffat adds: “It started with us seeing if we could justify doing a 10-minute version where they put the togs on so we could see them do it. And we thought of all the jokes we could do, and then we thought, ‘Actually let’s not do that, let’s do it properly, not tongue-in-cheek’.”
“But it’s still our show, it’s still essentially Sherlock,” says Gatiss. “It hasn’t suddenly become very dusty and slow. We knew that we didn’t just want to do a Comic Relief sketch. This is a full-blooded Victorian Gothic.”
For Freeman, one of his biggest objections to the Victorian setting is the bushy moustache he has to wear on his top lip. “I’m going to try to rein in that in series four,” he says, “and not let Steven and Mark think this is an ongoing thing now, or I’ll end up as Robinson Crusoe.”
Like Cumberbatch, Freeman was also initially resistant to the idea of a Victorian episode. “But then I was originally resistant to Sherlock because it was modern,” he reveals. “Before I read the scripts [for series one] I thought ‘Hmmm, modern Sherlock Holmes could be rubbish. I’ve overheard Mark and Steven say a couple of times while we’ve been on set that, ‘Finally we’re doing it properly, we’re doing the correct version at last’. It’s nice to ring some changes, I guess.”
Indeed, for those who might have been hoping for a business-as-usual, modern-dress Sherlock, Freeman has this to say: “I believe in not just giving people what they want because why should you? I mean, there was resistance about series three among diehard fans [some thought it had become too introspective and lost its storytelling mojo], but give them a couple of months and they watch it again. It sinks in.”
After three years spent in New Zealand playing Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, as well as six months in Canada filming the first season of Fargo, Freeman is enjoying a relatively relaxed 2015. Filming Sherlock means an opportunity to work with his wife, Amanda Abbington, who has played John Watson’s wife, Mary Watson, since the start of series three. He is, however, resigned to the cost to his family life of his profession.
“There’s no way round it,” Freeman says. “Well, there is; I could stop acting, and even though it’s second in importance to my family, it’s a close second because I was doing it before I met Amanda, and I was doing it before I became a dad.”
The 44-year-old Freeman’s upcoming workload includes Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake as a stand-up comedian trying to make it in the macho world of northern working men’s clubs in the 1970s and 80s, and being reunited with his Fargo co-star Billy Bob Thornton (as well as playing Tina Fey’s Scottish boyfriend) in the war comedy Fun House. Will there always be room for Sherlock?
“We all know it’s a good show, but the truth is that it has got more and more difficult to factor in,” Freeman says. “I think I will, though, as long as we’re all free and enjoying it. I’ve always believed in doing things as long as one wants to do them, and as soon as you don’t want to do something I think you should stop. Unless it’s marriage – and then you should work on it…”
Cumberbatch, who will turn 40 next July, is understandably one of the busiest actors around, currently filming the Andy Serkis-directed Jungle Book: Origins (he plays Shere Khan) opposite Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett.
He also takes the title role in Doctor Strange, the latest Marvel Comics blockbuster and – following his Oscar-nominated role as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, he is preparing to portray Thomas Edison in The Current War, which tells of Edison’s struggle with George Westinghouse (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) for control of the nascent electricity market in the 1880s. With so much going on, how determined is he to keep making time for Sherlock?
“Pretty determined,” says Cumberbatch. “I’m still enjoying it. We’ll see how the next series goes, but I’d love to keep ageing with him. It would be an interesting experiment to do. Martin and I started this relatively young compared to other Holmes and Watsons, so why not?”
‘Sherlock: The Abominable Bride’ will be screened on BBC1 on New Year’s Day, and in selected cinemas worldwide
Benedict Cumberbatch chats about taking his Sherlock Holmes back to the Victorian era in the Sherlock Special, The Abominable Bride…
Back in February of this year, details on the Sherlock Christmas Special were thinner on the ground than incriminating footprints after heavy rain. We had no title, trailer or synopsis for the Victorian-set episode, just a single image of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman decked out in nineteenth-century clobber.
Armed with only that, it was the task of a group of journalists visiting the set to turn detective and find out what could be deduced about the Special. Facing cast and creators well-used to the ducks and dives of interviews able to reveal almost nothing, below are the results of a rapid-fire interrogation of Benedict Cumberbatch…
How did you respond when they said they wanted to do a Victorian Holmes?
I was thrilled! I went, at last, I can have a fucking haircut [laughter] I can slick it back and not have that ridiculous mop of curls on my head. And then I went you’re mad, what?
The first pitch was quite light. It was at the end of the third episode of the last season and I genuinely didn’t understand how they were going to get away with it. And then the more detailed pitch came when they were talking about series four as well and I went, okay, this is going to be great fun. And it really is.
It’s so nice to play him in his era. The things that are slightly more heavy-lifting in the modern era in that there’s a man clearly slightly out of his time, it’s put him back in the era that he’s written in originally, it’s a joy. It feels easier to a degree. It’s just things that I tried to impose a little bit on our modern version, things like physicality, stature, a lot of that’s done by the body of the clothing and collars and the deerstalker and cape, so that’s an absolute delight.
Yet it doesn’t feel like cliche because you’re functioning in them rather than quoting them. You’re not just bringing them out, they were functional in that era, they were de rigeur items of fashion which have just become iconic for him, but also very useful.
Has the change in period affected your performance?
I’m sure it has.
Sherlock is more at peace with his surroundings and environment?
A little bit, a little bit. When he’s in full Victorian swing, it’s a really lovely feeling.
Is he still rude?
Yes, he is still rude because he cuts through mediocrity. He’s a meritician, it’s a meritocracy, so it doesn’t matter if you’re Lord and Lady such-what or if you’re driving a hansom cab, or if you’re one of the Baker Street boys, it’s just purely about what your worth is and your qualities, it’s not about social standing. So yeah, he is still rude. He’s rude to idiots or people who are pompous or sexist…he’s quite a crusader in that regard. That’s always enjoyable to be.
What’s the relationship between him and Watson? Is Watson more in awe of Holmes?
I think there’s always a bit of respect rather than awe.
Is there still the ‘bromance’?
You just really want to write the word ‘bromance’ [laughter]
There can’t be an article without it in there!
There can. You can be the first! Strive for change in the press. [Laughter]
It’s definitely a companionship that’s evolved in our version, so we’re not regressing it back to ‘wow! Golly Holmes’ or some kind of Nigel Bruce-esque adoration, it’s more complex than that. It is an examination of what they were in the original stories but with our flavour.
We don’t want to make it into a sketch, we don’t want to make it into something ridiculous or comic but at the same time, because we want to be true to the original but at the same time we’ve got to be true to our version of it. It’s that very delicate balancing act.
Is there an element of mischief in deciding to do this now?
Not too much. No, not too much.
Because it’s confounding what fans are going to expect following a cliff-hanger?
But there’s some fun in that?
Yeah. I suppose there’s some sort of gleeful hand-rubbing, if it’s needed, from Mark and Steven, but when you’re playing it, you just get on and do the thing. You’re committed to what you’re playing.
Because of the traditional setting, do you feel the weight of other portraits of Holmes?
Not really, no. We’ve established ours and so have others. We’re still very different from the Guy Ritchie version. This isn’t steam-punk action drama, it’s still our version. It still has the nuances of the original book with our twists. So, no. There will always be comparisons, always, you can’t help that.
As I keep guessing, I think I’m the seventy-sixth and Robert Downey-Jr is the seventy-fifth. When you’re one of that many, and some truly immeasurably iconic previous versions in the original era, it’s not healthy to compare.
The other gorgeous thing about going back in time to this is that you can actually look to the books as your source material, which is what I always do for our version anyway but it’s even more quantifiable to lean on them for some inspiration, insight and characterization, so that’s been good, more than going back to other versions, is just going back to the source material.
Do you think you would have wanted to do period Holmes if that was the series?
Yeah! Very much, very much. I’ve really, really loved it. I said to Sue this morning, ‘it’s going to be hard to…’, you know, talking about maybe doing it again. It’s really enjoyable.
Do you almost prefer it?
I don’t know. They’re too different to compare in some ways. Yeah, I’m really crap at answering ‘favourite’ questions [laughter].
There must be something satisfying for you about having slicked-back hair and…
Because that’s the more familiar. Like I say at the beginning, you feel like some of the weight is taken off you, you’re not trying to establish this man in the 21st century.
I don’t know any other actor that’s been that spoiled with this role. Well, Rathbone leaped forward to the forties and fought Nazis, so that was their version of it. There’s quite a lot of modern clobber. I think I’m pretty much the only one that’s done that quite so severely as we have.
The original Holmes was a champion boxer. Are we going to be seeing you fighting?
Yeah, I’m always up for more fights. I keep saying that to them. I do like throwing myself around a set.
Is your Victorian Holmes quite progressive? You said earlier that he’s calling people out for being sexist and so on?
I think he always was, he was very charming with women. He gave a lot of people respect that otherwise you wouldn’t necessarily have thought in that era he would. He’s a man who goes for quality rather than the social hierarchy, but I don’t think he’s any more that than he is in the books is what I was trying to say.
There’s no danger that modern fans might be alienated by a Victorian Holmes?
I don’t know. I don’t think so though, he’s got a lot of fight in him, he hasn’t become patronisingly nice and charming. He defines things as they are, he’s very straight with people.
And you’re smoking a pipe this time?
It’s a pyrotechnic pipe. I’m not smoking it, it’s an effect. Even that is fun, just to have that as another part of him. There might be a magnifying glass that might be slightly bigger than the one I usually use, it might be slightly more familiar…
Any syringes full of cocaine?
Again, the props department are having a fantastic time on this job. All sorts of things are being brought into play.
Steven Moffat once said that you have to wear the Belstaff coat in every Sherlock. But you don’t in this?
It’s not contractual [laughter]. It’s getting a bit tatty now. Mark gave me one at the end of the first series, I was like ‘what are you doing?’ he said ‘you should enjoy this, just enjoy it, because you’re only going to have two months of wearing it, you look great in it’ and I was like ‘oh great’ so I did for a little bit, but even then I started to think ‘well, it’s not like somebody’s going to take a photograph of me now, but what if somebody accidentally did and it then says ‘Wandering around Hampstead Heath in his fucking coat!’ [laughter] to seal my reputation as being a dick. So I felt self-conscious about it.
But also, I had to give it back because we’ve run out of them. Belstaff doesn’t make them anymore and the replicas don’t cut it so it’s back in the cycle of the ones we’ve got. I’m sure he’ll wear his coat again. It’s like the hair, the coat, the key ingredients… but what really brings me back for more cross-generationally is just the evolution of him and the characters within the stories that you know and the stories that we create out of the stories you know. That’s the real level of engagement with him I enjoy, the stuck-on bits of the doll will hopefully change at some point because what goes on underneath has to change a lot as well. As an actor, that’s what intrigues us all to come back and play these characters is that there is scope for them to expand and change and evolve.
Do you think doing a Christmas Victorian episode could become a bit of a tradition?
Keep coming back for more? Maybe, maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see how this one goes. I think if it becomes impossible to schedule a season every year, year and a half then yeah, absolutely, why not.
It’s a great deal of fun, this, but it does advance things, it’s not just on its own.
How determined are you to keep making time for Sherlock?
Pretty determined. I’m still enjoying it. We’ll see how the next series goes, but as it is in this room, as I’ve said many times before, I’d love to keep ageing with him. Martin and I started this relatively young compared to a lot of Holmes and Watsons, so why not?
The Abominable Bride airs on the 1st of January 2016 on BBC One and PBS.
**Someone has posted some brilliant GIF’s on Tumblr called “#Imagine Tom Hiddleston. These always make me laugh, so I decided to do my own from time to time. I hope you like them…
Hiddlebatch Fans! has now expanded to a Tumblr account. It’s basically the same page, only once in a while, we might add something new. So if you have a Tumblr account, please feel free to join in!
Zoolander 2: Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘cartoonish’ transgender character prompts call for film boycott
**I’m sorry, but give me a break!
Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in the upcoming Zoolander 2 has come under fire for making a “cartoonish mockery” of “androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals”.
The trailer for the film was released earlier this week, revealing a surprise appearance by the 39-year-old as the androgynous model All, introduced as the “biggest supermodel in the whole world”
“Are you like a male model or a female model?” asks Ben Stiller’s character Derek, to which Cumberbatch’s character answers “All is All”.
“I think he’s asking is do you have a hot dog or a bun?” explains Owen Willson’s Hansel, followed by a light giggle and the word “Oops” from All.
Since the trailer’s release, a petition to boycott the film has garnered over 7,500 signatures. It claims: “Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals.
“This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.”
Sarah Rose, who authored the petition, continued: “If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film.”
Until 2014, Pejic was billed as an androgynous male model. Since undergoing sex reassignment surgery, she now identifies as a transgender woman, becoming the first openly transgender model to be profiled by Vogue earlier this year.
Though the distinction of Sexiest Man Alive is handed out each year with fanfare, the tradition hardly provides a definitive overview of what’s sexy at a given moment. Depending on the hottie in question, debate surrounding the title ranges from heated (recall the epic Bradley Cooper vs. Ryan Gosling showdown of 2011) to confused (some are still scratching their heads over Adam Levine’s win). This year’s announcement, anointing sports icon-turned-underwear pinup David Beckham, offers an appealingly populist pick, but feels a touch obvious. With the cultural pendulum (finally) swinging toward a less rigid definition of sex appeal, there’s never been more room for a broader range of options. Here, 10 convention-defying hotties, including he of the ecstatic following Benedict Cumberbatch and Canadian politician-dreamboat Justin Trudeau.
For his army of online admirers, Benedict Cumberbatch is the sexiest man ever to exist. But even if you aren’t ready to take on the title of “Cumberbitch,” listening to him read Shakespeare makes a compelling case for hotness.
(See: Cumberbatch, Benedict.)