**Didn’t pick my favorite moment, in Scandal In Belgravia where Sherlock insults, then apologizes to Molly Hooper.
Novels (and a comic) that made the jump from words to wow in movies and TV
The creation of Doctor Who scribes Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, this update on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series revamp benefits from both extremely clever writing and the undeniable chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch’s laser-focused Holmes and Martin Freeman’s dogged Dr. Watson. Also? Awesome coat. —Clark Collis
Image Credit: BBC
**Click on Source to see full article..
Article from tomorrow’s The Times:
Benedict Cumberbatch tells Damian Whitworth why he’s happy that Sherlock Holmes is returning to Victoriana
There have been suggestions that Benedict Cumberbatch has of late lost all his mirth. First, after one of his nightly post-Hamlet appeals to help Syrian refugees, he called on the audience to “f*** the politicians”. Then he enhanced the impression that he was taking himself a touch too seriously by calling for a meeting with the home secretary about the refugee crisis.
And now, as we discuss the Sherlock Christmas special, The Abominable Bride, he objects to the use of “bromance” to describe the relationship between his Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Dr John Watson.
We are sitting in a shabby room, heated by a small electric fire, in the Bottle Yard Studios, a former factory in Bristol where the set has been built for The Abominable Bride. For the one-off special the creators have abandoned the modern-day setting in which Cumberbatch made his name as Sherlock and taken the world’s most famous detective back to the Victorian era in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced him.
Cumberbatch is on a break from filming and arrives in Victorian waistcoat and starched collar, his hair slicked back. “What a handsome man,” mutters another (male) journalist as he enters the room. While Freeman — who had been in a few minutes earlier, huddled in an enormous parka — was so low-key that you’d walk past him in the street, Cumberbatch glows like a full moon on a cloudless night.
Of course, we all want to know if Sherlock and John are still the same back in the 19th century. “Is there still the bromance?” I ask.
“You just really want to write the word bromance,” says Cumberbatch to a little peal of sycophantic laughter from some of the journalists gathered around him. The word bromance may be overused in connection with Sherlock, but the nuances of the relationship are a subject of endless fascination to Sherlockologists. I try to keep it light: “There can’t be an article without it in there,” I joke. “There can,” says Cumberbatch. “You can be the first. Strive for change in the press.”
This is starting to feel like it could be hard work, but fortunately Cumberbatch warms up. The essence of the modern-day Sherlock has been maintained in this new departure, he says, so we can expect a rollicking pace, crackling wit and the sparky Holmes-Watson relationship. “It’s a companionship that has evolved in our version, so we are not regressing to ‘Wow!’ or ‘Golly, Holmes!’ or some sort of Nigel Bruce-esque kind of adoration. [It is] more complex than that, which is great.”
This Victorian version will not be a pastiche. “We don’t want to make it into a sketch. We don’t want to make it into something ridiculous or comic,” Cumberbatch says. “We want to be true to the original; at the same time we want to be true to our version. So it’s a very delicate balancing act.”
How did he react when the show’s creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, told him that Holmes was going home to 1895? “I was thrilled. I went, ‘At last I can have a f***in’ haircut. [Instead of] that ridiculous bouncy lot of curls on my head.’ And then I went, ‘You are mad. What?’ I genuinely didn’t understand how they were going to get away with it. And then the more detailed pitch came and I went, ‘OK, this is going to be great fun.’ And it really is. It is so nice to play him in his era. Some of the weight is taken off you and [you are]not trying to establish this man in the 21st century. When he is in full Victorian swing it’s a really lovely feeling.”
Playing Holmes in the modern era can sometimes feel like heavy lifting, says Cumberbatch. He is “a man clearly slightly out of his time. To put him back in the era that he’s written in is a joy. It feels easier to a degree. Things that I try to impose a little bit on the modern version, like his physicality, stature, a lot of that is done by the body of the clothing and collars, the deerstalker and cape and all those sort of things. That’s an absolute delight and yet it doesn’t feel like cliché because you are functioning in them rather than quoting them.”
Victorian Sherlock smokes two types of pipe and instead of the Belstaff coat worn by the modern incarnation, he has an inverness cape that echoes the coat, and is worn with matching deerstalker. No doubt they’ll be producing cheap knock-offs in China within hours of transmission.
Gatiss gave Cumberbatch the Belstaff coat after recording the first series and he wore it for a bit before the show was aired. He was not famous then and there was no reason to be concerned about having his picture taken in it. But he worried. “What if someone did accidentally [take a picture] and then says, ‘Seen walking around Hampstead Heath in his f***ing costume.’ Seal my reputation as being a dick.”
Gatiss describes this Victorian Sherlock as “The Adventure of Having Your Cake and Eating It. It is still our show. It is essentially Sherlock as if we have always done it, period. So it hasn’t suddenly become very dusty and slow.”
The 90-minute special is about having fun, chips in Moffat. “Fun for us and fun for the audience. Benedict and Martin are the Holmes and Watson of their age. They own those roles. Wouldn’t it be awful if you never saw them do it properly? Wouldn’t you like to see them in the deerstalker and bowler hat?”
Freeman says he doesn’t feel as though he is playing a completely different character, although “it does tighten you up slightly physically and vocally, I think, so there is slightly less overly casual modern speak”. Once Watson is back in the Victorian era he is a little more in awe of Holmes than in the modern version. “The original Watson was much more outwardly generous in his thinking that his friend is a genius. Modern Watson definitely thinks his friend is a genius but also an enormous pain in the arse.”
The Victorian Watson comes with a magnificent Victorian mustache. Freeman also had a ’tache in series 3 of the modern Sherlock. “I’ve got to try and rein that in, not let Steven and Mark think this is an ongoing thing now and end up as Robinson Crusoe.”
The Abominable Bride is based on a passing reference to a case made in Conan Doyle’s story The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual. The producers tell us that the story begins with a man seeing his wife in her wedding dress shortly after she killed herself and the trailers suggest a gothic adventure with clattering hansom cabs and spooky locations. No preview tapes have been made available.
On set, the actors and production team give little away, although we are allowed to venture into Holmes’s bachelor flat, which is set up exactly like his slightly squalid pad from the first three Sherlock series but filled with Victorian furniture and paraphernalia. A table is jumbled with scientific experiments, a skull, microscope and typewriter. The bison skull on the wall is still there, but instead of headphones it has an ear trumpet.
Una Stubbs will be there as Holmes’s landlady, Mrs Hudson. The Victorian Mrs H is a little rattier than the modern one, says Stubbs, who adds that Sherlock is the biggest success that she has been involved in during her long career. “I have been lucky to be in some series that have been a success — nothing like this. I am stopped in the street by groups of Russians, Chinese. It is quite extraordinary.” She recalls walking along the street the day after the first Sherlock aired. “I could hear, ‘How do you say it? Benedict Cumber . . ?’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s a success.’ ”
In the subsequent five years, Stubbs has watched Cumberbatch being catapulted to global stardom. “Can you believe how it’s changed? Really incredible. From being this young actor and suddenly this superstar. But it sits well on his shoulders.”
After three Hobbit films Freeman is a similarly big name worldwide. “I was dreading in a way that they would change but they haven’t,” says Stubbs. “You just don’t know if they’d be big-headed because it is a phenomenon, how they have both been drawn up and given all these wonderful opportunities. Well, they’ve earned them,” she adds quickly.
For Freeman, Sherlock is an opportunity to work with his partner, Amanda Abbington, who plays Mrs Watson. These days he is away from Abbington and their two children a lot. “There is no way round it. Well there is — I could stop acting. It would mean not taking interesting opportunities. 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 before I became a dad. I am very, very passionate about my job but I have to really want to do something to go away.” Work and family life mean that he and Cumberbatch tend to see each other only on Sherlock shoots. “We don’t hang out an awful lot.”
Most of the time he is grateful for the constant flow of work. “I am thinking mainly ‘Thank God’ but with moments of ‘I wish it would ease up.’ You want to have your cake and eat it in life. We are reasonably selfish creatures, I guess. I try not to look at the diary, that way I end up in trouble. Amanda says, ‘Please look at your schedule.’ I say, ‘Yes,’ but it’s boring. I just go where I’m pointed. I can’t think of things too far into the future, my brain does tend to shut down.”
Freeman’s future, he says, will continue to include Sherlock. A new series of three dramas will be filmed next year and is expected to be broadcast in 2017. “I have always believed in doing things as long as one wants to do them and as soon as you don’t want to do something you should stop.” He will work on Sherlock “as long as we are free and enjoying it. I know it’s a good show. The truth is, though, it has got more and more difficult to factor in.”
Gatiss says: “We have accidentally cast the two biggest stars in the country.” Moffatt says: “Everybody else pays them more than we do’
Cumberbatch says he is “pretty determined” to keep playing Sherlock in the modern day and maybe even as a Victorian sleuth in more specials. “I’m still enjoying it and we’ll see how the next series goes. I would love to keep ageing with him. Martin and I started this relatively young compared to a lot of Holmes and Watsons, so why not?”
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, BBC One, New Year’s Day, 9pm
**I wonder why there aren’t any pictures of Mycroft or Molly?
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are turning back the clock to Sherlock’s origins, finds Tim Martin
In the sitting-room of 221B Baker Street, where Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have jostled and bickered as Holmes and Watson since their modern-day adventures began in 2010, something is different. Watson’s chrome MacBook has been replaced by a clunking manual typewriter. The bison skull on the wall no longer wears its ironic headphones and the view from the window shows a dour set of 19th-century tenements instead of the bustling north London of today.
For the one-off episode of Sherlock, the show’s creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, have set their sparkling contemporary adaptation spinning back in time to the era of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in a special installment filled with Gothic stylings, gas-lit intrigue, luxuriant mustaches and one very famous deerstalker.
“I thought, at last I can have a f—— haircut. We could get rid of that ridiculous bouncy lot of curls on my head,” says Benedict Cumberbatch, beaming with amusement in a dressing room under the Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol. That wish, at least, came true: today Cumberbatch’s hair is slicked back, Victorian-gent-style, and he wears a stiff collar and dapper tweeds. “Then I went – you’re mad,” he continues. “I genuinely didn’t understand how they were going to get away with it.”
Like his colleagues, he is allowed only to expand on the most uncontroversial Sherlockian topics. A fourth season is coming (“I’ve said we’ll go into production on it in a year, not any specific year,” Gatiss has said) and Cumberbatch deploys his most diplomatic smile when quizzed on how this slice of Victoriana ties into the show’s present-day setting – or how it resolves the desperate cliffhanger at the end of the last season. “Nice try, nice try,” he mutters wryly, conceding only that while the trip into the 19th century “is a great deal of fun, it does advance things. It’s not just on its own.”
He’s far more comfortable when describing how it feels to explore the character as Conan Doyle originally wrote him. “In the sense that he’s a man slightly out of his time,” he says, “to put him back in the era that he’s written in is a joy. Things I tried to impose a little on the modern version – his physicality, his stature – are done by the costumes: the collars, the deerstalkers and cape. It’s a delight.”
The transition to a more polite age, however, hasn’t affected Sherlock’s ruthless bluntness. “He’s a meritocracy,” says Cumberbatch. “He cuts through mediocrity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lord or a lady, if you’re driving a hansom cab or if you’re one of the Baker Street Boys: it’s purely about what your worth is and your quality, not your social standing. So, yes, he’s still rude. He’s rude to idiots and people who are pompous or sexist. He’s quite a crusader in that regard.”
Freeman, who, as Watson, sports a great caterpillar-like false mustache for this episode, says, “We’re trying not to be too winky about it, and too self-knowing. Sometimes when things are set in, say, the Seventies, it’s our way of laughing at people from the old days. I don’t find that very interesting.”
Instead, he says, the period setting “makes you amend what you’re doing very slightly. The plan wasn’t to suddenly present a whole different character, or a pastiche, but it does tighten you up physically and vocally.”
The surprising tenderness of the Holmes-Watson relationship – the bromance that launched a thousand overheated fan fictions – survives the transition to a starchier age. “I guess the difference is that Victorian Watson’s got more patience,” says Freeman. “He’s much more generous with his outward thinking that his friend’s a genius than modern Watson. Modern Watson definitely thinks his friend is a genius, but he’s also an enormous pain in the a—.”
Upstairs, and back on set, Moffat and Gatiss are pacing around preparing for the next scene. Theirs is a scarcely less fascinating double act than Holmes and Watson’s: Gatiss is willowy, blond and cheerful, Moffat short, dark and brooding, but they finish each other’s sentences with the ease of long friendship and collaboration.
A Victorian episode, Gatiss carefully explains, doesn’t represent a long-held dream, because “that would imply we’d been begrudgingly making it modern to get to this. We’ve joked about the idea for a long time, but it’s just so massively appealing to do both. The only other people who’ve ever done it” – played Sherlock, he means, in both a period and a modern setting – “are Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.” Moffat nods. “The show had to be as big as it is now,” he interjects, “for us to do something this mad.”
In fact, says Moffat, the elaborate Victorian trappings of the set represent the “lazy version” of the screenwriter’s task. “The one we put all the thought into,” he says, “was finding the equivalents for the modern day.” Transposing Cumberbatch and Freeman’s relationship to the past was actually “exactly the same trick as we did a few years ago with [the first Sherlock episode] A Study in Pink. We said, look, it’s still Sherlock Holmes, isn’t it? Even though we’ve changed everything.”
Around the corner in the editing suite, a quick glimpse of a rough cut proves that beneath its period trappings this is, recognisably, the same Sherlock. Strand Magazine in hand, a harried-looking Watson is trying to defend himself against slights on the veracity of his casebook from his landlady Mrs Hudson, played by Una Stubbs. “According to you I just show people up the stairs and serve you breakfast,” she complains. “I’m your landlady, not a plot device!”
“You’re not the only one, Mrs Hudson,” remarks Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. “I was hardly in the one about the dog.”
Nearby is Amanda Abbington, Freeman’s wife both on and off-screen who, at the end of the last season, was shown to be an assassin with a deadly past. “We’ve kept Mary’s sparkiness and her glint,” she says firmly. “She’s got a bit of scrappiness about her and we don’t want to lose that.”
She laughs when asked if she and Freeman enforce a no-Sherlock rule in their household. “Definitely not!” she says. “We sit together as a family and watch it. My son knows a few of the scenes and does them with my daughter. Grace is usually the assassin shooting Joe. But, no, there’s no embargo on Sherlock. We love it!”
As Cumberbatch and Freeman prepare to return to set, they mutter about the show’s excursion into period drama. Freeman laments the fact that he can’t get dressed by himself, while Cumberbatch has period arcana to deal with, including a fancy meerschaum that is, he notes darkly, “a pyrotechnic pipe. That doesn’t mean it blows up in my face. I’m just not smoking.”
It is widely believed that the fourth season of Sherlock may be its last, and although Gatiss cheerily acknowledges that “making people wait is all we do: whole civilizations have risen and fallen between seasons of Sherlock”, the snowballing fame of its actors has made synchronizing diaries more and more difficult. Neither of the two leads seem worried, however. “I’ve always believed in doing things for as long as one wants to do them,” says Freeman.
And if that sounds ever-so-slightly cryptic, Cumberbatch is more definite. “I don’t know any other actor that’s been so spoilt with this role,” he says. “I’ve said many times I’d love to keep aging with him. And Martin and I started this fairly young compared to a lot of Holmes and Watson pairings. So why not?”
Sherlock is on New Year’s Day at 9pm on BBC One
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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.