Sherlock, surely? (the great game of show interviews is afoot).
Sherlock is going back to its Victorian roots for the new upcoming Xmas 2015 special, so what better way to celebrate than a load of cast and creator interviews with Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (who?).
So, Mark, you old todger, when did you first get the genius idea for a Victorian version of Sherlock?
The night that it first formed was when we were doing the publicity shots for series three. Me and Steven Moffat were out in the freezing cold night and we started to come up with it.
What the heck happened when you told the rest of the team about that crazy idea?
Well, when we pitched it to Benedict and Martin it was a very unusual situation because Rathbone and Bruce are the only people who have done both, until now. From the point that we fell in love with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in their original incarnation, the whole idea of making it 21st-century was what became the exciting new part of it. But obviously, to do it with gas lamps and top hats and hansom cabs, as a full-on sort of Gothic treat is completely irresistible. This is our 10th one and it’s been an unbelievable international success. We thought we’d sort of earned the right really.
Did you have to blackmail the actors to persuade them?
No, hilariously, because Benedict’s been agitating for a haircut since the beginning of the show. So, we breathlessly pitched it as this ‘it’s 1895, we’ll just do it…’ We told him the story, the case and everything. He was sort of agog and then went “Can I have my hair cut?” That was it… that was easy. And Martin just loved the idea.
When you first started, you were asked how Sherlock would work in a world with emails and smartphones. How on Earth did you deal with technology going back in time?
We’re retro-engineering all the questions we got six years ago. How are we going to deal with it? The way that Doyle did! The point is, as we said when we were initially modernising it, Holmes was a modern man.
If you read the original stories, it’s all in there. For example there’s a telephone in Baker Street. He wasn’t living in an antique world – he wanted everything as quickly as possible
Sherlock has done okay around the world, Mark. Why do you think that is?
Sherlock Holmes is the most photographed character in all fiction, so, there’s a massive established tradition in Japan and Russia, all kinds of places already. So you’re sort of pushing an open door. I mean, if you knew why it did so well, you would bottle it and sell it, wouldn’t you, because whatever we have got right, the chemistry is just there on screen.
So, Moffat, how the hell did you approach the Victorian setting?
I suppose we can boast and say, we’ve got the Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson of this current time in Benedict and Martin – I think we can claim that now it has been such a huge success. Part of the impulse came from me and Mark saying, wouldn’t it be a shame if we never got to see them do it in the authentic setting, in the actual way. Rathbone and Bruce played it both Victorian and updated, so Cumberbatch and Freeman can do the same. It was irresistible to do a special that is Victorian and say, this is what it would’ve been had we done it authentically. Thereafter it affects everything and it’s hugely different, because as we’ve done it properly Victorian – we had to remake our 221B set.
Were there any challenges, dude?
We instantly had the problem of period settings and so on, whereas before we just turned the camera on and pointed it at London. We couldn’t do that here.
There was the CGI needed to recreate a Victorian London that you believe in. In terms of the writing, we wanted to keep faith with our version of those characters, and yet put them in a Doyle setting, with a Doyle sort of style of presentation, so it sort of splits the difference. I don’t think Sherlock Holmes himself talks all that differently because the modern-day Holmes talks very much like the Victorian Holmes. In fact, if you look at the modern version of the show, he sounds more and more Victorian every year because Benedict suits that. Doctor Watson is a bit different. He presents himself more as the traditional Doctor Watson but you realise something else is going on underneath.
How will viewers react to the Victorian setting do ya think?
It was so long ago that people were asking us, how will they react to the modern setting? I think if they enjoy Sherlock, they’ll enjoy this show. But it is a very, very different episode. As they say, a very special episode.
What’s the odd appeal of this Sherlock character, then?
It’s very hard to know why a character like Sherlock Holmes becomes loved for over a hundred years, and the single biggest hit in fiction without a shadow of a doubt. Why? Well, the first and dumb answer, but I’m afraid the most important one, is that it’s really, really good. People can almost forget how good those stories were, are. They are an amazing pair of characters, and those stories are just brilliant.
How has Sherlock influenced them modern detective shows?
Every big colourful, characterful, intriguing, mysterious, interesting detective is a descendant of Sherlock Holmes – everybody knows that. I don’t mean our version of Sherlock Holmes, I mean, the original Sherlock Holmes of the Strand Magazine.
All of the others come from him, of course they do, and nobody would deny it for a second. The sheer idea that the great detective is also a bit of a freak, that’s what Doyle came up with. You know, he’s not just clever, he’s mad. If you look at all those great detectives, none of them are ordinary. None of their procedures resemble, in any way whatsoever, what a real detective does – the methodical accumulation of data. They work on inspired insights and they’re always sort of socially a bit of an outcast and all those things. All the great detectives – all those rivers flow from Baker Street.
So, Martin, you little hobbity hero of a fellow, how does the Victorian setting affect the dynamic of your TV show?
It changes the dynamic of filming because everything does take longer: it takes longer to get dressed, you’re longer in make-up, you’re longer in wardrobe and camera resets take longer just because there’s more stuff about. The clothes that we’re wearing and the stuff we are dealing with as far as make-up and hair is concerned, are not everyday things that people have to deal with.
But as far as the dynamic is concerned, everything is slightly more formal. The way that we’re doing it is with a touch more formality, but you don’t want to completely change those characters that people have come to know and love. I’m still recognisably John and Ben’s still recognisably Sherlock.
How will fans react to the Victorian setting?
I have no idea how fans will react to it. I hope they like it. That’s all I can say, I hope they like it. That’s all I think about everything I’ve ever done.
What is it about British drama that resonates with audiences all over the world?
Britain as a country has always been quite good at this stuff, you know – from Shakespeare onwards, we’ve been quite good at drama and quite good at comedy. For a little country, we’ve always done that well. I don’t really know why America finds us so interesting at the moment, because I think we’ve always done good telly.
Which Sherlock character are you most like in real life?
I don’t know that I’m like many of the Sherlock characters in real life because I wouldn’t really want to do the two things that John Watson does for a living, which is doctoring and soldiering. I’m very interested in both of those, but I’d rather not be sewing people up on a battlefield, hence becoming an actor. I’m not as clever as Sherlock. I might be Lestrade, or Mrs Hudson, because I like making people tea. I’m quite caring, I like looking after people.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH (who?)
We are used to Sherlock being set in modern times, you Smaug-like dragon of a fellow – what did you make of the Victorian setting?
I thought it was madness. I thought they’d finally lost the plot, jumped the shark, all the other clichés of television gone mad with itself. Then they expanded the idea and pitched it to me properly and I think it’s fantastic. Absolutely brilliant.
How will fans react to the strange Victorian setting?
I don’t really know how the fans are going to react to it. I think that’s one of the joys of doing it like this. You know, we can’t disguise the fact that we’re filming it and often filming it in cities or public places where people are going to take snapshots of us dressed in Victorian kit. We haven’t disappointed fans in the past it seems so hopefully this won’t. I hope they enjoy it.
What was it like being transported back in time?
Great fun to play, and I mean, great, great fun. To muck around with a pipe and a deerstalker for real is wonderful. And then, as far as the background goes, the setting, the mise en scène, the scenery, all the rest of it, it’s just a delight. It always is with period drama. You kind of marvel at it.
What do you make of the global success of Sherlock?
I think the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes has always been global, actually – I don’t think this is a phenomenon tied in with our success. I think it’s to do with Conan Doyle’s extraordinary invention, which has a universal appeal to all nationalities. This is a man who’s an outsider, who’s intelligent, who doesn’t tolerate mediocrity, who is incredibly efficient, but also has his weaknesses and comeuppances. I think the ability to turn the mundane, average and normal into a pop-up world of potential adventure, which is what I’ve always been saying about him both on and off the page in our version and in the original books, is that you never know where it’s going to lead. There’s an endless amount of potential adventure.
What’s the funniest thing that happened on the set of The Abominable Bride?
Martin Freeman is probably the funniest thing that happened on set. He tends to be quite funny in general. So, when he’s on set, he’s funny. It’s a weak answer, but it’s the truth – you don’t have to look far for comedy on set.