Executive producer Sue Vertue draws our attention to the curious incident of Sherlock’s phenomenal popularity.
WHO knew a series which transplants fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his ever-dependable friend John Watson to modern-day London would become such a big hit?
Well, definitely not Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, or executive producer Sue Vertue. At the most, they thought, it would just be a cult hit. All they set out to do was make the kind of show that they would watch.
When the BBC crime drama premiered in 2010 – the same year Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr came out – it became an instant phenomenon and launched the careers of actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, bringing them global fame.
In a telephone interview, Vertue says: “If I went to BBC now and said, ‘I am thinking of doing a Sherlock Holmes series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman,’ I think they will laugh in my face. They’ve become so big since we started making the show. Martin has been in The Hobbit; Benedict is in Star Trek and The Fifth Estate.”
She cites an example of how the mechanics of filming in London have changed, thanks to the two actors’ ever-increasing fame and the popularity of the show. “In the first season, we had Benedict and Martin walk through Trafalgar Square. One of our (current) directors asked ‘How did you do that?’
“Of course we could do it then because nobody knew who they were, or that we were shooting Sherlock. If we tried it now, then every single person will be turning their heads to look at them. There are restrictions to (the) things we can do now.”
This, in turn, means that the series has to continue with a meagre-seeming three episodes per season. Even then, Vertue says, it takes four months to complete a season, considering everyone’s busy schedule.
Moffat not only writes and runs Sherlock, but is also the producer and writer of another popular BBC series, Doctor Who.
Meanwhile, Gatiss has his own writing and acting projects to juggle, besides writing and playing Mycroft Holmes on the show (he is slated to appear in the fourth season of Game Of Thrones).
“We’d rather make three really good episodes than six that we are unhappy with. So I don’t think we’re going to be doing more than three, to be honest with you. Sorry,” Vertue says, putting paid to fans’ hopes that there will be more episodes in a season.
The good news is that there will be more than three seasons. “Ideally, we’d like to make it for years and years and years. We started with Sherlock quite young, and he is still maturing. I am sure Benedict ... the thing is, he has been in a lot of films before Sherlock, I just think Sherlock has made him ... I don’t know what it is, but he seems pretty popular.”
The casting of Cumberbatch, Vertue shares, came about from a description of Sherlock Holmes in the books – he is thin, is taller than Watson, has an angular face and a large nose (“which Benedict doesn’t have, actually”) – and that Vertue, who is married to Moffat, saw a film with Cumberbatch in it. Cumberbatch was called in for an audition, and it turns out that he was the only one the producers ever saw for the role.
“Apparently, when Benedict told his mother he was going to be Sherlock Holmes, she said, ‘But you can’t be Sherlock Holmes, your nose isn’t big enough.’ We seem to have gotten over that,” says Vertue with a laugh.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the role the way he does it. He is an astounding actor. He is hugely intelligent – which I think you need if you are going to do that amount of dialogue. He just understands the whole process of filmmaking, editing and what is required at each point. He loves the role, really. Also the chemistry between him and Martin Freeman just fills the screen.”
Undoubtedly, this friendship is what grounds the series. In the first episode of the third season, we arrive two years after Holmes faked his death and Watson has reached the final stage of grief and loss – acceptance. During his time of mourning, he finds a companion in Mary – whom he plans to marry.
While there is going to be a little change in how Holmes and Watson operate in this new season, the two will still work on some interesting cases besides just having a cup of tea at 221B, Baker Street. Well, if and when Watson forgives Holmes for playing that awful trick on him.
Vertue also promises there is going to be a new villain. But when asked about her take on the unique relationship between Holmes and Watson, Vertue sighs: “Oh God, here we go – they are not in a relationship. It’s slightly odd now, when you have men living in a flat, (but) that’s how it was in the original story. There isn’t a relationship. We said that quite a lot of times. John gets married and still this goes on. They are really good friends, they sort of need each other. If you took Sherlock to a dinner – God help us – you need John there to make sure he doesn’t offend every single person there. They do need each other, but not in that way.”
In the transcript of an interview courtesy of BBC Worldwide, the 37-year-old Cumberbatch credits the relationship between Holmes and Watson as the reason why the series took off the way it did. “They’re both very self-aware and affectionate, but also very truthful with one another. They are a really complementary team. John humanises Sherlock, and Sherlock gives John a shot of adrenaline and adventure and the chance to live a life less ordinary. That’s a very potent combination.
“Because of how brilliant Martin is as John, he’s a great way in for the audience. They can relate to him as someone of their own world and go on adventures with him. They both suffer and enjoy the intolerable person that is Sherlock Holmes.”
> Sherlock Season Three premieres tomorrow at 10pm on AXN (Astro Ch 701 / HD Ch 721). New episodes air every Thursday.
Catching up with 'Sherlock'