With trailers now airing for the third series of Sherlock, here’s something to shamelessly cash in. But something old.
This is from a set visit in June 2011, before the start of the second series, so nothing spoilery or embargo-baiting here. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss took journalists around the interior of 221B Baker Street in Cardiff (including one funny old boy who, later on when interviewing the cast, referred to the leads as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Watson’) and chatted about… Well, here are some bits.
On the show’s immediate success
Moffat: We joined Twitter to try and popularize it. That it was a hit was a big relief.
Gatiss: Really, within the space of the first episode we seemed to develop an enormous fan base.
Consolidating on the strengths and weakness of series one
Moffat: I don’t know how to put this well, but I’m not sure what didn’t work. It did seem completely successful and charming and lovely. There was a point at which I thought this was our vanity project. Our special little world. But when you’ve done something so nakedly ‘fan fiction’ as this and everyone loves it too…
Gatiss: One thing we discovered, to our surprise, was how much people love the relationship between Sherlock and John. We shouldn’t be surprised, that was the idea – to get back to that central friendship. There’s no formula to Sherlock. The approach has always been to rethink it. Not just modernize it, but look back at what Doyle did and think, “That’s why it always worked” and get excited about that again. A lot is to do with the pace of the storytelling, and the thing that makes it exciting is to be very cheeky with it. So there’s a lot of cheek. Probably even more than last year, in terms of accepted things about the characters we all think we know.
Moffat: One of the big differences from last year is that I no longer even think about the updating thing. Last year we thought about it all the time – now everyone’s bought it, we just think about it as working on Sherlock Holmes. I go for days without thinking this is different from any other Sherlock Holmes.
On nearly doing a Victorian Holmes
Moffat: It was at the very last minute when we were having lunch, I remember thinking, “Is this just a thought experiment? Should we just pitch it as a Victorian version?” Was it just a useful exercise in clearing away the debris? And then we thought, “No, let’s do it modern, ‘cos that’s cooler…” In a weird way, stepping away from the originals allows you to be more like them. The Rathbone versions have more of the original stories than the rather arid, two earlier adaptations. My favourite movie in the world is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is a comedy. It’s the best Holmes film ever made. By being a comedy, by stepping away from what the original was like, it almost finds more of it… Something we’ve noticed – and a lot of people don’t – is that the original Sherlock Holmes stories are also very funny. A lot of Holmes films haven’t been. The recent one, the Downey Junior one is – and a lot of those jokes are taken from the books.
On the Jeremy Brett series
Moffat: Oddly enough they took a lot of liberties in that series. You have to. Some of the best ones they did are the ones where they took more liberties. Their thing was to fetishize fidelity. But what saves them is Jeremy Brett is, in a way, saying, “I’m just going to make this my star part”. So his Sherlock – as all the great Sherlocks are – is not quite the original. He’s a much madder more manic creature than the original. But it’s a great series. It sort of resurrected it, didn’t it, from it being something about to expire, and suddenly it’s back again.
Gatiss: It’s a wonderful series. One thing they did quite a lot of is give endings to stories that Conan Doyle couldn’t be bothered to finish. He used to write them at parties and quite often you’re waiting and waiting and then it’s: “But we were never destined to find out because the ship sank.” You go, “What?!”
Their respective visions of Sherlock
Moffat: We sync like iPhones.
Gatiss: That’s how it started – on conversations on trains to Cardiff for Doctor Who. So it was that initial dance around admitting the modern Rathbones were our favourite – a slightly heretical thing to say. But once you sync on that…
Moffat: We might disagree a little bit. But only on a detail. But even on quite small things were pretty much in accord.
Gatiss: Also, Doyle contradicts himself a lot. Sherlock does – Lestrade changes a lot. So you can’t really be consistent in that way, except as a fan you want to have the details at your fingertips! So, it’s always a fun thing to play with and try to find a detail that someone might have missed or has never been done.
Moffat: We had one of our most traumatic conversations when we said, “They have to call each other John and Sherlock”. Because if they call each other Holmes and Watson that means they’re a particular kind of person in modern day terms, because you have to be public school boys to do that, and that’s not what they are. So we couldn’t do that.
Gatiss: We got used to that very quickly. It was a tough sell to the crew.
Moffat: And a tough sell to each other! I feel as though, with Benedict’s delivery, we’ve been able to be a little bit more like the original sometimes. I can almost imagine him saying, “Elementary” now. Not quite. But almost.
Did Mark feel self-conscious playing Mycroft?
Gatiss: Utterly! I was forced!
Moffat: He was actually more intent on playing all the parts.
Gatiss: It actually came about because I’d auditioned to play Peter Mandelson for something, and then we had a script meeting and Steve Thompson said, “You should play Mycroft”. And, actually, that was when we crystalised the idea that, what would be really good then would be that if we could try and convince people that – of course – the only person I’d ever play was Moriarty… and it absolutely worked. Which is why I wasn’t credited or anything – because we didn’t want it to leak out in advance. But it was lovely.
Moffat: It was a really good reveal, that. But it was the fact that you were demonstrating what made Peter Mandelson what he is – you were doing the body language and all that and Steve was saying, “You look a bit like Benedict, you should play Mycroft as Peter Mandelson”.