Friday, December 11, 2009


“Mr. Holmes, you must widen your gaze. I’m concerned you underestimate the gravity of coming events. For you and I are bound on a journey that will twist the very fabric of nature.”

“Sherlock Holmes” unfolds against the backdrop of London in 1890, when the city seems at the center of the world, with technology extending mankind’s reach and all things new racing to replace the old. “There’s a growing engagement in technologies of the near future, and this sense of wonderment,” Robert Downey Jr. observes. “They’re verging on all these incredible things.”

But for all the polish and prestige, 1890s London is also a cesspool into which all the criminals of contemporary society drain…which makes it the ideal city for a man like Sherlock Holmes. Downey continues, “You have this incredibly fascinating yet dangerous city, and Holmes knows every inch of it. He feels that this is his city in which to engage the enemy. And he knows what he’s up against.”

For Guy Ritchie, having Downey in the title role became the key to unlocking a new interpretation of “Sherlock Holmes.” “In my opinion, Robert is the perfect Holmes,” says the director. “He’s American, but his English accent is flawless and he has an international feel to him. In his own way, Robert’s also a bit of a genius. He’s tremendously smart and quick-witted, and is very comfortable playing a character like Holmes without any artifice or pretension.”

Producer Susan Downey agrees. “The eloquence of Holmes, his use of words and language, seems to come very naturally to Robert. There is also real physicality to the role in our film. Holmes participates in bare-knuckle boxing fights and practices martial arts, which Robert has been doing for the past six years. So, it was a very natural progression to immediately think of Robert as Holmes.”

Holmes’s unconventional quirks and understated idealism resonated with the actor. “He’s an archetype,” Robert Downey Jr. asserts. “There’s something so monastic about him—his intentions are so pure, and his moral code is strengthened by his resolve and his actions. When he feels he’s not inspired or motivated by some creative charge, he’ll fall into a state where he barely speaks a word for three days, and when he’s engaged, he has incredible amounts of energy, super-human energy. He says, ‘There’s nothing more stimulating than a case where nothing goes your way.’ And, in the end, Holmes’s passionate curiosity and his ability to not only see but interpret these details are what make him so unique.”

Holmes would not be who he is without Watson, his enabler, his collaborator, his friend. As with Holmes, the filmmakers felt that the Dr. Watson of the books is far more of a dynamic character than the one depicted in past movies and television series.

“Watson has sometimes been portrayed as a sort of bumbling fool against Holmes’s great, lofty genius,” says Ritchie, “but that really isn’t the case. Watson is a much more significant individual than that. They really are a team.”

In “Sherlock Holmes,” Watson is as tough as they come. “He’s a war veteran just back from the Afghan war; he’s been wounded and has been through hardship,” Wigram describes. “He’s a strong, physical man and he knows how to handle himself. Although he’s not a mad genius like Holmes, he’s a very clever man.”

In many ways, the casting of Jude Law as Watson was every bit as crucial as that of Downey as Holmes. “It seems impossible to imagine anyone else being Watson once we cast Jude,” says Ritchie. “I wanted a good-looking Watson. I didn’t want him to be subservient or inferior, but rather a bit of a hero with an equal partnership with Holmes. I believe that’s to a degree what Conan Doyle was really after.”

Jude Law was familiar with Holmes and Watson since reading the stories as a child and marveled at how much of Watson has been unexplored up until now. “He’s been in a brutal war and has experienced horror and physical pain,” says the actor. “With that military background in mind, I really wanted him to represent the slightly more buttoned-up, polished professional, with Holmes being the slightly more wayward, eccentric dilettante. But Watson is far from just bumbling along; he’s in the middle of the action—sometimes tearing in ahead of Holmes.”

In addition to joining Holmes in his investigations, Watson is also the storyteller in the Sherlock Holmes canon. “If there wasn’t Watson, there would be no Holmes because Holmes never talks about what he does, but Watson is with him every step of the way,” says Downey.

“Watson has always been, and remains, the eyes of the audience watching this great man unravel these extraordinary knots of clues,” Law explains. “He definitely gets his hands dirty in their cases together, but he is also in awe when Holmes just lets loose with his incredible photographic memory or ability to decipher exactly what transpired and how it was done.”

Their friendship plays an important role in both their work and their private lives. “They’re tremendously close and we show how that manifests itself,” Ritchie notes. “There’s a lot of humor in it, some jealousy, but a real affection and sincerity about the partnership. They need each other for balance; Holmes is the creative genius and Watson’s the more temperate and disciplined of the two.”

From the moment Downey and Law met, the two actors began a rich collaboration that was reflected in their performances. “Robert and Jude became great friends,” says Silver. “Their chemistry onscreen is powerful. They have an almost telepathic ability to be in sync, and create this wonderful dynamic that drives their partnership.”

“Jude has a huge intellect and love of the game,” Downey adds. “The second we met, we just started bouncing ideas off each other. We were very much on the same page, which is a pretty eccentric page. He really knows what he’s doing and yet he’s also very open to letting things flow. We really worked as a team to do justice to these characters and their friendship.”

“I think the essence I wanted to bring—and what I know Guy and Robert looked to me for—was a yin, if you like, to Holmes’s yang,” Law comments. “Robert and I talked a lot about how we could balance out each other's characters so that together they make a perfect whole, and many of the descriptions of the two of them in the books convey that they are incredibly powerful together because they support each other so, and their friendship is so deeply rooted. We could also at times be incredibly humorous because there’s a part of Holmes that infuriates Watson and vice versa.”

Nonetheless, Holmes’s mastery of detection renders him both ally and foil of Scotland Yard and its lead inspector, Lestrade, played by Eddie Marsan. “Lestrade is a public official and does things by the book, which is the exact opposite of Holmes,” says Marsan. “They work side-by-side, and not always comfortably. But there is no shortage of criminals in London in Lestrade’s time, and while he doesn’t approve of Holmes’s methods, he wants to see the crimes solved and the bad guys caught, and, more often than not, Holmes helps him get there.”

“Holmes knows that nobody is as far out as he is in their methodology, so it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to get the results he does,” Downey remarks. “And I think he prides himself on that. That’s the root of his self-esteem—the pains he takes are great. He really wants to be of service.”

But the successful partnership of Holmes and Watson takes a surprising hit when Watson falls in love with, and plans to marry, Mary Morstan, played by Kelly Reilly. “Mary loves Watson very much, and she also admires Holmes, who sees her as a bit of a threat,” says Reilly. “He believes that if Watson gets married and moves away, it will jeopardize their partnership…and that may be the case.”

Holmes is shaken by the notion that Watson is so determined to make a new life with Mary. “Holmes can’t understand why Watson would want anything other than what they already have,” says Susan Downey. “Over the course of the film, we come to understand what they need in each other. Watson provides the balance for Holmes. In many ways, he’s his touchstone to the real world.”

“Holmes leads a solitary life and is dedicated to the art of detection,” says Wigram. “He doesn’t really believe in love because it might interfere with his work. And he isn’t interested in marriage or having any kind of typical relationship with a woman. He’s too unconventional for that.”

The exception is Irene Adler. An American from New Jersey traveling abroad, she is a daring woman ahead of her time who lives on the edge of the law. Though not a regular in the Sherlock Holmes collection, Irene made a highly memorable appearance in Conan Doyle’s short story “A Scandal in Bohemia” as the only woman to have bested Holmes. “I imagined her as a secret agent of sorts who seduces men and steals from them, very Mata Hari,” comments Wigram. “I thought it would be a great idea to bring her into the story as someone who broke Holmes’s heart and got under his skin.”

To play Holmes’s great love and Achilles’ heel, the filmmakers cast Rachel McAdams. “Rachel struck me as the ideal Irene,” says Ritchie. “She portrays her with this fantastic benign façade under which is the serpent of the most nefarious nature. She’s not to be trusted at all. Even when she’s got a blade to your throat, she smiles. Her sweetness is a front she uses to be as efficient in a man’s world as she is.”

“Irene is a bit of a mystery, so it was fun getting to unveil her layers,” offers McAdams. “The relationship between Irene and Holmes is so volatile and unorthodox; they walk a fine line between loving each other and distrusting each other. She’s had many lives and she lives in the moment. Really, she’s a woman living like a man, which was very uncommon for the period, so I had to balance the elegance of her femininity with her reckless, dangerous nature.”

As much as Irene distracts Holmes, she also presents him with a puzzle akin to the kinds he unravels in his work. It is in this capacity that Lord Blackwood attracts his singular focus. Though Blackwood’s initial crimes—murdering young women in apparent ritual sacrifices—proved little challenge to Holmes, Blackwood’s apparent “resurrection” from the dead is, for Holmes, the perfect case.

Utilizing spiritualism, Blackwood casts himself as a powerful dark lord who will use the forces of evil to take over the world. “In the late Victorian period, there was a lot of interest in the spiritual world,” comments Wigram. “Around that time, there were people like Aleister Crowley and Rasputin, who followed the occult and were very good at convincing people that they had access to a power beyond our world. Holmes is very attracted to the idea of debunking someone like Blackwood.”

“Lord Blackwood is a wonderfully arcane, evil counterpoint to Holmes,” says Mark Strong, who takes on the role of Blackwood. “He dabbles in the occult and would have people believe that he can come back from the dead. In doing so, he’s terrorizing the people of London, making them believe he’s become a supernatural being. At the same time, he’s also inventing a number of things before their time. He creates an interesting dilemma for Holmes, who is a scientist and a pragmatist. I wanted Blackwood to be a mysterious character, and he is a dangerous threat. He has his reasons for doing the terrible things he does. I hope that I’ve made him a worthy opponent for Holmes.”

“Sherlock Holmes” marks Ritchie’s third collaboration with Strong, having worked with him on “Revolver” and “RocknRolla.” Ritchie felt the actor brought the gravity needed for Blackwood to provide a formidable challenge for the detective. “Mark is a fantastic chameleon,” says the director. “He’s one of the very few actors who can turn what could otherwise be a rather theatrical line into something that’s credible, which was needed with the character of Blackwood, who is quite dramatic and imposing.”

In spite of the cloak of the supernatural Blackwood draws over the proceedings, “Holmes will err on the side of logic every time and believes the stranger something is the simpler the explanation will be,” Downey says. “He believes that whatever Blackwood is doing can be explained in the larger scientific world. He says, ‘Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ The purity of reasoning is what sets Holmes apart, and makes him possibly the only man on Earth who can stop Blackwood."

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