The old, all- new dy­namic duo!

SFX - - Con­tents -

The idea that his­tory’s most fa­mous es­capol­o­gist, Harry Hou­dini, and the lit­er­ary leg­end who cre­ated Sher­lock Holmes, Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle, not only met but be­came friends may seem a rum con­ceit. A fan­ci­ful no­tion, con­ceived by ped­dlers of ab­surd ad­ven­tures. And yet it hap­pened, for real.

Don’t, how­ever, ex­pect ITV En­core’s new se­ries Hou­dini & Doyle to be a docu­d­rama. The fact that in real life the two chaps didn’t meet un­til 1920 whereas the se­ries is set in 1901 is ev­i­dence enough that his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy isn’t much of a con­cern here. In­stead it runs with the idea of Hou­dini and Doyle as a

kind of Ed­war­dian Mul­der and Scully, as­sist­ing Scot­land Yard with its more cu­ri­ous cases.

“It’s not re­ally a biopic,” laughs Michael We­ston ( Hou­dini). “It’s not about Hou­dini or Doyle. It’s about them as celebrity sleuths.”

We­ston, star of such US shows as House and Six Feet Un­der, ap­pears along­side Stephen Man­gan ( Dirk Gently, Episodes) as Doyle. The House con­nec­tions don’t stop with We­ston. It’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced by House cre­ator David Shore, and writ­ten and cre­ated by his long- time col­lab­o­ra­tor David Hosel­ton along with Cana­dian screen­writer David Titcher. It’s a lav­ish Bri­tish/ Cana­dian co- pro­duc­tion film­ing in Manch­ester and Toronto.

The two stars are clearly hav­ing a blast bring­ing these larger- than- life his­tor­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties to the screen. When Red Alert chats with them on the set in Manch­ester, We­ston is wear­ing a pat­terned waist­coat that, we point out, re­flects the or­nate fur­nish­ings in the set for his Lon­don apart­ment.

“Yeah, I hadn’t no­ticed that, but yeah,” he ad­mits. “Aren’t the sets great though?”

“It’s like time travel,” chips in Man­gan. “I was driv­ing round in a 1904 Wolse­ley the other day. I was like Toad of Toad Hall.”

Both ac­tors agree with the X- Files par­al­lel, es­pe­cially as – re­flect­ing the views of the real- life Hou­dini and Doyle – the es­capol­o­gist is a su­per­nat­u­ral scep­tic and the au­thor is the be­liever. This makes for per­fect in- built con­flict.

“There’s a lot of back and for­ward repar­tee as we have dis­agree­ments about spir­i­tu­al­ism and stuff,” says We­ston. “The ar­gu­ments they have are fraught but they’re smart. It’s a pe­riod piece but I think it’s very rel­e­vant to our time. What is real? What is magic?”

“Plus you’re a con­fi­dent and brash Amer­i­can and I’m an emo­tion­ally con­sti­pated Brit,” adds Man­gan with a grin.

As Man­gan points out, Doyle’s de­sire “to believe” partly stems from the fact that, “He’s got some re­ally heavy duty things go­ing on in his life. But stiff up­per lip and all that. His wife is in a coma and dy­ing. He’s des­per­ate to know he’ll be able to talk to her when she goes.”

This doesn’t mean, though, that Man­gan’s Doyle is a cred­u­lous char­ac­ter. “Doyle be­lieves in the spir­i­tual, but he wants to prove it sci­en­tif­i­cally. He wants ev­i­dence.”

Doyle has other is­sues to con­tend with too.

“He’s got writer’s block,” says Man­gan. “This is af­ter he re­tired Holmes. A lot of peo­ple are up­set that I killed Holmes off. The po­lice can’t bear the books be­cause they make them look like id­iots.”

The real Hou­dini, mean­while, went from be­ing a medium to go­ing on a cru­sade to out them as fakes. He knew the tricks of the trade be­cause he used them him­self. “I want to make sure that Doyle’s not go­ing to prop­a­gate this non­sense and take ad­van­tage of peo­ple that are naive enough to believe in all this stuff. I am the most recog­nis­able fig­ure of the time say­ing, ‘ This stuff isn’t real! Don’t fall for it.’”

“They see each other as a nut to crack,” says Man­gan. “For Hou­dini it’s like try­ing to turn Putin gay.”

The two are tight- lipped about how they come to­gether in the se­ries and how their in­volve­ment – of­fi­cial or oth­er­wise – with Scot­land Yard works out but Man­gan does re­veal, “We’ve al­ready met be­fore the show starts. We know of each other and we have met be­fore but we haven’t re­ally got to know each other. The con­ceit is that there’s a case with a su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ment. A ghost is ac­cused of killing nuns in a con­vent. So I’ve gone along to speak to the po­lice – be­cause this is right up my street – to see if I can maybe be a part of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

“And Hou­dini comes storm­ing in as well,” adds We­ston.

So, is there a su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ment to the show or is it all smoke and mir­rors?

“Most of the time the su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ment is dis­proved,” teases Man­gan. “But some things are then left open.”

“We’re off to Der­byshire to meet aliens next week,” he adds, al­most as an af­ter­thought.

The truth is bally well out there, what ho!

It’s not a biopic about Hou­dini or Doyle. It’s about them as celebrity sleuths

Hou­dini & Doyle starts trans­mit­ting on ITV En­core in the spring.

Or is our photo up­side down and Hou­dini’s the right way up…?

Stephen Man­gan is Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle and Michael We­ston is Hou­dini.

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