How­ever im­prob­a­ble

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Sue Vertue draws our at­ten­tion to the cu­ri­ous in­ci­dent of phenom­e­nal pop­u­lar­ity.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By MUMTAJ BEGUM en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

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.

Heads up, John: ‘The world is full of ob­vi­ous things which no­body by any chance ever ob­serves’ ... pos­si­bly be­cause they’re too busy griev­ing for dead friends.

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