Cum­ber­batch stays grounded

Bri­tish ‘Sher­lock’ ac­tor is wary of fall­ing prey to the per­ils of world­wide adu­la­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODSCREEN - GER­ARD GIL­BERT

BENE­DICT Cum­ber­batch fears he might have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing “a d**k”. This glimpse of a ma­jor star self-aware enough to see be­yond the le­gions of wor­ship­ping ad­mir­ers comes dur­ing a dis­cus­sion of the coat that he wears in BBC1’s Sher­lock. For a while, it seems, Cum­ber­batch used to wear Sher­lock’s coat off-set as well, af­ter Sher­lock co-cre­ator Mark Gatiss told him that the gar­ment suited him.

“But then I started to get a bit self- con­scious about be­ing pho­tographed,” he says. “I might be seen wan­der­ing out and about wear­ing his cos­tume and seal my rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing a d**k.”

The coat is safely back in stor­age be­cause Cum­ber­batch’s Sher­lock is look­ing a lot suaver and smarter than the rather scruffy, over­grown un­der­grad­u­ate to whom we have be­come ac­cus­tomed.

The up­com­ing Sher­lock spe­cial, The Abom­inable Bride, takes place in Vic­to­rian times and his char­ac­ter’s nor­mally un­ruly mop is slicked neatly back, and Cum­ber­batch is wear­ing Vic­to­rian evening wear.

“I was thrilled,” he says of play­ing Sher­lock in his orig­i­nal 1890s form. “At last, I could get a hair­cut.” The snip, it tran­spires, is also some­thing of a metaphor for the re­lief of set­ting Steven Mof­fat and Gatiss’s up­dated de­tec­tive back in his orig­i­nal era. “You feel some of the weight is taken off you,” Cum­ber­batch says. “You’re no longer try­ing to es­tab­lish this man in the 21st cen­tury. The other gor­geous thing about go­ing back in time is that you can ac­tu­ally look to the books for source ma­te­rial.”

Not that The Abom­inable Bride, un­like ear­lier episodes of BBC1’s tri­umphant se­ries, is based on an ac­tual Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle tale. Its in­spi­ra­tion is a case men­tioned in pass­ing by Dr Watson in the 1893 short story, The Ad­ven­ture of the Mus­grave Rit­ual – a mystery that Holmes had solved be­fore his ac­quain­tance with Watson.

Cum­ber­batch claims that he wasn’t ini­tially con­vinced by Mof­fat and Gatiss’s idea of a stand­alone episode trans­port­ing his mod­ernised de­tec­tive back to 1895. “In fact, I went, ‘You’re mad’,” he says. “I gen­uinely didn’t understand how they were go­ing to get away with it.

“And then I got the more de­tailed pitch and I thought, ‘OK, this is go­ing to be great fun’, And it really is. It’s so nice to play him in his era. The things that are asked of me in the mod­ern version, the sense that this is a man clearly slightly out of his time... to put him back in the era he was writ­ten in orig­i­nally is just a joy. It feels eas­ier.

“And then there are things I tried to im­pose on the mod­ern version, like his stature and phys­i­cal­ity – a lot of that’s done (in the Vic­to­rian version) by the cloth­ing, the col­lars, the deer­stalker and cape and pipe and things.”

Ah yes, the deer­stalker, cape and pipe. Didn’t he feel a bit of a walk­ing cliché when armed with the de­tec­tive’s iconic ac­ces­sories? “And yet it doesn’t feel like a cliché be­cause you’re func­tion­ing in them rather than quot­ing them,” Cum­ber­batch says. “They were de rigueur items of fash­ion that have just be­come iconic for him, but they’re very use­ful.”

It has been nearly two years since the last full se­ries of Sher­lock, the fi­nal episode end­ing with a cliffhanger, that of a video close-up of Jim Mo­ri­arty’s face be­ing broad­cast all over Lon­don, ask­ing: “Did you miss me?” An­drew Scott’s arch vil­lain doesn’t fea­ture in the Vic­to­rian spe­cial, which will be si­mul­ta­ne­ously screened in cine­mas across the UK and across the world (in­clud­ing China, where Sher­lock has a huge fol­low­ing). A full new se­ries starts film­ing in the sec­ond quar­ter of the year.

“We are very good at making peo­ple wait – it’s what we do,” quips Gatiss. As they have es­tab­lished Sher­lock Holmes and John Watson so bril­liantly in the 21st cen­tury, I won­dered why Gatiss and Steven Mof­fat wanted to now place them in a Vic­to­rian set­ting?

“No, to be hon­est, it was just too ir­re­sistible to see Bene­dict and Martin (Free­man) and ev­ery­one else in Co­nan Doyle-land. Given that it’s fair to say that Bene­dict and Martin are the Holmes and Watson of their age, wouldn’t it be aw­ful if you never saw them do it prop­erly? We sort of joked about the idea for a long time; the only other peo­ple who have done both pe­riod and mod­ern Holmes and Watson are Basil Rath­bone and Nigel Bruce, who started Vic­to­rian but even­tu­ally fought the Nazis in the 1940s,” Gatiss said.

Mof­fat adds: “It started with us see­ing if we could jus­tify do­ing a 10minute version where they put the togs on so we could see them do it. And we thought of all the jokes we could do, and then we thought, ‘Ac­tu­ally let’s not do that, let’s do it prop­erly, not tongue-in-cheek’.”

For Free­man, one of his big­gest ob­jec­tions to the Vic­to­rian set­ting is the bushy mous­tache he has to wear.

“I’m go­ing to try to rein in that in se­ries four,” he says, “and not let Steven and Mark think this is an on­go­ing thing now, or I’ll end up as Robin­son Cru­soe.”

Like Cum­ber­batch, Free­man was also ini­tially re­sis­tant to the idea of a Vic­to­rian episode. “But then I was orig­i­nally re­sis­tant to Sher­lock be­cause it was mod­ern,” he re­veals. “Be­fore I read the scripts (for se­ries one) I thought ‘Hmmm, mod­ern Sher­lock Holmes could be rub­bish. I’ve over­heard Mark and Steven say a couple of times while we’ve been on set that, ‘Fi­nally we’re do­ing it prop­erly, we’re do­ing the cor­rect version at last’. It’s nice to ring some changes, I guess.”

In­deed, for those who might have been hop­ing for a busi­ness-asusual, mod­ern- dress Sher­lock, Free­man has this to say: “I be­lieve in not just giv­ing peo­ple what they want be­cause why should you? I mean, there was re­sis­tance about se­ries three among diehard fans, but give them a couple of months and they watch it again. ”

Af­ter three years spent in New Zealand play­ing Bilbo Bag­gins in Peter Jackson’s Hob­bit tril­ogy, as well as six months in Canada film­ing the first sea­son of Fargo, Free­man is en­joy­ing a rel­a­tively re­laxed 2015. Film­ing Sher­lock means an op­por­tu­nity to work with his wife, Amanda Ab­bing­ton, who has played John Watson’s wife, Mary Watson, since the start of se­ries three. He is, how­ever, re­signed to the cost to his fam­ily life of his pro­fes­sion.

The 44- year- old Free­man’s up­com­ing work­load in­cludes Funny Cow, star­ring Max­ine Peake as a stand-up co­me­dian try­ing to make it in the ma­cho world of north­ern work­ing men’s clubs in the 1970s and 1980s, and be­ing re­united with his Fargo co-star Billy Bob Thorn­ton (as well as play­ing Tina Fey’s Scot­tish boyfriend) in the war com­edy Fun House.

Cum­ber­batch, who will turn 40 in July, is un­der­stand­ably one of the busiest ac­tors around, cur­rently film­ing the Andy Serk­is­di­rected Jun­gle Book: Ori­gins (he plays Shere Khan) op­po­site Chris­tian Bale and Cate Blanchett.

He also takes the ti­tle role in Doc­tor Strange, the lat­est Marvel Comics block­buster and – fol­low­ing his Os­car-nom­i­nated role as Alan Tur­ing in The Im­i­ta­tion Game, he is preparing to por­tray Thomas Edi­son in The Cur­rent War, which tells of Edi­son’s strug­gle with Ge­orge West­ing­house (played by Jake Gyl­len­haal) for con­trol of the nascent elec­tric­ity mar­ket in the 1880s.

With so much go­ing on, how de­ter­mined is he to keep making time for Sher­lock?

“Pretty de­ter­mined,” says Cum­ber­batch. “I’m still en­joy­ing it. We’ll see how the next se­ries goes, but I’d love to keep age­ing with him. It would be an in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment to do.

“Martin and I started this rel­a­tively young com­pared to other Holmes and Wat­sons, so why not?” – The In­de­pen­dent

● Sher­lock: The Abom­inable Bride will be screened in cine­mas in South Africa from Jan­uary 12.

Sher­lock: The Abom­inable Bride.

EL­E­MEN­TARY: Martin Free­man as Dr John Watson and Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as Sher­lock Holmes in

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