Creating a New Holmes
Curious about casting the leads for the show, I asked Doherty about his process. Explaining to me that unlike many writers, he really doesn’t write with any specific casting in his mind’s eye. “The two absolute requirements for me,” he said, “were that Sherlock be British and that Watson be a woman. Otherwise, everything else was fair game.” Doherty got his wish, with the English Miller and the accomplished Lucy Liu (The Man with the Iron Fists) in the pivotal role of Joan Watson.
Once the network decided to go for the pilot, Doherty was sent a list of actors’ names for consideration. “Right up at the top was Jonny. Part of me was embarrassed that it hadn’t occurred to me [before], because I’d always been a huge fan, have watched him in movies. Really loved him in [the television series] Eli Stone a few years ago; it can be trickier to be a star of television in that you’re being invited into somebody’s living room every week.”
Doherty had been “blown away” by Miller’s movie performances, “but I’d never seen him in sort of a steady gig like Eli Stone. And I thought he was incredible,” he said. “As soon as I saw his name, for me it was just a no-brainer slam dunk choice. And very thankfully for all of us, it worked out. We were able to get him.” Physically, Miller fits Conan Doyle's description of Holmes perfectly: a "thin wiry, dark" man, "with a high-nosed acute face, penetrating gray eyes, angular shoulders."
Miller shades his interior portrayal of Holmes in many hues. He is distant and arrogant, but can surprise us with a quick second or two of unexpected emotion. In the last episode, for instance, there is a moment in which Holmes comforts an captive Chechen woman after freeing her from a locked room.
She speaks no English, and Holmes, proficient in her native language, reassures her before embracing her protectively. It’s not the type of moment we might expect from Holmes, but it’s very informative of what both Doherty—and Miller—perceive of Holmes emotional life. “I must credit Jonny in that he can make those switches,” offered Doherty. “Holmes can be alien and other and off-putting and strange. And moments later hold a victim and give her comfort, and you never question that it’s the same guy. Jonny just has this knack for—he’s just found so many different shades for Sherlock. Like I said, it’s been fun for me to watch him build the man.”