I had a chance to chat with Sherlock Producer Sue Vertue and Rupert Graves (Sherlock‘s DI Greg Lestrade) for a few minutes during a during this year’s Comic-Con (SDCC) in San Diego. The BBC series, which airs in the U.S. on PBS’s Materpiece Theater is in preparation for its fourth season; the annual “Christmas Special,” which will be a departure for the series is highly anticipated by the fans.
The series had aired its first three seasons, and later this year will present its one-off special episode before commencing a fourth season (or, as they say in the U.K. fourth “series”), which has not yet begun shooting. Sherlock takes the classic Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories and sets them in modern times with Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as his Watson. Graves plays Lestrade, Holmes’s police contact.
This year’s special presents a departure Sherlock, taking place completely in 1895, bringing Holmes and company back to the era from whence they came in the original Conan Doyle novels. I asked Vertue why set a successfully adapted modern-day Holmes series back in the Victorian era. Vertue explained that it was “something we could do, because it is a one-off,” and there were “certain things in the Conan Doyle stories that we could not do set in the modern day.” Furthermore, she added, doing something so different was “simply fun, and that’s what we like to do with Sherlock–have fun!”
Vertue quipped that one amusing thing they realized–something pointed out by the director was that in “period shows, the extras all seem to walk really slowly; something we wanted to avoid, because people did not at all walk slowly, they walked much the same speed we moderns do!”
So they had all the extras really “rushing about” while shooting. One of the challenges, she noted in shooting the special was that “everything took longer. Every road, every location’s setup was more difficult” than if they were playing the piece in the series’ usual modern setting.
There have been so many incarnations of Holmes on television, in films, and in novels (both Conan Doyles originals and those by so many other authors who have lovingly continued the characters’ stories well beyond). I asked Vertue what makes the character so enduring that people continue to create his story over and over again. She said, “it’s the stories, of course. There are so many times in the writers’ room when they get stuck, and they always say, ‘let’s go back to the original,’ and from that material, they can cherry pick. There’s always something there that can get them out of trouble.”
I wondered if Vertue had a favorite moment from the show thus far. She immediately mentioned the episode in which her son appeared. (Louis Moffat played young Sherlock in “His Last Vow.”
“I cry every time I see it,” she reflected, “but there are so many moments in the show that I love.” The moments she called out immediately, though, were the more emotional beats of the show. One scene that stands out for Vertue is in “Sign of the Three,” when “Sherlock is asked to be [Watson’s] best man in “Sign of the Three” (season three).”
Vertue would not reveal anything, naturally, about the forthcoming season four. She did note, however, that it would come back to modern day.
Accompanying Sherlock’s producer at Comic-Con was the great English actor Rupert Graves (Room with a View, The Madness of King George). Graves plays DI Greg Lestrade, Sherlock’s police contact, who both respects and admires the consulting detective’s intellectual prowess, and at times, is frustrated with his seeming callousness.
Graves revealed very little about the upcoming Victorian-set special. Slightly evading my question about it at first, he noted that “what’s so great about these stories is that they reveal themselves to you as you watch them.” But then he added that what’s quite cool about the episode is in the details.
“There’s lots of little tricks,” he explained. “The Baker Street apartment for example…they’ve completely re-imagined it. The stereo headphones on the skull on the wall…there’s a version of that. The viewers will have fun noticing the victorian versions of those little things. And that sort of acts as a metaphor for the whole thing. The language is slightly different; everything is slightly altered.”
But how do you take a modern telling Holmes and transport it back through time? “It’s really a stand-alone episode,” Graves explained.” It’s a “bubble episode. It exists on its own.”
I mentioned to Graves that he has, from time to time, expressed a desire to have a stab at the great detective himself. He laughed at the idea, saying “If Benedict were sh*t, I’d have a go, but…!”
Graves called out a couple of his favorite scenes for me, first mentioning the scene in season three when Sherlock and Lestrade first reunite. “When Sherlock sees him in the car park, lighting a fag (cigarette for those not conversant in British English). That was a dear scene…a sweet scene.”
Talking about how he plays Lestrade, Graves explained that “early on I decided to play him as a modern copper.” He went into police stations for research, to add detail to the character. “I always want to find things for him to do. I play him as a copper who’s been gifted with this amazing friend who has this extraordinary ability, which [Lestrade] can make use of.”
I asked Graves to talk a little about the relationship between Lestrade and his brilliant friend. “I think there’s some male competition going on–some swinging [fill in the blank]” he laughed. “I don’t think he’s jealous, but I don’t think he’s not competitive!”
It will months before Sherlock’s 2015 Victorian special airs (which will first be in theaters!), but for now, enjoy this short trailer released by the BBC:
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