Robert Downey Jr. has played a lot of characters in his career and now he can put Victorian super-sleuth on the list. Downey adds an edgy twist to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved character, in the Warner Bros. adaptation of the detective famous for his intellectual abilities and shrewd observational skills.
Jude Law plays his suave sidekick Watson and together the crime solving duo battle a serial killer who has threatened to harm all of England.
ComingSoon.net attended the international press conference held in London with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and their co-star Kelly Reilly, who is Watson’s girlfriend in the movie:
Q: How did you reinvent your characters for this movie? For Robert, this movie is none of “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” and was that your input not to be part of something that glamorized cocaine use?
Jude Law: When I was asked to get involved, Robert was already set as Sherlock and Guy was directing. I knew from then that it was going to be a different take on the older films of Sherlock Holmes. It fascinated me and obviously they were coming to me not to put on two stone and fall around, put my foot in waste paper baskets, but they were going to ask me to play Watson with a bit more edge. What was intriguing, because I hadn’t read the books as a boy, was to go back to the books and realize how much of this new rediscovery, if you like, was also in the source material. So it was a kind of juggle between going back to Conan Doyle and relishing in all the accuracy that perhaps at times in the part had been overlooked. And also looking into the future and adding a new energy to an audience that we hope will discover Sherlock Holmes for the first time.
Robert Downey Jr.: I loved “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.” It was never a high enough percentage for me. (Laughs) Kind of weak, tepid solution for me. This is a PG-13 movie and even if it wasn’t, the idea is, if you go back to the source material, he’s never described as being some strung out weirdo. Also, back in Victorian times, it was absolutely legal, acceptable. You could move down to your corner pharmacist and grab all that stuff, so we thought it would be irresponsible to not make reference to it and, so again, I think a lot of the flaming hoops we had to jump through doing Sherlock were, how do you take what comes from the source material and how do you amend it so that it’s accessible and how do you not whitewash it but how do you still be respectful to that. If there’s anything that we’ve added this time around, it’s essentially, as much as it’s about this very far-reaching case and Holmes and Watson save life on Earth as we know it, you know, it’s also about a fight over, well, you, isn’t it Kelly? It’s a fight over Mary Morsten.
Q: Robert and Jude, the relationship between Sherlock and Watson on screen reminds us of an old married couple at times. How did you create that chemistry? Also, to all of you, where was your first introduction to Sherlock Holmes?
Law: My second job on TV was in the Sherlock Holmes TV series. I played the stable boy. We started work the minute we met, didn’t we.
Downey Jr.: We were trying to get him to do the movie and you’re a pretty savvy guy, so it’s not like it’s all just talk, talk, talk, it’s, “Are you interested in making the best version of this?” The great feedback we’ve been getting today is that they say the movie is about the two of you and the third thing that creates. Well, it’s one thing to promise you can get there and it’s another thing to just roll up your sleeves and get into it. Guy created such a sublime atmosphere. We weren’t sure that it was going to turn out as well as it did, but we just really afforded and afforded. It’s so funny to me, because usually I’m used to you saying, “Well you and so and so, this female, had this great chemistry,” and they’re talking about Jude and I like we should be doing romantic comedies together. But this film is not a comedy and it’s a love affair of sorts. It’s about what it’s about, but I think Holmes and Watson are aspects of all of us and I think that we knew when to Yin and Yang back and forth and we were just a good team, you know?
Q: The third person is Mary.
Downey Jr.: (in corny accent again) That b*tch. How dare you even show up here?
Q: How did you cope trying to play the character with these two behaving like this?
Kelly Reilly: It was very difficult. Hell. No, I think Watson should have warned Mary before they go for dinner. I think he should have said he may be a bit tricky with you.
Law: How satisfying was it throwing that glass of wine, though?
Reilly: It was my first day on the first week of filming. I was terrified.
Downey Jr.: You’d probably rather have done it closer to the end of the shoot?
Reilly: Yeah. (Laughs)
Q: How many times did you have to do it?
Reilly: Oh, I can’t remember.
Q: You didn’t do it the first time?
Reilly: No, I think I missed first time. But yeah, three or four. But I think what’s nice about Mary is that she’s the woman behind the already good man and the fact that she can actually have a place in that relationship that isn’t the woman that wants him to stay at home. She does love him as much as Holmes does and wants him to go and continue his adventures, but unfortunately you didn’t see it like that.
Q: Robert, were you scared about approaching this role?
Downey Jr.: Scared. I don’t get scared anymore. I just get busy. I already knew by the time Guy was directing this that it was a fresh interpretation. And then, I’ve worked with Joel Silver a bunch, I’ve lived with Susan Downey a bunch. Lionel Wigram basically is the person who figured out how to reprise this as a film. So I knew I was in good hands and then it was just a matter of getting down to business. Fortunately I’d spent some time here in the late ’80s playing Chaplin and I had a great tutelage in all things British from Lord Attenborough so I felt like I’d definitely passed go, but definitely felt the onus of, it’s not the fear of the judgment of others, at a certain point it just comes down to, will you meet the standards that people are expecting of you and you expect from them.
Q: Robert, can you tell us how you prepared for the bare knuckle boxing scene?
Downey Jr.: They were a choreographed version of it. I went in and got all pissy about it. Guy came in and we worked on it. So I think you were seeing version 6.0 by the time we shot it. But Guy is a Jujitsu fellow. We managed to get along somehow. It was so fun. And by the way, by the time we were done shooting that scene, I felt like we really had a handle on the movie. Not because we’d finally top-lit me and I’d shown my rippling abs and all that self-important garbage, but because this was Guy’s ideas, Holmes vision, and it was a really bold thing and it could have gone very poorly in which case the rest of the movie is trying to recover from the bad Guy Ritchie idea that we went out and shot. It was literally perfect and I think it set the tone. It was just his take on the film, so it was about me trusting him and us getting each other’s approval, so to speak. Do I have your approval?
Q: Robert, can you talk about why you loved filming in Britain.
Downey Jr.: Look, I was here 20 years ago and the food sucked. And I was not particularly happy. I was doing a movie called “Air America.” I renamed it “Air Generica.” And we were at Pinewood in these studios or whatever and then I came back and I did “Chaplin.” I think there’s something about the work ethic here. I think there’s something about the people and the culture. Obviously as Americans and I can speak for myself and Susan and Joel – there’s sometimes just a bit of an abrupt attitude that we have, like, “Alright, we’re here, let’s get done with the work. F**k what you’re going through. We’ll eat later.” And we were very shortly put in check that there’s a more civilized way to operate and that’s it nice to put out a little cheese, let’s talk, let’s be grown-ups about this. It is tea time. It’s tea time right now. See you later. (Laughs) And by the way, we’re not vulgar or anything, it’s just very much a part of the furniture here. And I think it was just, for me anyways, just a huge experience in the proper way to do things. I’ve taken it forth ever since.
Sherlock Holmes opens on Christmas Day. Stay tuned for our exclusive interview with director Guy Ritchie early next week.