Anyone who’s been following Guy Ritchie’s career since Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels way back in the late ’90s probably has at one point or another wondered what the British filmmaker might do if given more money and someone else’s toys to play with. They finally have a chance to see what he does with Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie’s revamping of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian-era detective team, pairing Ritchie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
There are a lot of expectations for the movie, not only from fans of Ritchie’s earlier movies but also those who’ve enjoyed previous incarnations of Holmes and Robert Downey Jr.’s growing legion of fans after last year’s double whammy of Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. You normally would think those audiences would be mutually exclusive, so it’s a strange combination on paper for sure.
While this version of Holmes certainly has a lot more humor and action than we’ve come to expect from Sir Arthur’s literary heroes, it still remains faithful to his novels, right down to the all-encompassing case, this one involving the mysterious Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, who has seemingly come back to life after being tried and hung with far more nefarious plans that involves secret societies and the supernatural. Only Holmes and Watson can stop him, but they’re having their own problems, Holmes with a former flame and jewel thief Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams, and Scotland Yard’s incompetent Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), while Watson has just gotten engaged, something that threatens to break-up the long-standing partnership.
Playing in this time period with these characters (and considerably more money) has really allowed Ritchie to flex his directorial muscles, the results being as impressive as when Christopher Nolan was handed Batman or J.J. Abrams took over “Star Trek,” and possibly the first version of Holmes that can appeal to Americans who know nothing about the character as well as the British literary crime buffs who’ve voraciously read Doyle’s work countless times.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Ritchie for the third time in two years and found that as always, he can be a tough nut to crack maybe because he obviously doesn’t like doing interviews and tends to get bored if you don’t ask him challenging questions. Not that we don’t love talking to the guy and we tried our best, but you’ll have to decide for yourself who came out the winner in our latest bare knuckles match-up.
ComingSoon.net: When we talked last year, I might have asked you how this came about and just to refresh my memory, was it Joel who first brought this to you?
Guy Ritchie: No, Lionel Wigram, who’s one of the execs at Warners. He approached me first.
CS: Okay, so what was your first reaction when you were presented the material?
Ritchie: It was positive. It was positive. I mean, it didn’t happen immediately. I thought the script needed a bit of work and whatnot, but they agreed with all of that and they agreed with some of my comments and stuff. Once that happens and I’m relatively proactive and excited about the prospects, the enthusiasm is contagious.
CS: I think a lot of people who’ve seen the movie were surprised, because you kept a lot of stuff that’s clearly Holmes, much like Lionel’s been saying from the start, and the movie remains fairly faithful to the books, which most people don’t believe when they see the trailers for the movie.
Ritchie: I think some people do. I think the cynics won’t. But, yeah, I mean, we did try and derive it from the source, so I mean, it’s supposed to be Sherlock Holmes and Watson, right? We did try to remain true to Mr. Doyle… Sir Doyle… Sir Conan.
CS: I think people see the commercials or trailers and immediately think, “This is gonna be like ‘Lethal Weapon’ in Victorian London,” but when you see the movie, it really is an authentic Sherlock Holmes adventure.
Ritchie: Do you think the people know who Joel Silver is?
CS: Yeah, of course they do, movie fans obviously do, but the point is that the movie is very faithful to something Sir Arthur may have written despite being an original case. When you read the script, was there stuff from the books you wanted to bring into it or did you go back and find things you wanted to bring in?
Ritchie: Sure. I mean, all of us, anyone that was creatively involved, did whilst making the movie click through or was immersed within all the stories, so inevitably, we’ve tried to let that authenticity percolate. So yeah, I mean we were conscious and cognizant of the fact that we were trying to remain authentic.
CS: In this case, it’s such an intricate plot that you must have had everyone right down to the prop department on board with what needed to be done. Did that require a lot more planning or preparation than normal?
Ritchie: Yeah, things like that would take care of themselves. It’s an entity onto itself, but it’s an entity that also takes care of itself and I don’t know if that happens consciously or unconsciously, but yeah, stuff just happens by kinetic energy.
CS: It seems like it would almost impossible not to have spent a lot of time beforehand putting those puzzle pieces together, working with Lionel and the writers, because it doesn’t seem like it could possibly have been as easy as you make it sound.
Ritchie: We knew what we were doing before we did it.
CS: Well, yeah, I would assume so…
Ritchie: So yeah, I mean, there were certain prerequisites which were unavoidable, right? So we did our homework.
CS: And did that involve a lot more preparation than any of your other movies in that sense?
Ritchie: Not really, not really.
CS: A lot of your previous movies are very tightly plotted with a lot of characters.
Ritchie: F*cking plotted, they are, they are. I mean, this script is relatively easy compared to anything I’ve done previously, but at least it’s a linear narrative, so in that respect it was much easier than anything I’ve previously done.
CS: So what happens when you bring Robert into this kind of setting? Everyone I’ve talked to, including him, say he’s very impromptu, always having ideas and wanting to improvise on set, things like that. I feel like throwing him into the mix is interesting because you have to put all these puzzle pieces together and then he brings an X-factor to the mix.
Ritchie: It just works. I mean, Robert and I had a collective agreement of who Sherlock Holmes was in that he’s developed or evolved, but he and I always kind of had an empathy on who Holmes was, so if he went too far, I’d put the reins on him. If he didn’t go far enough, I’d encourage him. But he and I were pretty much in agreement 90, 95 percent of the time. So again that’s part of it. It picks up this unconscious kind of kinetic energy, creative energy and these things do. How they do, I have no idea, but imagine and anything’s that created at some point involves this kind of unspoken kind of energy, you know?
CS: You’d think so, but it feels like on most sets there’s so much time put into writing and preparation you kind of have to have a game plan. You can’t really just go in and start filming…
Ritchie: You do, you do, you do have a game plan. You go in with a game plan. But, you know, f*ck it, you can only go through a step to the left or a step to the right, you know what I mean? You can and I think that just gives it more of the character.
CS: Have you had that sort of collaborative relationship with any other actor you’ve worked with before like Jason (Statham) or this really very different?
Ritchie: I don’t think it was very different. I mean, Robert is a bit Sherlock Holmesian himself, so yeah, his noggin works at 100 miles an hour.
CS: As quickly as yours I would imagine.
Ritchie: Well, quite… actually his seems to work a lot faster than mine ’cause I don’t always know what he was talking about. But yeah, so as long as I can understand what he’s talking about then we were in agreement. It’s just sometimes he can go a bit too quick for me to keep up, but no, I mean, it’s funny. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure if I can remember that he was awkward in any way. Well, he could’ve been more awkward, but…
CS: I wouldn’t think it would be awkward, but I’ve heard all these stories from “Iron Man” where Robert’s literally having the writers rewrite whole new scenes on the day they’re shooting.
Ritchie: Yeah, I don’t think we had a lotta that. We did have a bit of it, we did have a bit of it.
CS: I also want to ask about doing a period piece, because it’s interesting to go from “RocknRolla” which was very much modern day London back to the city during Victorian times. Had you always had an interest in the city during that period?
Ritchie: Sure, I mean, I like a stylized London, so to be in London during that period is fertile with the aesthetic. London was at its zenith then and it was blossoming like it’s never blossomed before, so it really took on a character of its own, London, so yeah, it’s a requisite character within the equation, isn’t it?
CS: Yeah, absolutely. Did you end up having to build a lot of it? I know you did get to shoot on many of the actual locations, but did you have to go in and add or remove a lot of stuff using CG?
Ritchie: Sure. Actually we ended up in Brooklyn for a month on a soundstage, yeah, so we ended up here doing all the special effects. Where we could, we didn’t. Where we had to, we did. So obviously the reconstruction of Tower Bridge was quite tricky in situ, so Tower Bridge was in Brooklyn.
CS: Did you feel like there were any big challenges or hurdles you were facing by making a bigger movie like this? Was recreating old London one of them or not really?
Ritchie: Not really. (Laughs) I mean, zeroes is zeroes, right? I’ve found them less intimidating as I’ve gotten older, if it’s a million or 10 million or 100 million, I’m not sure if the pressure feels any different. You just seem to have more friends when it’s 100 million. I suppose in that sense you have a greater responsibility, but then you have greater muscularity too, but the studio was very supportive in what they saw as a filmmaker’s idea, a filmmaker’s film.
CS: Did you find you were getting a lot more notes and a lot more things where you had to kind of…
Ritchie: No, I didn’t get any of that. No, no, no, there was never any, “Oh, we’d like a bit more of this or we’d like a bit more of that.” The studio pretty much let us get on with it and they encouraged what otherwise they might’ve traditionally shied away from. They wanted sort of “isms,” you know what I mean? They wanted Guy Rithchieisms. They wanted some kind of an influence.
CS: I’ve talked to filmmakers who’ve made thirty to forty movies and I’ve talked to guys that have made like one movie. When you go from something like “RocknRolla” or “Revolver,” which is very much your own thing, your own idea. And then, you go to something like this where you have an iconic character, an actor who is at the top of his game, at a big studio, does any of that register with you as being very different or do you just approach it the same as any other movie and do your thing?
Ritchie: In general it didn’t make any difference in terms of kind of ownership if you know what I mean. I’ve gotten to like not feeling quite so responsible if you know what I mean. That was more of a relief than anything and it was good to be sorta part of a collective thing rather than leading a charge.
CS: We’re being told to wrap this up, so I guess I need to ask you what the future brings now that you’ve finished this.
Ritchie: That’s relatively boring because I’ve only got a dull answer for that: I don’t f*cking know. (laughs)
CS: Well, we’ve already been hearing talk about Lionel wanting to do a sequel to this.
Ritchie: I know, but we don’t f*cking know. They always talk about sequels so ask me another one…
CS: I also wanted to ask you about “Lobo.”
Ritchie: But that’s future, that’s boring, boring, boring.
CS: Okay fine, let’s see. Okay, I guess I’ll ask you about the music, which I quite enjoyed.
Ritchie: The music. Good, good.
CS: I really feel like music’s been a very important part of all of the other movies and for this one you were working with more traditional music…
Ritchie: Ish… Iiiiiish… When you say traditional, traditional, a traditional score, or traditional as in indigenous traditional?
CS: It’s a little bit of both. You have some Irish music which is very traditional, and it’s also very different from the music we normally expect from you. I’m curious about how you wanted to incorporate the music into this.
Ritchie: Well, I’m bound to a certain period, right? So I didn’t want to start f*cking around all over the place in terms of cheating from what period I was gonna use from, so I tried to stick to a period and tried to stick to a thing. So it was mostly indigenous music of that time, like the rock and roll of Dublin over that boxing scene was of that period. So I tried to remain there’s quite a lot of things, in European gypsy going on there, but I tried to sort of represent what would’ve been happening in the grass roots level of society. So I tried to stick to a sort of more visceral score; I didn’t want to make it too grand.
CS: People have been saying great things about it, because the music is very different for Hans Zimmer as well. Did you give him a lot of direction where you wanted him to go with it?
Ritchie: Well, I think that was just the pair of us, you know? It was the pair of us. That’s what I wanted. You know, we ended up with a bit of both, right? We ended up with a bit of traditional in the traditional sense which I thought was a good idea–we didn’t want to go too left field–but at the same time I feel as though we broke sort of new ground.
CS: Was this the first time you’ve edited while you were still shooting?
Ritchie: No, I’ve always worked at that pace. I’m quite aggressive about the editing and that starts on the first day of principal photography. I want that scene cut by the end of day.
CS: Right. Is it usually a case where you still have the location and you can still redo things if you’re not happy how it’s cut together?
Ritchie: It’s all sorts of reasons, right? Partly in case you’ve missed something, you might be able to mop it up. Secondly, you just want to have the confidence that what you’re doing is actually going to make sense.
Sherlock Holmes opens everywhere on Christmas Day, Friday December 25. (If you’re all good boys and girls, maybe we’ll have a very rare interview with Eddie Marsan before then.)