Producer Joel Silver Talks Sherlock Holmes


Joel Silver is a producer who really shouldn’t need any sort of introduction, his name being almost synonymous with Hollywood action movies for the last twenty-five years, whether it be the “Lethal Weapon” series or “The Matrix” trilogy. In the past decade, he’s also been at the forefront of Warner Bros.’ horror efforts via his company Dark Castle Entertainment, and he’s certainly no stranger to Hype !, as we’ve talked to him quite regularly at Comic-Con International in San Diego and other events. Lionel gave us a rundown of the history of this project, but he didn’t mention how you got involved. Can you talk about that?
Joel Silver: Yeah. They had put it together, and it was kind of in a good place, and they had gotten to Guy, and then they asked us if we could help them get (Robert) Downey in the picture. Everybody liked the idea of putting Downey in the movie and I have an executive who works with me who has a good relationship with Downey, so we got together and said we wanted to do this. He thought it was a great idea and we convinced everybody on both sides how much it was a good idea, and we made it work.

CS: You have a lot of British actors in this except for Robert, who isn’t, and I wondered if there was any pressure to find a British actor?
Silver: Well, it was a perfect storm in that Robert was riding a crest of tremendous good feeling and success with both “Iron Man” and “Tropic Thunder.” They were looking for something that was great, and he and I had said, “Wouldn’t it be good to have some franchise that we could do together” because we have a good relationship, too, and this kind of hit all those buttons. It was a good thing for all of us to do together, and Lionel welcomed the support and the help, and the studio was extremely excited about us all doing this together, so here we are.

CS: In terms of the movie timeline, when you got involved there was a pretty quick turnaround, right?
Silver: Well, this is that moment where movies either happen or don’t. Movies are like fruit. If they sit on the shelf, and at a certain point, you can’t eat them anymore. It was the right time. They felt it was a doable movie, everybody liked the price. It’s expensive, but not beyond-belief expensive, and we were able to make it right away. Robert had an opening at that moment before “Iron Man 2” was going to start, and it had to go very quickly if that was going to work. It wasn’t going to be able to sit around for a while and gestated. It had a start, we had to go, and we know how to do that. The script was strong and everybody had ideas what they wanted to do, so we moved quickly and put it together. It’s really affordable in that it’s a “location” movie. You’re literally in locations like this, which maybe on other pictures, they would build these places, but the intention was to make this picture in London in existing locations, and then shoot all of the interiors at a place where there was an effective rebate where we could do that in the States. New York became that place, so we do all the exteriors here in London and then we go back after the holidays and do all the interiors. Usually you’d go back to Hollywood and do the interiors, but we really can’t do that much anymore.

CS: What do you think you and Guy and the writers and the actors bring to the legend and the myth?
Silver: I think in these situations where you have material that is so well known and so well thought of, but the audience has an impression. I mean, the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce of Sherlock Holmes is such a strong impression of what that was, but it really didn’t evolve from the book, per se. The book was far more action-oriented. He was into more martial arts; he did have a more physical presence, as opposed to just an intellectual presence. And Watson, absolutely, was a tough guy, a bruiser, which you never really got from Nigel Bruce, which was just a paunchy friend, kind of like Henry Higgins and his buddy in “My Fair Lady.” They just kind of talked in the drawing room. You really get an action sense of the story. It’s an action movie for 1891, so it uses the period very well, but it also has a feeling of a little bit of an exaggerated reality in that you’re seeing a world that maybe wasn’t quite like this, but it makes sense.

CS: You mentioned 1891. Is there a reason why it’s that specific year?
Silver: That’s the year we chose. We’re kind of saying that this is kind of like the origin story of our universe of Sherlock Holmes. Yes, the characters are all established but all those stories haven’t really happened yet per se. I mean, we’re not doing “Hound of the Baskervilles.” This is first of our stories. He already knows Irene Adler, who was in the stories, and Holmes and Watson are essentially roommates. They’re friends and they know each other from the past, but all those stories will be ahead of us… I hope.

CS: We were told that they’ve been together for eight or ten years, so some of that stuff might have happened already.
Silver: It might have happened. There is some sense, but hopefully, there’s a lot of stories ahead of us that we can tell.

CS: Do you think you’d adapt some of those other books or do you always want to keep them original?
Silver: There are elements of the character in this story that we’ve read about or known about or been aware of, but this story is fresh. Lord Blackwood is kind of an invention, but there will be the sense of a Moriarty character who is coming ahead of us. Hopefully, that will be an opportunity.

CS: So is Moriarty in this film? Do you tease the audience?
Silver: We’re not going into that right now (laughter) but you know, he is on the horizon.

CS: Is this the same production team as “RocknRolla”? I was curious how you were approaching this differently beyond the fact you have more money.
Silver: Well, “RocknRolla” was literally the catering budget of this movie. It’s a big movie. There are a lot of new players – a lot of the same players. Our cameraman (he means DP) Phillipe Rousselot is a very smart, very talented, he did “The Brave One” with us in New York and I love working with him. Sarah Greenwood, the production designer, she did “Atonement,” she’s done a fantastic job. The first AD did “RocknRolla” and so did the line producer. That was something else, too. Warners didn’t know any of these people and I did, and it was comfortable… that was one of the reasons it was able to get up so quickly. If Warners wanted to essentially take the “Harry Potter” team and put it on this movie, it would have been hard for Guy to get moving so quickly on this movie, but we have a lot of his players, his people that he’s used to, so that helped it happen very quickly, too.

CS: So how often do you stay on set? Throughout the whole production?
Silver: No, Susan’s here the whole time, and she’s confident and knows what she’s doing. I’m here for a week, and I was here for a week two weeks ago, and I’ll be here for a week in two more weeks. There’s issues I have to deal with when I come in. There’s thing we have to take care of, so I have a bunch of things I’ve got to do.

CS: What’s your favorite part of this film without spoiling? What are you looking forward to shooting?
Silver: I mean there’s great action scenes. There’s really good big set pieces that are just wild and out there and really strong and effective. Look, I like action movies. It’s good that we can do things that you haven’t seen before. This is the first time I’ve made a period action movie. I’ve made I guess some futuristic action movies, but I’ve never made historical action movies. It’s cool to be able to do things you really haven’t seen before in this kind of Dickensian kind of world. It really gives it a fun vibe and Downey’s always great to work with and Jude’s been great and I love Mark Strong. We did “RocknRolla” together and he’s a really great guy.

CS: I’m interested in that casting process. How did those guys come together?
Silver: Well, Downey was the first choice for everybody, so that’s why that happened. We talked to a lot of people before we settled on Jude. There were a lot of people we were discussing it with, but Jude really felt like Watson. He was essentially the brawn to Sherlock Holmes’ brain. He’s a doctor, of course, but he was a tough guy who was in the war, and he’s kind of like a ladies’ man. That’s the idea in this story that he’s trying to leave the relationship with Holmes to an extent and find a young lady and get married, and of course, Holmes doesn’t want that to happen. There’s Mary Reilly, who is a wonderful, talented, beautiful girl who plays Mary, his fiancĂ©e. We looked for a lot of people. We wanted Mark from the very beginning, and I just love working with him and when I read the script I thought it was a great role for Mark. There were issues because he had another movie going at the exact same time as our picture, so we had to work around his schedule. Rachel (McAdams), we looked at a lot of girls before we picked Rachel. She came in and tested and was terrific and it’s just a great dream cast. They all look great together and it’s good.

CS: It must be nice to see Robert’s success since you were the guy who went to bat for him when you cast him in “Gothika.” Do you feel you two will continue to work together?
Silver: Oh, sure. Favreau told me that it was “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” that really proved to him that he could do “Iron Man,” which makes me feel great, too. Look, Robert’s a guy who should have it all, and he’s pretty much getting there.

CS: What would you say the tone of this movie is? Heavy drama? Light comedy?
Silver: No, it’s the right tone. It’s funny, it’s fun, and it’s got some magic and mystery. It’s a PG-13 movie, it’s not an R-rated film, so it’s not going to be that dark, but it has a darkness to it, that will be evened out by lightness. It’s a fun adventure.

CS: After doing “RocknRolla” now this, can you talk about working within that British sensibility, especially being known as a Hollywood action producer, which his a different sensibility?
Silver: Well, I haven’t really been able to shoot in California for a while. Little movies yeah, but the big movies we can’t shoot there. It’s just a shame that Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t deliver on this level. It could have been something he could have done that would have been good for us. I did five movies in Australia, I did three films in Germany, this is the fourth film I’ve done here in the UK, I’ve done a bunch of films in Canada. We can’t really shoot these kinds of movies there. Once in a while, one or two get through, but it’s just impractical. I shot a big chunk of “V For Vendetta” here that was great. I shot “Fred Claus,” the whole movie was shot here. I shot all of “RocknRolla” and now this, so it’s great shooting here. They really make it economically advantageous for us to shoot here. It’s a long haul but it’s a great place to be. My movies have always done pretty well in the UK – “The Matrix” films did very well in this country and I do like the crews here and the people we’re working with here. I have no problem shooting here; I love being here in the city. I remember years ago, I did one year of “Tales From the Crypt” here and it went very well. From that time, I’ve always tried to come here and figure out things to do.

CS: Are we going to see a lot of the great London landmarks in this film?
Silver: I hope so. I mean, that’s the intention, so we have a huge sequence involving the Tower Bridge that’s kind of under construction then, but some of that stuff will be green screen and inside. We will definitely see the city.

CS: How easy or hard is it to get locations like this and older places?
Silver: This city is really anxious for movie activity. We closed down Whitehall; we blew up Parliament. They were wonderful in helping us do all this. It’s hard to shoot anything in LA; it’s just a chore, but they’re great here. I mean look at this location, it’s just fantastic.

CS: Is there going to be a lot of post-production involved with the movie?
Silver: It has a lot of visual FX, but not as much as you would think. It’s primarily being shot in London today made to look like London then, and yeah, we have to paint out some rooftops and billboards, but it’s pretty close. The movie ends in an incredible location that involves some visual FX, but I believe that (our release date) is going to be good and it’ll be fine for us, and I think this time next year, people will really be looking forward to seeing this movie.

CS: We recently talked to Toby Kebbell who co-starred in “RocknRolla” and we asked if there’s any word about the sequel to that movie? Do we have to wait for the DVD to find out if that might happen?
Silver: Yeah. (sigh) The picture has not lit up the world on its domestic gross, but Warners didn’t really jump behind it as much as I hoped they would have. They felt it was kind of commercially-challenged, which I wish they hadn’t felt. It had a really strong per-theater average but it didn’t really have enough theaters to open in so it doesn’t really have the perception that it’s done very well. They’re saying quite the opposite. Look, it’s done okay in some of the territories, but we’ll see if it has a big DVD presence. We have a story. Guy has a whole story to go on with it and I loved making it and I love the idea of bringing back Toby and Mark in a way that people would enjoy seeing, because I just loved seeing them in the picture, but we’ll see what happens.

CS: If “Sherlock Holmes” does well, could Warners have enough good will towards Guy to let him do a sequel?
Silver: Dark Castle made “RocknRolla,” Warners didn’t make it, and again, if the DVD has a strong response, then maybe we’ll make a sequel, but we have to wait and see.

CS: Are you going to push Warner Bros. to do a different kind of campaign?
Silver: I’ll try, I’ll try. These deals are complicated. I mean, Warners didn’t invest in the movie. They have a stake in distribution, but they didn’t really invest in the picture. The next picture we have up, which is called “Orphan,” which is really strong and they love it, so that’ll be a different presentation. I think that will come out in the summer. But we’ll see about a sequel. I mean I loved making “RocknRolla” and I love working with Guy, and I think he’s a great talent and a lot of fun.

CS: Do you think “Sherlock Holmes” will open first in England like “RocknRolla”?
Silver: I don’t know yet. We haven’t really discussed that in detail. It will have a big presence here of course. Warners has done very well with these English-based… I mean “Harry Potter” has done very well for them, so they know how to do this kind of movie so I think it will be good for all of us.

CS: I know you’ve been working with the Wachowskis on “Ninja Assassin” so is there anything else you’re doing with them?
Silver: Sure, of course. “Ninja” is going to be something great. Look, it’s a ninja picture. It’s a really interesting one, but it’s a ninja picture. There’s great fights, great visual FX, great martial arts, it’s a really great idea for a movie and I hope we can get that together. I mean, they’re just cutting it now, so we should see it soon.

CS: Are you still shepherding “Wonder Woman”?
Silver: Yeah sure.

CS: I know they’re trying to mimic what Marvel did with DC’s characters. Is it a priority to do “Wonder Woman”?
Silver: I hope so. They’ve talked about it. It’s in a constant state of development, but we just haven’t been able to find the right way to do it yet, but hopefully we can and we can make it soon.

You can also read what Silver said about some of his other upcoming projects here.

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