Movie News

Robert Downey Jr. & Jude Law are Holmes and Watson

Source: Edward Douglas
March 5, 2009

Without question, the highlight of our visit to the location shoot of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes was our chance to sit down with Holmes and Watson themselves, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. The two of them had already established quite a rapport, and they tackled our questions with a similar pace and efficiency as they did the goons we watched them take down earlier.

ComingSoon.net: So what exactly are you up to today? What are you doing out there?

Jude Law: We are opening the film, which opens with a bit of a bang and you know what? It's the usual mix, a little bit of physicality and then a little bit of drama.

Robert Downey Jr.: Yeah.

Law: We're about to do the drama.

CS: Doing a fight sequence like that over and over and over again, is it just so well-rehearsed that you can do the same thing each time, or is that not necessary? Can you change it around a bit each time?

Law: They're usually pretty similar, right?

Downey Jr.: Yeah, I think the thing is you realize what bits you've been pretending worked since you were in rehearsal, and now that you're shooting, you just realize it doesn't really work, it doesn't sell, or for this angle it's no good. It's all that stuff that you can get to be all Testosterone Teddy about, but it's also... I think what's really smart this time around anyway is that the fighting styles of Holmes and Watson feed into the real archetypes of who their characters are and what their background is.

Law: Well, there are a lot of clues in the books when you go back to the kind of men they are and the sort of attributes they have acquired, there are these suggestions of Holmes' studying of Zen pugilism and martial arts because Watson talks about that, and then Watson's experience as a soldier in Afghanistan and India, slightly more brawling, something more bruising.

Downey Jr.: Yeah. Baritsu they call it, which really was no such thing, it was "bartitsu" which meant single stick fighting. We just loved the idea too of 1891 was incredibly modern. So if you've got two guys who were roommates - well, obviously there's also been allusions to what that meant in the past. In fact, it was a very common occurrence and obviously, anyone who's familiar with the origin story, which we're starting to kinda realize this is. You know, they met when they were introduced by a third party under the likelihood that they might get along and become roommates. Even how they met is trippy, but what's kinda fun is - I'm trying to remember what it was that they said, "What we agree on is we know each other well enough"...

Law: They warn each other of their eccentricities…

Downey Jr.: Yeah, yes, which are pretty far and wide.

Law: As Robert said, there is so much seed planting in this as well as having a cracking story and a lot of momentum, a lot of seed planting with all these, not negative, but eccentric attributes whether it's a gambling problem, a drinking problem, whatever it is.

Downey Jr.: It's so funny to read through the book and it's like, "Wait a minute. Not only was Watson pumping his way through life before he met Mary on one of their cases." It's not unlike certain fellows or gals you hear about in our industry, you wind up meeting somebody when you're on location. Of course, Watson winds up meeting his gal during the course of one of these cases. We decided that we can't be so true to everything as it was in the book because you can't really track things that way. You need a scene where we're not telling that case so we couldn't have them meet on it, but so much stuff about, you know, not a degenerate gambler, but clearly...

Law: A classy gambler (laughter)

Downey Jr.: But again, it's definitely cost them the rent once or twice. I just love that stuff. It reminds me of "The Odd Couple" or it reminds me of "Lethal Weapon," or it reminds me of "Butch and Sundance." Take any genre and take any male or female lead, whatever, it's taking the eccentricities that everybody can relate to 'cause they're not so far-fetched...

CS: How did the two of you bond before starting to make the film? Law: Immediately, as always.

Downey Jr.: Let me put it this way, I talked to Guy 'cause I was a big "RocknRolla" fan and I'm talking on and about that. Little did I know that he wanted to talk about "Sherlock Holmes," but I didn't know that he was calling me up to basically say, "I wouldn't want to do this movie with you." Then I think someone showed him the spreadsheet for "Iron Man's" grosses and suddenly... (laughter) But you know, I've been around long enough to know, and so has Jude, that you're only as good as who you're playing with, and this is such a two-hander that it wasn't gonna work unless it was us.

CS: So basically you talked about how you said while you were making the movie you discovered it was an origin movie, but we've also been told your characters have known each other for eight or 10 years.
Law: You've got to go back to the story, to the original idea. What you realize is, that an awful lot of notes Watson (had) were notes that he accumulated and then chose to write about. So you join them as a couple who have known each other eight or so years. They've roomed together, they've journeyed on many cases together, but it's only now that you realize that... there's also a crises problem, which I'm not going to go into because I don't want to give too much away, which forces this issue.

Downey Jr.: Very diplomatic.

Law: But it's also, if you like, a choice suddenly where you realize Watson's going to start writing.

Downey Jr.: This is my take on it: Arthur Conan Doyle in a movie has to be Watson because unless you're doing this story about Charles Dickens talking about Victorian London, but you're not. If you're doing a story about Victorian London and these characters, then the writer has to be the person who started writing. So it's that kind of thing where I really feel that there's a lot of similarities with both where they'd been schooled and influences on Conan Doyle, wasn't it a Scottish doctor or something like that? But the mythology--not to get too Joseph Campbell about it or anything--is that if there's an origin story to be told, it's at what point did these friends realize that one of them has to, if for a bunch of reasons, just to get it off his chest or because no one will believe it...

Law: There was a line you found that said, you know, early on when Holmes asked, "What are you going to do? What are you doing with all those notes?" And he said, "If I don't write something, someone else will. So I have to write." Just as Robert said, it's clear that the storyteller, maybe Conan Doyle, maybe the audience, but it's Watson's POV because Holmes' brilliance being – he's so special that it has to be observed as opposed to seen through his eyes if you like.

Downey Jr.: But like "Huck Finn" and "Tom Sawyer," everybody knows – who's the one who's getting people to paint fences? It's Tom Sawyer. Everybody knows the guy who you're like, "You know what? It's kind of f*cked up that he does that, but you wouldn't 'cause most of live these lives in the center where we're--present company excluded... well included lately--where you're objective enough to say, "Well, I couldn't live and be in that extreme. I couldn't just have a life dedicated to nothing, but date and tracking down criminals." It's like a half-psychotic workaholic, but the idea that he keeps throwing Watson into adventure I think again, that brings me back to what Watson represents, the aspect of people who have done their time in "society," whether you want to use military or being essentially a blue collar worker, being a doctor, being someone who aspires to the Hippocratic Oath. All these things that we buy into that also has a sense of adventure that I think Conan Doyle was using both these guys to say, "Look, there's this other thing. It shouldn't be the mainstay of your life." Watson is settled enough, he has a proper job and he's happily married midway through their stories, but they have the adventures, you know?

Law: And there's a wonderful sort of moral code that they both keep. I think some of that may be... with Holmes it's a sort of fascination, it's a science, and with Watson it's a much more human sort of approach to scum, but it's not vigilante, it's almost sort of a law enforcing element to the two of them.

Downey Jr.: They're not bound by the same things that typical law enforcement would be and also we're talking about a time where law enforcement was still different, and forensics was still kind of not quite where it's at.

CS: Do you see them as superheroes of that time?
Downey Jr.: Well, I think vigilante is kind of a filum, but it's a little more complex than that. I think superhero speaks to a very different genre of where we're talking about, but we are talking about archetypes for sure.

Law: Heroes is a good word. Super.

Downey Jr.: Well, there was a whole thing written about Holmes that he had 13 of the 22 attributes needed. I mean, that was the same thing they said, Christ had 19 or whatever it was, but people always do these things where they etymologize what a super popular character or image is.

CS: Was there something specific about the script, about this project that drew you guys in that said, "Okay, now I need to do this. Now I want to do it."?
Law: Mine was that Mr. Downey Jr. was playing Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie was at its helm, and the script was in a place that was structurally exciting. I was also led to believe and it's since been demonstrated that there was freedom within the structure of that script and of that story for us to pepper it with character and detail and richness. Prior to shooting, the two of us indulged ourselves in everything Holmesian and Conan Doyleish.

Downey Jr.: We just met at Claridge's too and I was like, "Dude, will you please just come over here?" and we talked. It wasn't going to be that kind of thing where we're wondering who our Watson is. I said, you know, "If we would be lucky enough to get him, then we just have to talk and then we have to come tell you that we're doing this together." Guy was getting really excited about the idea... instantly excited, not excited after we hung up. (Laughter) I think there's a certain comfort there about having an American play an icon, but even all that aside...

Law: Are you American?

Downey Jr.: Yeah... Not lately. But I think it was that thing to where we just, as soon as we sat down we started talking creatively and its been a dreamlike situation where it helps that I'm married to one of the producers and have long history for...

CS: Is that Joel Silver?
Downey Jr.: We've been married in a way since 1983. No, that's an indentured servantdom. (laughter) So anyway, we start talking about ideas and they winded up in the script and before we shoot stuff, Guy, Jude and I will get together and we'll have a proper bit of food. I realized that doing the civilized approach gets you miles ahead here. It's not just like that ugly American thing like (In an ugly American accent), "Okay, let's go. Scene 71. We'll have coffee in here after we have a breakthrough." Its like (in a proper British accent), "Oh, this sounds lovely. Oh, these apricots, are those for me?" And suddenly we're doing things in the non-ass backwards way and we're having this process where we're not just saying, (American accent) "We're a God-damned family and that's why we're going into overtime and shooting six-day weeks." It's been an incredibly, positively humiliating experience for me seeing how, having always had a certain idea of England and Pinewood and lousy finger sandwiches at three o'clock and all that. It's actually so civilized and it's been an amazing learning experience for me.

CS: It sounds like you're both very familiar with Sir Arthur's work at least after coming onto the project. I was curious, how knowledgeable were you of Sherlock Holmes beforehand?
Law: You know, this is the most important thing we hope will penetrate through our experience and through the project to the audience. I thought I knew about it, I hadn't really read many, I'd maybe read one, I think it was probably "Hounds of the Baskerville" but didn't really remember it – knew it from TV, vaguely knew it. The beauty is, when you do go back, there was so much we had taken for granted, mostly from Basil Rathbone actually, which isn't in the book.

Downey: (to Law) What was your first job?

Law: My first job was playing a stable hand to Jeremy Brett. (Who played "Sherlock Holmes" on British television through the '80s and '90s, which impresses the interviewers.) Yes, thank you. (Laughter) The joy has been going back and really like rediscovering it and going back a little to what Robert was saying, there's also a little bit of that on the set where a healthy British suspicion about, "Oh, is this going to work? Oh, I dunno, we'll see," but everyone coming to it has come with a real desire to work for the right reasons and an attention to detail, and going back and rediscovering perhaps what they took for granted about the base text. So slowly it's really blooming, you know, daily, yet it's also got a very healthy kind of momentum to it, which is giving it a cutting edge.

CS: Did you know any of the films? Did you know a lot of stuff besides the books that you had to forget while developing the character?
Downey Jr.: Yeah, I remember some and there's that whole self-indulgent thing where, "I don't want to see other people's work," which really means, "I gotta do press on this last joke I did so I'm gonna have to cut my research down." Fortunately, Mr. Law is quite voracious, so whenever you go in his trailer, there's one of the DVDs, I guess it's kind of in the background. Meanwhile, I'm in there like, you know, I don't know, rolling up cigarettes and farting around. (laughter) I did go all the way to Malibu, California to one of the premiere annotated Sherlock Holmes aficionados, a Mr. Klinger, who is actually I think a tax lawyer, and that was a trip. He gave me a bunch of books, which I proceeded to highlight (laughter) and I'm going to have to say my kid did it. (laughter) Between the two of us, there's been this thing and it's also always a return to what is the process and what makes you love doing what you do anyway? I've been kind of on a run, and with "Repo Mambo," Jude had been doing stuff that was significantly more physical, both always wanting to stretch and do stuff. So, as it happens, we find each other in a time when we're both suited to help each other create a third thing which are these two guys in this movie.

CS: What is Guy Ritchie going to bring to this mythology then?
Law: Well, Guy first of all has a great ear for dialogue, and whilst Robert and I have been really keen and now full of quotes and direct lines from Conan Doyle, and both if you like, approaching the thing as a whole, very much like, "This is what I want Watson to say. This is what Holmes is saying." He's got a great ear for, "Let's put an edge on this, let's simplify this, or let's keep it approachable, punchy." There is this undiscovered territory I think in all Holmes' adventures which is this guy led a life that often tread over the line with some really nasty characters and it was a very physical job participating with those people. We've never seen really that because often they've always cast a little older, you know? The truth is, when you read the book, the adventures are fists swinging, guns slinging, they're proper adventures.

Downey Jr.: Throwing bombs in windows to try to farm out where a hidden photograph that's being used for blackmailers...

Law: These are very physical stories.

Downey Jr.: If it's a Joel Silver movie, you've got to throw a grenade. (Laughter) But I think the other thing for Guy too is, once we get with him... In case you didn't notice, he's a bit of a troubadour out there strumming his guitar, he's wearing a Dunhill suit. He's also a serious badass in his own right and he's a very evolved guy. It just reminds me of other relationships that we've had with directors. I could say Favreau on "Iron Man" was just like... Don't mistake any sort of passivity for them not knowing exactly what they're doing. There's just this sense of calm and waiting for the right thing to happen and then you spring. So I guess it's just that thing of, you know, "Let's walk down the hill and f*ck 'em all," type deal.

Law: He's got a really embracive confidence and often confidence is mistaken for arrogance as opposed to just a sense of, "I can carry this." That confidence at the moment, from what I've seen of him shooting on this particular picture is – he's just adding a little signature to stuff that you think you've seen before. There's one particular piece, which I've just recently seen which I just thought, "I've seen that sort of thing before. It just had a new energy to it."

Downey Jr.: And a great sense of humor. You know, I mean, obviously we know that stylistically his stuff is a departure. We've seen directors almost--I don't way to say "copycat"--but be very influenced by that and make a career for themselves. He didn't need to just re-establish his brand. He's kind of branching out and I think we all are. I think we all really got our skin in this one which is I always think a big part of making something fly or not.

CS: Are you ready to do this as a franchise or to do another one?
Downey Jr.: A franchise? Oh, yeah. We were just talking about that. (knocks on table)

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