He’s a “consulting detective”, the only one in the world – he invented the job. When the police are out of their depth, which is often, they call Sherlock. Then he is introduced to Dr John Watson.
“The original novels reached a wide, diverse audience and many people still hold up Sherlock Holmes as the greatest detective of all time,” says Benedict, speaking about the prospect of playing Sherlock Holmes in this contemporary dramatisation of Sherlock.
“He’s a cultural phenomenon that has been translated into over 160 languages – it’s a truly international thing.”
“Whilst this “contemporary setting” is what makes this adaptation unique, we have gone back to the original novels as our source. We’re telling the story from the very beginning, from its inception. The first episode, A Study In Pink, replicates a lot of what happens in The Study Of Scarlet, including one of the only times Sherlock and John’s meeting has been dramatised.”
Benedict speaks of the original Sherlock Holmes novels with affinity and admiration: “They’re so gripping, really interesting, well thought-out, beautifully-drawn characters and a fantastic insight into playing very extraordinary people”.
He is quick to point out that it’s the talents of the co-creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, that will ensure audiences will be drawn in – Conan Doyle fans and newcomers alike.
“We have two people in Mark and Steven that are brilliant at their craft,” Benedict reassures Sherlock Holmes fans. “We’re not trying to be clever or convoluted, but rather have a really exciting and gripping story at its heart.
“I’d be thrilled if part of the effect we have is that viewers wanted to go out and read the original books – that would be fantastic.”
Playing Sherlock Holmes carries a responsibility and one that Benedict is aware of, particularly after receiving letters from fans of the Sherlock Holmes Society.
“They have let me know that I have huge shoes to fill.” Even so, he remains confident about playing Holmes: “I am probably the 71st Sherlock. We have a few things on our side, so as far as rendering their perfect Holmes, part of it is a blank canvas – part of it is being something totally new.”
As well as having read a number of the books, Benedict was a fan of the earlier TV and film adaptations: “I saw quite a few when I was growing up. Jeremy Brett was wonderful, he was a big influence on my childhood but that doesn’t put me off at all – we’re moving away from a Victorian period so it’s a great scope for freedom and interpretation.”
He goes so far as to say that the new setting for the drama is what attracted him to the part: “I have to say it wouldn’t have appealed to me as much to play an original Holmes because, I feel, in so many ways it’s been done superlatively well by Rathbone in black and white and Jeremy Brett in colour. The new time period and engaging writing have created a unique drama. It’s a page turner – the first script we read, was fantastic.”
Benedict explains a little of the type of action that viewers can expect: “There are some great chase scenes – the odd explosion, some kung fu sequences, a fight with a Chinese war lord. I shoot a human giant who strangles people with his bare hands, chase a taxi cab through the streets of London – so it’s definitely a rollercoaster ride.”
The dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson is essential, as Benedict explains: “It’s a team effort, I couldn’t do it without him – I need him.”
As to the close bond between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Benedict explains further:
“In the books, Watson gets married fairly early on, so I wasn’t aware that it was an issue. However, we do allude to the idea that there may be a ‘misunderstanding’ from other people who think we’re a couple! We’ve just moved into a flat-share, we might not be sure what our relationship is at one point, in the same way, when two people meet it takes a while to suss each other out.”
Benedict describes the setting of Sherlock: “London still remains at the heart of the drama. This includes using iconic locations such as Soho, China Town, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Bridge and everything that modern London life involves – London cabs, the River Thames, traffic jams, mobile phones and computers.”
In terms of the contemporary nature of this adaptation, Sherlock is aided by technology including his very own website, The Science of Deduction.
“Definitely, Sherlock’s modus operandi is aided by technology, his speciality is deducing the facts, pulling together a vast amount of information so that he can understand what he sees and experiences.
“He uses technology and forensic science but there is still a huge amount of human instinct needed. He still has a capacity to make a wrong choice and that is not hidden just because technology is present. He is fallible but he completely fits in with the modern mode of policing.”