While Sherlock Season 3 is currently airing on Masterpiece, actor and series star Benedict Cumberbatch was at the PBS portion of the TCA Press Tour to talk about the much-loved adaptation of the famous character. While there, he spoke about how he’s going to keep playing Sherlock Holmes, schedule providing, the very different dynamics that Sherlock has with both his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) and John Watson (Martin Freeman), how he sometimes finds himself over-analyzing people, how his parents came to be playing the Holmes’, how extraordinary the fan support has been, the amazing moment that he found out Harrison Ford was a fan, and sharing the Sherlock Holmes character with both Robert Downey, Jr. and Jonny Lee Miller.
He also talked about what attracted him to his next film The Lost City of Z, how he wanted to be a criminal barrister before becoming an actor, why he has no interest in doing an American TV show, the he would love to play Patrick Melrose in a film adaptation of The Patrick Melrose Novels, that he’s looking to develop projects with his production company, and how he’d like to direct, at some point. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Some of the other great actors who have played this role have eventually found that it became a bit too much for them and got a bit tired of it. Do you feel like there’s any danger of that for you?
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: I’m a long-distance runner. No, I don’t think so. I’m younger than any of them were or are, at the moment. I’m fine with it. I’m going to keep going with it. It’s a schedule-providing thing. They probably had a harder volume of it to do, at a time. I play enough other mad people, as well and some sane people, to vary the palette of what’s scrabbling around in my head and soul to bring to the floor, as a storyteller. Who knows? You can do a little chart about when you’re aware of the dementia finally starting to creep in. They’re doing a wonderful story, with Ian McKellen and Bill Condon, about Holmes having dementia and not being able to solve this final puzzle that is haunting him, to his last moments. Maybe I’ll reach the ripe old age and be able to do the same, in our format. I kind of do already, but that’ just my bad memory.
I find it very invigorating. One of the funny things about having my parents in it were the responses. We kept it secret from everybody. Not just the nation, but close family and friends. They were more intrigued by the fact my parents were in it than how I survived, or the [Andrew] Scott near-kiss, or anything else. They were absolutely appalled at how accurate the relationship is between Sherlock and his parents, and me and mine, shoving them out of the door like a terrible teenager embarrassed of them. I love them to bits, but I can be quite short. And mom does say, every now and again, that I bring my work home. She saw me while we were filming it and she went, “Hmm, careful, darling. Just be careful.” It’s probably the best gauge.
What is everybody’s commitment level to doing more of Sherlock?
CUMBERBATCH: I’m doing it. I’ve commissioned it. I’m doing it, definitely. I was very jet-lagged. I didn’t know what I was doing. We can do a bit of spontaneous commissioning. It’s healthy.
The relationship dynamic that Sherlock has with both John Watson and Mycroft Holmes are so different. What’s it like to get to play with Martin Freeman as Watson and Mark Gatiss as Mycroft?
CUMBERBATCH: They have an ally in each other. They both don’t have much time for Mycroft. Although I think there’s a very interesting dynamic that’s exposed and developed in this series, between Sherlock and Mycroft. There’s a deeper understanding and a mutual appreciation between the brothers. Sherlock and Mycroft were in cahoots about the whole thing. They’re closer than their antagonism always makes them seem. And as far as the dynamic of working with Mark, it becomes something more stylized, in a way. Martin is the everyman. He’s the audience. He’s someone of the 21st century. Mycroft and Sherlock are slightly removed from that reality, but only slightly. If it veers towards too much pantomime, that’s ‘cause we’re having too much fun. That’s very easy to do ‘cause there are some killer scenes. But, it’s great when the three of them are all together. I think it really evens it out.
Do you ever find yourself Sherlock-ing people with critical analysis?
CUMBERBATCH: There were words flying all over your head right now. I do, every now and again. On the first series, when I was going to and from London on the train, I got very interested by smudges on people’s lapels, and indents where rings should be, and scuff marks and bits of mud on shoes. I knew fuck all about what that meant, but I thought, “Well, there’s a clue.” You get hypersensitive to detail, and you do get tuned into it. But, that takes a lifetime of work and a whole lifetime of eschewing other pleasures, such as being a sociable human being, which I’m far too seduced by to eschew.
How did your parents come to play your parents on the show?
CUMBERBATCH: They’re trained actors with a C.V., and they were available. They’ve played my parents in the background of Atonement. I was happy about that, considering I was marrying a girl I’d supposedly raped, in that one. It was wonderful. It was the first day on set, so everyone was nervous. They were really nervous and, at certain points, I tried to manage their nerves as well as mine. It was a glorious thing. The relationship evolves in the three episodes that you will see, and it’s a joy. It’s going to be something that, hopefully, I will be showing my grandchildren. It’s a really special thing. I’ve got utmost respect for their craft.
What’s it been like to have the fan reaction that you’ve had to this character, and what has this role meant to you, as an actor?
CUMBERBATCH: It’s extraordinary. I think a lot of it comes with who he is, obviously. He’s a very iconic figure. It’s extraordinary and a little bit unnerving. It’s not an onerous sense of responsibility, but I do feel that that has to be acknowledged. At the same time, I’m a human being. As much as I’m capable, I’ve got to acknowledge, with gratitude, the fact that they are so supportive, loyal, intelligent, some of them normal, and committed to something that I really love doing and a character that I like playing, and other characters, as well. It means a lot to me. It means a hell of a lot to me. One of the biggest thrills I had, when the first season launched, was to look at the book sales shoot up. That makes me very, very happy. Books are good. We wouldn’t be here without them.
Were you surprised that Harrison Ford is a big fan?
CUMBERBATCH: Yeah. That was an amazing moment. That was genuine shock. It’s very back-to-front, when you come here for the first time or when you meet people of that ilk, because, especially at my age, they’re my heroes. They’re the people I’ve been watching. I’ve been in their audience. And for you to realize that they’re now in your audience, and for them to come up to you and go, “I really like what you do,” it feels back-to-front. I was floored by that. He’s a huge hero. I’m just the right age for Indy and Han Solo. And he’s a phenomenal actor beyond those, as well. I have followed him all through his ongoing career. And to have that happen, on live national television, on The Graham Norton Show, was a lovely thing.
What’s it like to share Sherlock Holmes with Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Downey, Jr.?
CUMBERBATCH: I sat down on the sofa with Robert Downey, Jr. last night, and we had our first conversation and shared notes on playing Sherlock Holmes. This is the most dramatized fictional character of all time, so there’s a lot to talk about. And Jonny is incredibly busy with it. I’ve seen him on one plane, just by happenstance, since we both started on our separate journeys with it. We haven’t had a proper sit-down about it, but we adore each other. We’re in contact, every now and again, but the last thing we want to do is talk shop. So, I see as much of his as I can, and I think he sees all of our three at a time. We’re all fans of one another. We’re all supportive of it. No matter what bullshit the press has tried to whip up in the past, we’re really good friends. And I can safely say that Robert’s in the same camp now, after last night. We had a wonderful chat.
What are you doing next?
CUMBERBATCH: The film I’m working on, at the moment, is The Lost City of Z, which is a James Gray picture about Percy Fawcett. Percy is an interesting character. He’s quite obsessive, he’s quite determined and he strives to conquer everyone’s cynicism about this lost city of gold that he believes exists in the Amazon. That’s going to be really cool. It’s really epic filmmaking with fantastic characters.
Because your parents are actors, was it a given that you’d be an actor, too?
CUMBERBATCH: No, not at all. I tried very hard not to be, for awhile. I wanted to be a criminal barrister, and then I realized that you had to work as hard and have a low expectation of employment, and you don’t know when your next holiday is going to be. Everybody said to me, “Go back now, while you can.”
Were your parents happy when you decided to be an actor?
CUMBERBATCH: No, anything but. They worked really, really hard to afford me an education, so that I could be anything other than an actor. They were brilliant at it. They have wonderful careers. It’s ongoing. But, they wanted something better for me, as all parents do for their children. They saw the pitfalls of the industry and didn’t want me to suffer those. So, they were very selfless and wanted me to do anything but.
Would you consider doing an American TV series?
CUMBERBATCH: Because I do an English one, and it’s a time commitment. I want to do theater and film, as well as television.
Is there another character you would really like to play?
CUMBERBATCH: There are a few. There’s a fantastic character in a series of novels, known as The Patrick Melrose Novels, called Patrick Melrose, that Edward St. Aubyn has written. And I believe that David Nicholls is doing an adaptation, as we speak, of those books. He’s one of Edward’s good friends.
Are you looking to develop projects yourself?
CUMBERBATCH: Yeah, I’ve started a production company, so I’m very keen to do that. I’m very keen to see productions from their inception to their completion. I would love to do a bit of that.
How would you even have time to do that, with all the acting work you’re doing?
CUMBERBATCH: People do. [George] Clooney does. [Brad] Pitt does. I’m not putting myself in the same bracket as them, but they show that it’s possible. They’re an inspiration on that front. Brad’s company, Plan B, is operating with his name, with his stamp of approval and his involvement, to a certain degree, but it’s also something that happens whilst he’s on the set of Fury or World War Z, and carries on with that.
So, you’d create projects for other actors, and not just yourself?
CUMBERBATCH: Yeah, of course.
Do you want to direct?
CUMBERBATCH: Yeah, at some point.
Sherlock Season 3 airs on Masterpiece on PBS on January 26th and February 2nd.