On Sunday 15 December a very packed BFI was treated to the world premiere screening of Sherlock’s first episode of series 3 – The Empty Hearse. After the screening Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue and episode director Jeremy Lovering sat down with moderator Caitlin Moran to discuss the episode.
Here are a few highlights of the Q&A session:
Keeping the solution a secret
CM: How difficult was that to keep secret? What were the logistics? Were there code words?
MG: We filmed the solution in broad daylight in front of lots of people and nobody said anything. Even the papers. Also with the multiple fake things you could never tell what was real and what was a stunt. We even did a completely fake scene where I collaborated with Andrew (Moriarty) and everyone fell for that as well.
SV: They also got very confused as well. I remember one paper said “The stunts are so dangerous they had to use a dummy”.
SM: I think it’s also worth saying that it is kindness on the part of the papers and the people who were watching that we got away with it to be honest.You could work it out. I mean they stood and watched everything all day. They could absolutely have worked it out. It was an act of kindness and self discipline on the part of the many fans watching which we hope will be reflected today.
CM: So it was a gentleman’s agreement basically? Good old fashioned politeness?
SM: It was shot in broad daylight. Everyone saw it.
CM: So there were no code words then? I was hoping everyone here had different code names like daffodil and tulip? So there was no actual spy action it was all simply down to politeness?
MG: No codes. The real world isn’t like that.
SV: We just perfected blank faces hadn’t we? When anyone asked how it happened.
MG: Well we knew from the start how we were going to do it and the important thing was unlike the original story where Sherlock disappears into the waterfall and he’s mysteriously unretrievable even though it’s a waterfall and bodies float we essentially wanted him to die in John’s arms and then reappear. We had absolutely no idea that it was going to take on the epic proportions it has so that by the time we came to actually do it we really had to address the fact that it’s become so huge because there are only so many ways you can jump off a building and not hit the pavement and I think people were expecting something so mystical like the TARDIS or something…
SM: Assuming of course that Sherlock Holmes would bother to tell Anderson the truth.
SM: You might still not know.
MG: That is a very plausible version of how he did it
BC: I sat there wondering at the end gosh I wonder if I even know.
CM: you tried to make it more difficult for people didn’t you when you were up on that building?
BC: Yes. Well first of all we were filming all the different solutions out of sequence so you’re doing bits of them anyway because we were location bound so were were doing the slack ones, the ones that were distractions and then I kind of got bored. When I saw Mark, well I couldn’t believe that Moriarty and Mycroft wandering out together almost in arms I thought “Right my turn to have fun” so I stepped in front of the cameras and just went like that (holds his fingers up in a triangle shape) for a long time which is ridiculous. It means tessallate and anyone who likes Alt J knows they do that in their video and it’s stupid it means nothing but I could hear this buzz “Oh my god is that a sign? If he hit the laundry basket and hid behind the police car…”
SV: Did he also put your coat on.
BC: Oh yes he wore my coat.
MG: When we were coming out of the archway I said (to Andrew) “Put his coat on put his coat on”
SV: And all the cameras came out.
CM: But it must have been an odd atmosphere shooting in that? I mean Martin & Ben the crowds were massive and you could see the pictures on twitter of people tweeting pictures of massive Beatlemania crowds standing watching you so it almost became sort of like a theatre performance with people watching you.
MF: Yes. Yes it did.
CM: Is that weird?
MF: It was like being at a premiere wasn’t it? Like being at a premiere and running lines. Yeah it was odd. It was not like doing a play and not like filming either it was a new genre of acting.
BC: The “What did I do in my day’s work?” genre of acting.
MG: It does tend to be mostly going in and out of Baker Street rather than huge involved scenes which does help.
CM: What are those crowds like? Describe it for me. Is it quiet respectfulness? is it squeeing?
BC: Incredibly respectful. Very very tolerant and very understanding of the filming process…
MF: They were tolerant of us
BC: … and just really really happy to be there. And if there was a problem with rubbish or noise or any kind of crowd orientated behaviour then they were very responsive and good. Easy to correspond with.
MG: It was a bit like (adopts American accent) Sherlock is filmed in front of a live studio audience. I remember there was this enormous noise and we were behind the monitors and you asked what happened and I said “Martin has just opened a packet of crisps”.
CM: Did I see some crowds in the underground station scenes? In the very corner of the shot about 50 fans it looks like standing there holding books waiting to get things signed?
JL: Oh no.
CM: Sorry! You’ve got time to re-edit it!
JL: Yes when they’re walking across the concourse they were there. Basically there were some areas that we couldn’t control. London underground you’re allowed 6 people at any time as your entourage to go through public spaces.
CM: Is that with an oyster card?
JL: No we didn’t go through the gate as we didn’t have an oyster card on us. So there were occasions… But everyone either turned their back or accommodated us so it was actually quite easy from that point of view.
CM: Are any of the underground crowd here today?
SM: Stop saying that! The audience in the shot. That’s a mistake.
CM: But it’s like the Muppet Show where they’d turn around and show the audience.
SM: It just gets better and better. Like the Muppet Show…Two years in the making.
JL: Well they won’t be appearing in the back of any more shots.
CM: Did you do the last series knowing what was going to happen in the next series?
SM: The very first thing we thought about when we were doing the second series was how we were going to end it which was the impossible death followed by the reveal that he was definitely alive. Then we had to work out how to do it and that was a long and difficult process and we had to get help from people and all sorts of things and we were very much helped by the geography of Barts because you wouldn’t see the body hit the pavement.
MG: We were going to do it as a two stage trick. There was going to be a platform, like a window cleaning platform which Sherlock would hit and then another body would drop out of it and that’s why there was a reference in the paper to the refit of the historic hospital. And then we changed our minds because Toby Haynes who directed Reichenbach said that the ambulance station is at exactly the right level and that we didn’t need an extra thing and so that’s how that came about.
MG: The giant rat of Sumatra. Sumatra Road is in West Hampstead. A little off Westminster alas but I couldn’t resist it. But there is a station in Hampstead called Bull and Bush which was never opened. They built the platforms and the stairs but no service building on top but I love the tube. I’ve always loved the tube.
CM: But the series is really a love story to London.
MG: Isn’t that shot of Parliament blowing up amazing? We should put in all the trailers. It doesn’t matter
SV: Because of course you’d just had a knee operation hadn’t you so to get down to the tube…
JL: It was only 130 stairs.
SM: And I suppose you were just too tired to notice those people in the back of the shot.
On the introduction of Mary
CM: So given that that’s your wife how difficult was that audition?
MF: You’ll have to ask Mark and Sue and people about that because I didn’t say… It wasn’t a John and Yoko thing where I said I want my missus in this. They had thought who would be a good Mary and I think Amanda is a really good Mary. I mean if she had nothing to do with me she would have been someone who would definitely have gone up for it. She’s there or there abouts in that casting and Mark had worked with her before and Sue had worked with her before and we all just sort of got on and we knew that chemistry would work.
CM: How difficult is that if they argue on set?
MF: Amanda and I never argue. 13 years and we have never even spoken to each other . I don’t think we’ve even officially met. Obviously we do row but we try not to at work. Like everyone else involved in this we love this show and Amanda was delighted to be in it and I was delighted to have her around and I hope everyone else was.
BC: You were delightful with her. You were really lovely.
MG: It’s like they cared for each other…
CM: The other cameo in the show that I was surprised so many people realised was that Sherlock’s parents are of course Ben’s real parents.
BC: I nearly cried watching it. I’m so proud of them and I was really touched at the reaction they got. They’re brilliant in it and again I think they’re perfect casting as my parents.
MG: I think it’s worth saying that this is really the first time we’ve sort of gone beyond. I don’t know if Sherlock Holmes’ parents have ever been shown and it sort of felt like the right thing to do in the third season to just be even cheekier. It just felt like “why not?” And we’ve had this idea for a long time that Sherlock and Mycroft are like Niles and Fraiser Crane – they have very ordinary parents who are just lovely people and actually Sherlock is more likely to be the product of a loving home than a broken one in a strange way. I think he’s been slightly indulged.
CM: So what was that like were they there for the whole day?
BC: It was slightly nerve wracking. I mean they are Equity card carrying members but it is nerve wracking because they’re actors and they get nervous as well and yet they were brilliant. They hit home runs and they were fantastic and it was lovely. It was just really really nice to have them on set. We did the Baker Street scenes quite early as well so I think everyone was a little bit tense getting back into it again but you know it was really gorgeous and a very special feeling.
CM: I hear you have a Chinese nickname now Benedict?
BC: Uh yeah. I’ve got a couple. One is Curly Hair and the other is something like “Bit of a dickhead but he’s a nice guy”. Thanks China. Literally that is pretty much what it means.
CM: Apparently it’s Curly-Fu
BC: Curly Fu
CM: Martin do you not have a Chinese nickname yet?
MF: I don’t think I do.
BC: You do
MF: I do?
BC: It’s Fashion
MG: Wow. Thats like a Bond villain. Fashion. Just Fashion.
BC: Or a well known hitman. I get “Well he’s sort of a dickhead” and the qualifier “but he’s alright” and Martin gets “Fashion”.
CM: Martin do you like the nickname Fashion because this is one of those times were you can both get the message out there if you don’t like the nicknames…
BC: What and tell China what to do?
MF: Good luck with that. Yeah Fashion’s OK for me. What about yours though Ben could it be shorter?
BC: Oh no I love it. But I could be one word.
On the fanclub of The Empty Hearse shown in the episode
MG: Knowing how big it’s become we couldn’t not address it. We started with Kitty Reilly’s character in Reichenbach and she’s introduced wearing the deerstalker and it’s about Sherlock becoming as much of a celebrity in the real world as he is in the fictional one so it was just a way of doing that. And then this idea that Anderson has lost his job and his mind really as he’s become obsessed and guilt stricken about what he’s done that he might put together a group which is trying to work out theories which is in a way a bit like what people have already done.
SV: When we were filming it do you remember outside your trailer there was a little Empty Hearse group with deerstalkers on.
MG: Literally at that moment at the Unit base where you could look out and they were all there in their deerstalkers and we didn’t have enough of them for the shot – we should have asked them to come down!
SM: I’m surprised you didn’t get them in the shot.
CM: I believe the only complaint ever made about Sherlock is that there isn’t enough.
MG: I believe the whole of China has said that. I was very tempted to tweet as Mycroft “I’m afraid Mr Cameron does not speak for her majesty.”
Q: What was it like returning to the characters about two years away?
MF: It was great for me it’s like slipping into an old coat and feeling very familiar with it. I love the familiarity of the work and the writing and working with Ben and the newcomers on set. It just feels like something that we really enjoy and we’re quite good at it now and we do love giving it to you.
BC: It was a lot of fun to do. Motorbike rides and bungee jumps and bonfires and…
BC: yeah Operation. We get as much fun as you do hopefully when we first read the scripts so if we’ve done our jobs half right we know from the audience reaction when it’s transmitted so yeah it’s a lot of fun to be back.
Q: Re the fake scenes did you come up with them yourselves or were they taken from fan speculation?
MG: It was a collision of things of Derren being involved…
SM: It was very early when we talked about starting that way and the theories were only just starting to kick off and we thought that we’d make up a bananas one..
MG: There is a reference to the laundry truck which is a famous one and you notice that he says in relation to the second of the 13 solutions that there is a system of Japanese wrestling and he gets cut off which is Conan Doyle’s ludicrous solution to Reichenbach Falls.
BC: And the Jonathan Creek one which everyone thought was an ingenuous clue
SV: It was interesting listening to everyone watching it though as they started off excited and then they’re just gradually losing confidence.
MG: There was a round of applause for the squash ball as everyone went “Oh yes I knew that.” There was an extraordinary one that Rhododendron pollen which is in Reichenbach is a drug which can simulate the effects of death. Its like a coma and it’s a total coincidence but people ran with that one for ages.
Q: On the terrorist aspects of the plot of The Empty Hearse and if they’d considered the effect on audience.
SM: We do aim for tasteful terrorism (a response to the questioner pointing out that it had been tastefully done)
MG: Well terrorism has been with us for a very long time and it’s ever present. A friend of mine who saw the episode a couple of days ago said that it’s actually a bit of an odd coincidence as it was made a while ago and really what’s happening at the moment with Snowden and everything there’s really a lot of interesting stuff embedded in there about the secret state. I really liked the idea of a bonfire night plot and essentially it was just a way of having a really big bomb but I think we have to be aware of these things but it’s odd as actually Martin has a line about the IRA getting a bit restless again which they have just done and when we were doing it there was a little incident.
BC: Our version is in the 21st century. There should be a bleak reality which is part of our lives.
MG: It’s always meant to be a bigger version. It’s a slightly more lurid world. I remember there was a pompous letter to the Radio Times after the first series aired going “How can you have a 7 ft 2 assassin called The Gollum?” Because it’s Sherlock Holmes! That’s the fun of it but we’re still within the workable parameters of our world otherwise it becomes too ludicrous but yes you have to be aware of these things because there are taste issues.
SM: (To the questioner) Did you mean about the reality of that?
Q: I’m from Boston so it’s a bit of a raw nerve and actually I had the same reaction seeing Star Trek in that opening sequence because it just knocks the air out of you and it happens all the time.
MG: We’ve had terrorism for a long time. And in Sherlock Holmes.
BC: And we’ve had terrorism in our underground as well. It wasn’t treated lightly.
CM: Would you do an 11:00 pm version of Sherlock Holmes?
SM: We’re slightly aware that children like watching it. We wouldn’t categorise it as a children’s show at all but we know that they watch and we wouldn’t want them to be excluded from the audience. And that wouldn’t be right for Sherlock Holmes anyway as Sherlock Holmes isn’t like that Sherlock Holmes stories have always been fun.
MG: Yes Sherlock Holmes stories have always been fun and about the spirit of adventure which is the whole point of it.
SM: There is one about a luminous dog thats the norm.
CM: Was it made for pre-watershed?
MG: yes Cbeebies originally.
Q: (for Mark) Is it different writing a character which you then have to go and play?
MG: Is it different? Yes. I give myself all the best lines. No it’s a bit easier really as I find it easier to learn my own words. In the second series my only scene in Hound of the Baskervilles in one in which I don’t really say anything and it was required for this episode. And I can still say (repeats Serbian line).
SM: There is a whole line, a very important line in His Last Vow which was never written down which we just agreed between us and because you were saying it we never had to write it down. We just said “it’s fine Mark’s going to say that”.
CM: What was that line?
SM: Wait and see.
MG: There was a certain baddie at the end with round spectacles.
CM: So can you say anything at all about what’s coming up?
MG: Well episode 2 is called The Sign of Three in which John Watson and Mary Morstan get married.
CM: Is it at all like your own wedding? Did you get the old dresses out save a bit of money?(NB: Martin and Amanda aren’t married)
MF: No not really. Much more eventful this one. In a really entertaining, thrill riding way
MG: And episode 3 Steven?
SM: Episode 3 is based on a story called Charles Augustus Milverton so you should go home and read that right now which has a really interesting and hideous villain and probably the only character or villain which Sherlock Holmes genuinely hates. He doesn’t really hate Moriarty. Apparently (a reference to the fake almost kiss in the episode). Sherlock absolutely hates Charles Augustus Magnussen as he becomes played by Lars Mikkelsen doing an absolutely brilliant terrifying turn as our new villain.
CM: And we can confirm that Moriarty is absolutely dead?
SM: Yes. Look they did not fake suicide at each other. Imagine how stupid they’d feel if they bumped into each other.
MG: He’s dead. (referring to Andrew Scott who was in the audience). He’s not even here look. He’s vanished.
Q: Sebastian Moran. That’s quite the step away from being a sniper. Could you tell us about that please?
MG: Sebastian Moran is the original baddie in the story of The Empty House and Lord Moran is just a tiny glancing reference really because…We talked a lot of this. Sebastian Moran has assumed quite big proportions in the world of Sherlock but really he’s just Moriarty’s henchmen. There’s not much more to it. And Doyle encountered the same problem in him not being Moriarty so rather than just have a villain for the sake of it we just didn’t do it. And there’s a whole world of speculation in fiction about the character which just doesn’t really hold water in my book. The big thing I found about doing it is that exactly like The Empty House original the most important thing is getting them back together. And the Doyle story is a very very flimsy locked room mystery in which you just can’t wait for it to happen and that’s essentially the same thing here. It’s just a wonderful excuse to have a great time.
Q: What was your favourite scene to film?
MF: Kind of spoilt for choice really. I did enjoy filming in the tube train. I thought that was fun.
Q: The one where you were mournfully staring forward?
MF: No not that one! I did enjoy the end. I did enjoy doing that with the bomb going off I thought that was good fun.
MG: I should say at this point that that tube train and the bomb was designed by Arwel our amazing designer. It’s not a real train.
BC: (To Mark) Do you want to go next I’m still thinking. Actually I really liked our deduction scene. I loved doing that with you. It was really good fun.
MG: We did play that in real life. My favourite scene in it is the reveal. Sherlock in the restaurant as the waiter and the look when Martin finally turns round and I just think its fantastic and the range of boiling rage and shock and horror and grief it’s just fantastic and then there’s the fact that you’re suddenly exposed looking like Poirot “This was a bad idea.”
BC: Yeah I think honestly the deduction scene. I loved doing that and also the reunion although there was a lot of pressure on it to get it right and it was a bit of a piece and I liked the one in the tube as well. And despite what it might look like being bungeed is a lot of fun. Falling onto an airbag is a lot of fun. I kind of like that shit.
JL: Mine was the tourists on the concourse.