Take the iconic characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, put them in the hands of quirky, independent director Guy Ritchie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary story is reinvented for a new generation.
Ritchie admits that when he was a child, he had a ‘strong visual sense’ of who he thought Sherlock Holmes was, so when Warner Brothers contacted him about making a movie of the renowned detective he immediately said yes.
What is it about Sherlock Holmes that makes him so quintessentially English?
In part it’s the period, he’s a caricature of that period but what Doyle managed to create was a three-dimensional character, he’s flawed which isn’t necessarily conspicuous in many of our contemporary heroes, and the fact that he is rather selfish, rather arrogant and suffers from depression, those are the things about Sherlock Holmes that make us interested in him as a character.
What did you see in Robert Downey Jr for the role, he’s not British?
I think he’s truly brilliant at what he does and I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role now that he’s played it. Also he’s American, I like the idea of an American playing an Englishman, after all they’re actors, I like to see actors act. He’s the right age, he has the right look, he has the right intellect, Robert Downey does a job I know I can’t do.
I think he’s a true actor and I love working with people who are very good at what it is that they do, because sometimes you can’t help but think, ‘Just move out the way and I’ll show you how to do it.’
Robert Downey is not one of those guys that you can do that with, so I couldn’t think of a more perfect Sherlock Holmes than Robert Downey.
What about casting Jude Law as Dr Watson?
We really wanted a good looking Watson and then in the tabloids he got called Hotson, and this was because I’d always seen their relationship as much more of an equal partnership, more like Butch and Sundance, and I thought that was fair to Conan Doyle.
The chemistry between Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr is better than some male and female couples I’ve seen on the screen.
They first met a year ago and I was like a mother hen trying to put a couple together, like an arranged marriage, but within ten seconds you could see that the chemistry had already taken care of itself.
Once we transcended that obstacle, everything else took care of itself.
Why do Watson and Holmes complement each other, when they are so different?
I think it’s the yin and yang, the fact that they are rather different, one’s rational, one seems to be irrational, that one needs the other to balance the other and I think we feel innately and unconsciously that you need one to balance the other.
One is an extremist so he needs an anchor in which to orientate himself, but there in lies the rub of genius, it’s on the fine edge of madness and I suppose Watson really represents this side of rationality where Holmes is almost into the metaphysical world of rationality.
I understand you were a long time Sherlock Holmes fan, what was it about it that made you want to bring it into this century?
I’m very familiar with the stories and what Arthur Conan Doyle was influenced by. I wanted to somehow represent what I believed to be an authentic Sherlock Holmes.
Of course you can be quite subjective about how exactly that’s going to be, how he should be portrayed. But this is the Sherlock Holmes I imagined, even when I was a young lad. This was the Sherlock Holmes I’d like to see.
Are we going to lose you to Hollywood or are you going to make smaller films as well after this?
I don’t know is the answer to that. I make the films that I want to make. The interesting thing about this experience is that it wasn’t the cliché experience between filmmaker and studio.
I argued for the studio, I wanted to make an accessible, broad movie and what they wanted was Guy Ritchie-isms, so I argued for the studio and the studio argued for me. So all the arguments between the studio and myself were always coming from a positive place.
I think studios have changed with their approach towards filmmakers and I really found this with Warner Brothers, they supported a filmmaker’s vision.
I had a tremendously positive experience from beginning to end.