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Sherlock Holmes (2009) - Mark Strong
Sherlock Holmes (2009) - Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) © Warner Bros

In Guy Ritchie’s re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, the iconic detective (Robert Downey Jr) and his sidekick Dr John Watson (Jude Law), are on the trail of a brutal, ritualistic murderer, the unrepentant Lord Blackwell. Following his capture, Blackwell warns Holmes that death by hanging has no power over him and, in fact, his execution plays right into Blackwell’s hands.

Mark Strong, who portrays Lord Blackwell, has now made three movies with Ritchie, the other two being Revolver and RocknRolla. The director felt Strong gave Blackwell the gravity the character needed in order to provide a formidable challenge for Sherlock Holmes.

I love seeing you play the bad guy, what was it about Lord Blackwood that attracted you?

Sherlock Holmes (2009) - Mark Strong
Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) © Warner Bros

I think that if you are the villain or the nemesis of the hero in anything you have to work out a way to get the audience on your side somehow, and Blackwood was a real challenge because he’s pure evil, there wasn’t anything that I could read in the script that I thought was anything other than unremitting badness.

It was a real challenge to find where I could humanize him, how I could make him real, and without giving too much away his conception and his young life was the key for me to why he behaves as he does. So it was because he was such a challenge to find the element of making him real, rather than just a two-dimensional evil guy.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) - Mark Strong
A hooded Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) © Warner Bros

I guess it’s good to be the Lord.

It’s always good to be a member of the aristocracy because you always get the best clothes.

How aware of Sherlock Holmes were you before you began the movie?

Well, if you grow up as a young boy in England it’s part of your education really, and I’ve seen Basil Rathbone, I’ve seen Jeremy Brett, I’ve seen all the incarnations and very nearly did a film of Hound of the Baskervilles recently, so it’s always around you.

You see Robert Downey Jr take on this character in a way that we’ve never seen before, what was it like for you to watch him transform into this Holmes?

Sherlock Holmes (2009) - Robert Downey Jr and Mark Strong
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) © Warner Bros

Well I didn’t know when I came on board what kind of Holmes he was going to be. When I heard he was playing Holmes I was delighted because I’ve been a big fan, as a fellow actor I just know that his ability to transform himself pretty much into anything is amazing.

The first scene we played together was in the prison, and I got to see what he looked like and what kind of a Holmes he was going to be, because you can’t really work it out from sitting around a table talking about the scenes.

I quickly got the sense of this Holmes who was bohemian, he was quite casual, quite obsessive/compulsive and what I loved more than anything is the idea that his ability to solve problems and spot clues is born of a mental over-energy that he has, a kind of excess of mental energy which always prevents him from being unable to block out clues.

Then I realized how it was an infusion of what Guy brings to the table, and what Robert brings as an actor and what is in the stories and short stories; the fusion of all those things makes for a really interesting, new version of Sherlock Holmes, but still rooted in where he comes from.