Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Dr John Watson (Jude Law) deal with mayhem, murders and a marriage in this stylish and superior sequel © 2011 Warner Bros

Following the success of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, which intrigued audiences with the tag, ‘Case reopened,’ it was inevitable a sequel would be produced. Directed by Guy Ritchie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, has the added bonus of Jared Harris, as criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty, and Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who became an international star with her movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

A scandal has taken down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies in an apparent overdose; there have been bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna. No one sees the connected thread between these seemingly random events, no one but Sherlock Holmes, who must face his most daunting opponent, James Moriarty.

Robert Downey Jr spoke with us about playing the iconic Holmes and his love for co-star Jude Law (Dr Watson) and director Guy Ritchie.

What were the challenges of doing a sequel?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Noomi Rapace, Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law
Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace), Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Dr James Watson (Jude Law) © 2011 Warner Bros

After the first one worked out pretty good we were pretty much doing the press tour talking about things we would like to improve, other directions we could go. And then there’s the reality of doing it.

I think [our greatest achievement] was us disguising ourselves as consummate by-the-numbers professionals, when in fact we’re all kind of incredibly eccentric and Warner Brothers has given us the opportunity to try to do something that’s complicated.

The great thing we had this time is Noomi and Jared.

You took a risk taking on a classic character and coloring him outside of the lines. What are some of things you keep in mind as you try to stick to the basics of Sherlock Holmes but also make him your own?

Well, you just keep (novelist Sir Arthur Conan) Doyle in mind. I respect the guy more and more. And I think the other thing is that oftentimes what’s required, particularly if you’re in any central position, is you just have to let go. You have to let go of the things that are darling to you.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Robert Downey Jr
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) © 2011 Warner Bros

You have to take the focus off of yourself and put it on the shape of the scene and the intention of whatever everyone else needs. You have to give people something to actually write music to, so you’re not just running your mouth all the time.

Did you and Jude do a lot of adlibbing on the set that Guy ended up using?

You know, I think the goal is to make a well-written scene seem like it’s improvised, or to come up with things that you find in the room that you couldn’t have known until you get into the real situation.

Just try to improve things as you go along.

At its core, this movie is about the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Have you ever had that kind of friendship in your life?

Well, Jude and I are pretty close. But Guy and I are practically brothers, which makes things really interesting. There have been times when I’ve wanted to lop off his head with a machete. But it’s just because I love him so much.

What was it like working with Jared Harris as Moriarty?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Robert Downey Jr and Rachel McAdams
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) © 2011 Warner Bros

He would come in and we’d have a scene that he’s shooting in two days. And he’d be like, ‘Is this going to pretty much stay like this?’ I was like, ‘Not a word of it.’ ‘Can I have something that I can study the night before?’ I was like, ‘I’m going to venture a no on the possibility of yes.’

It would be like that. And the stakes were so high in every scene, and then there’s complicated camera shots and stuff like this. So it’s pretty terrifying.

But Jared kept pushing forward, it wasn’t personal. It wasn’t like, ‘I don’t want to be embarrassed. I want to do a good job and I want to come off great. I want great dialogue.’ He kept going back to this archetype that he was trying to represent. In the course of making this movie everything  was essentially thrown at him with very little time to prepare. So it was shock and awe.

I think what he brought back with it was something that was so particularly him and the essence of him while still being this character. It honestly is the main reason that the movie works. But it was also an exercise in trial by fire for him. And he was really quite nice [about it]. Once in awhile he would say, ‘I really just beg of you.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Robert Downey Jr
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) © 2011 Warner Bros

If I could even have a semblance of knowing what I might say I guarantee you I could do a better job with it. And I wouldn’t be like you, Robert,  for that long scene that you just wrote, wearing an Earwig where someone’s telling you what to say in the other room. I would actually know what I was going to say.’

I’d be like, ‘Interesting. Yeah, everyone has their own process.’

Guy told him to go home and to come back singing a German aria the next day. Nobody learns a German aria overnight except Jared Harris.

Robert was asked if he feels a sense of ownership towards the character of Sherlock, and if he has watched other performers play the character, particularly Basil Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch.

This is what he said…

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.