Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Director Guy Ritchie
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Director Guy Ritchie ©Warner Bros

Pictured above: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Director Guy Ritchie on the set © 2011 Warner Bros

Guy Ritchie made his writing and directing feature film debut with Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, and followed it up with the successful crime thriller Snatch starring Brad Pitt.

He directed the smash hit Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, which opened on Christmas Day in 2009. Practically two years later comes the sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which ups the ante by introducing Holmes’ nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).

Guy spoke at the press junket of his enthusiasm and reservations revisiting the franchise.

It must be fun for a director to revisit some films, but for this one were you chomping-at-the-bit because you had so much more to say about Sherlock?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr
Period street scene with Dr John Watson (Jude Law) and Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) in the car © 2011 Warner Bros

Chomping-at-the-bit, no. I was enthusiastic but with some reticence because it’s nevertheless a significant challenge. I liked the last one. We threw quite a lot toys at the last one, so there’s quite a few boxes you need to tick on the next one.

I like toys and since we introduced a certain amount of technical toyary on the first one, I think to a degree that’s what the audience is expecting on the next one.

So we had to put a lot of technical toys in it and had to come up with some new sensational ideas for the action. Because Moriarty’s in the equation, I had to make it more intellectual, had to up the stakes in general, so in that respect I had my work cut out for me.

We enjoyed it so much the first time. And I waited with some anticipation for the box office results for very different reasons than everyone else, because it was such a cathartic experience the first time around, and an enjoyable one, that we just wanted to do it again.

The film is a romp, is that what you were going for?

Robert Downey Jr, director Guy Ritchie, Noomi Rapace, Jude Law and Paul Anderson on the set © 2011 Warner Bros
Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace), Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and Dr James Watson (Jude Law) © 2011 Warner Bros

Yeah, they are fun to make. They’re also very hard work. But I don’t want the hard work to take away from the fun factor. And a lot of the film is spontaneous.

What do you mean by spontaneous?

In terms the spontaneity of the humor. A lot of that is organic. We’ve got something on the page and what we’re trying to do is trump it. And sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But just the game of trumping keeps everyone stimulated.

This franchise is high budget and high stakes. Did you change your approach to the job?

I started making music videos for two hundred and fifty pounds. And incrementally worked my way up the ladder. So by the time I got here zeroes weren’t as intimidating. The most intimidating thing I ever made was a music video for two hundred and fifty pounds. So much so, I shared the blame with another director.

But after you get over the initial shock and zeroes become zeroes, it all becomes ambiguous after that. What I’ve found is I’ve made films where I’ve struggled against almost everyone. And I didn’t have that issue, and haven’t had that issue, with these two films.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Explosive scene
One of those explosive scenes! © 2011 Warner Bros

I had the reverse process that most independent filmmakers are supposed to have, which is you wait until you work for ‘the man’ and then’ the man’ beats you down. I had exactly the opposite of that. So it’s a bigger sandbox with more friends. From my perspective it’s the direction in which I’ve enjoyed going in.

I’m not sure if the pressure is there anymore than it was really on my two hundred and fifty pound music videos. You set out to do something and you set out to do the best that you can do. And you try and cross those bridges as elegantly and as creatively as you can. And that’s the only thing that occupies my time on a daily basis.

What’s it like working with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law?

Their relationship is obviously fundamental and it is the spine and the skeleton of the entire narrative. You care a great deal about those two, and they’ve sorted it out between themselves. They’ve got a rhythm and neither of them are lazy, they both are creative and my job really is to harness that.

These are kind of butch guys, but they need a vulnerable edge.

What was it about Jared Harris that convinced you he was right to play Moriarty?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Paul Anderson, Director Guy Ritchie and Jared Harris
Paul Anderson, Director Guy Ritchie and Jared Harris on the set © 2011 Warner Bros

Because he didn’t come with a great deal of baggage, so there was an advantage to that, plus he’s a very good actor and he’s also very smart. He just popped up on the radar and I was mad for him from the beginning.

What was the movie  that you saw that made you want to be a filmmaker?

It’s a rather cliché, boring answer. I’ve been saying it for years, but it’s pertinent to this movie. I was probably six when I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with my mom. And I remember thinking my mom liked it, and I was like, ‘How could she like it, because I like it?’

It was this bromance, tough but witty, it didn’t take itself too seriously, but wasn’t smug in the slightest, and I found that very influential and in no small part influenced the way these two old queens behave towards one another!

Judy Sloane

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