It seems inevitable that with the great success of Britain’s updated version of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, a US network would also re-imagine the Holmes’ franchise. Set in present day New York City, CBS’ Elementary stars Jonny Lee Miller as the great detective, and Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson, who has been hired to be his sober companion.
The actors spoke of their new and unique take on the classic tale at the TV Critics Association.
You worked with Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein. Have the two of you talked about your new series and what he’d done the last couple of years with Sherlock?
Miller: Yeah. I love the work that Benedict has done with Sherlock. I would call him up like a groupie after every episode and want to talk to him about it.
We had a discussion about this project as well. Benedict has been very supportive, and I wanted to reassure him about how different this script was and the project was. It’s a whole [different] vibe.
How does it feel to play an iconic role like Sherlock Holmes?
Miller: It’s a challenge, but an actor’s dream is various challenges and wonderful characters. I have discovered this character myself by reading, I’ve almost finished all of the literature. I’ve found it wonderful to have that vast reservoir of information and research available to [me] by a terrific writer.
There have been different versions of the character out there recently, so it may be a little bit of pressure, but it’s a fantastic character and opportunities like this don’t come along for us as often as people might think.
Lucy, what’s your version of Watson? Historically, Watson has been used as comic relief.
Liu: Originally, Watson is actually not really comedic. He’s somebody who is incredibly observant, and all of the stories come out of what he sees and what he experiences.
Who Watson is now is also somebody who is on the sideline observing him, because she’s his sober companion. She’s not engaged in the mystery. She’s engaged in him, and from that point on, then you get to see how that blossoms out. But that’s the main epicenter of where she comes from.
This is one of the great friendships in western literature. What does it mean to have that between a man and a woman now?
Miller: That it is a man and woman shouldn’t matter.
They become colleagues, partners, there’s also the other reason that they have to be together that we have, the sober companionship. Being a man and a woman, people are going to wonder, but then wondering and asking questions is something that you really want your audience to do, isn’t it?
Liu: Right. In the stories themselves, Sherlock Holmes has a bit of an awkward relationship with the other gender, and so bringing that into play, it’s a constant reminder of that awkwardness and that division between being a friend, but it’s a woman.
I think it’s a nice thing to have that uncomfortability.