Sherlock Holmes is a stuffy old Brit clad in a plaid trench coat and thinking cap, forever brandishing a wooden pipe in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other. Walking the English countryside, he is shadowed by his faithful companion Watson, the duo speaking only in the most courteous of terms.
“It’s badass,” remarked a stubble-faced, beaten-up Robert Downey Jr. when we visited him on the set of his next movie recently, knocking apart our preconceived notions of the 122-year-old sleuth. “Guy is a very visionary filmmaker.”
The “Iron Man” star is referring to director Guy Ritchie, known for creating ultraviolent drama in films like “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” And although his “Sherlock Holmes” is set in 1891, its mind-set is far from the 19th century — as evidenced by the green-screen studio where we caught up with the director.
“I don’t know what it is going to end up looking like yet,” Ritchie laughed. “I was attracted to the idea, because I wanted to do something that was different from what I’ve done previously. It was English, and I like that. And an iconic character, I like that. And [the studio] had deep pockets, and I like that. So I get to play with all the toys I can play with.”
Those toys include top-notch stars like the Oscar-nominated Downey, Jude Law as Dr. Watson and Rachel McAdams as a femme fatale who steams up Holmes’ magnifying glass.
Asked whether her character was new or from the classic books, the “Notebook” star explained: “Irene is a bit of both. She’s in one story. She’s in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ and she doesn’t really appear anywhere else. So it’s been a mix of what Arthur Conan Doyle set out and what the writers added on. [Holmes and Irene] are quite old flames at this point. They have a bit of a history together. He was actually the witness at her wedding. She coerced him into that, unknowingly. Lovely. And this scene [that we’re shooting today] is the first time they’ve met since that wedding, and she’s no longer married. She’s come back to ask for his help.”
“This story is influenced by Conan Doyle,” Ritchie said of the flick, which has the duo battling an evil genius (Mark Strong) who plans to take down all of England. “But Sherlock Holmes was the first western martial artist, and we’ve picked that up, which has never really been picked up in any of his previous productions. And the truth was, [all the previous Sherlock films] never really had the budget or the technology to have capitalized those aspects of Holmes. … We are as authentic as we can get to Holmes, and at the same time, we have a contemporary feel to our film.”
“I knew enough about Sherlock Holmes to know that there was a lot of unchartered material,” Jude Law said of the script. “I knew [Downey’s casting] was going to be something exciting, and therefore the project was going to be something exciting. And as soon as I met him, we got on very well — which is a good sign — and we both agreed that we wanted to really make this a piece about the relationship between Watson and Holmes.”
“I think the word bromance is so passé,” Downey grinned. “We are two men who happen to be roommates who wrestle a lot and share a bed.
“No,” Downey laughed. “To me, the great win in our depiction of Sherlock Holmes is Jude Law’s Watson, [who is] much more right from the book. He’s had a military career, a decorated soldier, a serious doctor, a bit of a womanizer, a bit of a gambler. And I think that makes him a much more interesting foil for Holmes.”
“When you go back to the books, there’s so much more,” Law said of the Holmes/Watson dynamic, which, when the film hits theaters in November, will be anything but elementary. “They’re both meaner, harder, more complicated. They both live in a London that is much seedier and much more dangerous. And when you highlight the interesting elements in the [original] stories and turn them into a modern sensibility, you’ve got a really exciting equation.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Sherlock Holmes.”
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