Benedict Cumberbatch (‘Sherlock’) interview

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Benedict Cumberbatch (Small Island, Starter For Ten) stars as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, BBC One’s new update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective, set in present-day London.

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How do you feel about playing Sherlock Holmes?

“The original novels reached a wide, diverse audience and many people still hold up Sherlock Holmes as the greatest detective of all time,” says Benedict, speaking about the prospect of playing Sherlock Holmes in this contemporary dramatisation of Sherlock. He’s a cultural phenomenon that has been translated into over 160 languages – it’s a truly international thing.”

“Whilst this “contemporary setting” is what makes this adaptation unique, we have gone back to the original novels as our source. We’re telling the story from the very beginning, from its inception. The first episode, ‘A Study In Pink’, replicates a lot of what happens in ‘The Study Of Scarlet’, including one of the only times Sherlock and John’s meeting has been dramatised.”

Are you a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes novels?

“They’re so gripping, really interesting, well thought-out, beautifully-drawn characters and a fantastic insight into playing very extraordinary people”.

Will the show also draw in newcomers?

“We have two people in Mark and Steven that are brilliant at their craft. We’re not trying to be clever or convoluted, but rather have a really exciting and gripping story at its heart. I’d be thrilled if part of the effect we have is that viewers wanted to go out and read the original books – that would be fantastic.”

You’ve received letters from fans of the Sherlock Holmes Society…

“They have let me know that I have huge shoes to fill. I am probably the 71st Sherlock. We have a few things on our side, so as far as rendering their perfect Holmes, part of it is a blank canvas – part of it is being something totally new.”

Are you a fan of the earlier TV and film adaptations?

“I saw quite a few when I was growing up. Jeremy Brett was wonderful, he was a big influence on my childhood but that doesn’t put me off at all – we’re moving away from a Victorian period so it’s a great scope for freedom and interpretation.

“I have to say it wouldn’t have appealed to me as much to play an original Holmes because, I feel, in so many ways it’s been done superlatively well by Rathbone in black and white and Jeremy Brett in colour. The new time period and engaging writing have created a unique drama. It’s a page turner – the first script we read, was fantastic.”

What sort of action can we expect?

“There are some great chase scenes – the odd explosion, some kung fu sequences, a fight with a Chinese war lord. I shoot a human giant who strangles people with his bare hands, chase a taxi cab through the streets of London – so it’s definitely a rollercoaster ride.”

What’s the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson like?

“It’s a team effort, I couldn’t do it without him – I need him. In the books, Watson gets married fairly early on, so I wasn’t aware that it was an issue. However, we do allude to the idea that there may be a ‘misunderstanding’ from other people who think we’re a couple! We’ve just moved into a flat-share, we might not be sure what our relationship is at one point, in the same way, when two people meet it takes a while to suss each other out.”

How important is the show’s setting?

“London still remains at the heart of the drama. This includes using iconic locations such as Soho, China Town, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Bridge and everything that modern London life involves – London cabs, the River Thames, traffic jams, mobile phones and computers.”

In terms of the contemporary nature of this adaptation, is Sherlock aided by technology?

“Definitely, Sherlock’s modus operandi is aided by technology, his speciality is deducing the facts, pulling together a vast amount of information so that he can understand what he sees and experiences.

“He uses technology and forensic science but there is still a huge amount of human instinct needed. He still has a capacity to make a wrong choice and that is not hidden just because technology is present. He is fallible but he completely fits in with the modern mode of policing.”