Englishman Benedict Cumberbatch’s CVis enviable. He was seen in Steve McQueen’s historical drama, 12 Years a Slave, which won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Drama) recently and his big-budget movies are indicative of his acting calibre. While the diverse characters he has played have shielded him from being typecast, he has reaped small screen renown for his depiction of Sherlock Holmes in BBC Entertainment’s critically acclaimed drama, Sherlock. Debashine Thangevelo looks at how audiences have become smitten with his character and the show.
THE magnetism of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary tales of detective Sherlock Holmes has been manifested in myriad movies, TV shows and theatre productions since the early 1900s. It has even spilled over into board games, comic books and video games.
A century later and the appeal hasn’t faded.
Now viewers are appeased with modern interpretations with two of the biggest talking points on the small screen being BBC Entertainment’s Sherlock and M-Net’s Elementary. Both are immensely entertaining offerings, bolstered by a tsunami of whodunit intrigue with the detectives aided by modern technology.
While Jonny Lee Miller makes for a formidable Sherlock in the US version, Benedict Cumberbatch has been heaped with praises for his depiction in the British version.
With the third season of Sherlock upon us, the 37-year-old gave his thoughts on the show becoming a global hit and highlights one of the major drawcards.
“People just love the relationship between Sherlock and John (Watson, played by Martin Freeman). They are both very self-aware and affectionate, but also very truthful with one another. They are a really complemenatry team. John humanises Sherlock, and Sherlock gives John a shot of adrenaline and adventure and the chance to live a life less ordinary. That’s a very potent combination.”
As for what Watson brings to the partnership, Cumberbatch says: “Because of how brilliant Martin is as John, he’s a great way in for the audience. They can relate to him as someone of their own world and go on adventures with him. They both suffer and enjoy the intolerable person that is Sherlock Holmes.
“The relationship with John draws Sherlock back to the human realm, from which he has been distanced for a big portion of his life. It makes him a better detective and a better human being.
“I don’t mean that Sherlock is suddenly interested in holding babies or eating frozen yoghurt.
“The great gift John gives him is to make him more human. And if you’re a better human being, the more likely you are to empathise and therefore be a more skillful detective.”
Tracking Holmes’ journey, season one ended in a cliffhanger with him facing off against the diabolical Moriarty. The next instalment resumed their cat- and-mouse games with Watson believing Holmes and Moriarty had plummeted to their deaths in Switzerland. Given Holmes’ renown for always having an ace up his sleeve, the third season unveils his staggeringly genius subterfuge.
Peeling back the layers of his character and his almost super- power-like crime-solving ability, Cumberbatch points out that Holmes is “actually a very grounded human being”. His knack for piecing things together is derived from his conditioning rather than his nature.
He notes: “It’s just that he has learnt to curtail his appetite in order to perform at an exceptional level, whether it’s being in a state of near meditative concentration, or the speed of his physicality, or his diet, or his interaction with other people, or his use of the laws of time and space, or his ‘mind-palace-ing’ to make a deduction. So Sherlock is actually a lot more human than he ever lets on.”
The actor points out that he doesn’t allow himself to be bogged down by the enormous expectations of his character. Instead, he savours the way Sherlock has been reinvented and continues to surprise.
On the traits he shares with his screen character, he laughs: “You’d best ask the people who know me, like my mother or my girlfriends of old. There are probably a few similarities. My mum says I can be very impatient when I’m playing Sherlock. He is a very intense character and I don’t want to carry that around me.
“One thing I have noticed is that my memory does sharpen when I play Sherlock because of the amount of text I have to learn. Also, I find myself looking at other people’s shoes and body language and trying to deduce things from them. I do that because I have a pro- fessional interest. But, I’m afraid, I’m rubbish at it.”
As for how the show has turned the small screen tide in his favour, the actor reveals: “It’s been in- credible. The gobsmacking thing about it is people who have been icons to me forever have been coming up to me to say how much they adore it. At the Golden Globes, for instance, Ted Danson from Cheers came running across the floor and said: ‘Oh my God, it’s Sherlock. You kill that,’ and I’m thinking, ‘this is all the wrong way around’. It was the same when Meryl Streep told me: ‘I love Sherlock’. I thought, ‘that’s so wrong’. To have this meaningful interaction is amazing. Just to be afforded contact with the people who have inspired me is a very heady feeling.”
If you are wondering how Holmes faked his own death in season two; well, that’s one cat Cumberbatch isn’t keen on letting out of the bag… just yet!
• Sherlock season three starts on BBC Entertainment (DStv channel 120) on Friday at 8pm.