Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, arrives in UK cinemas on 16 December to high hopes. The first instalment, featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as a ragtag, all action incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creations, proved to be a pleasant surprise on its release two years ago. Its stylised vision of Victorian London combined with Guy Ritchie’s kinetic direction was a good blend, even if the film eventually threatened to go off the rails as its director became more concerned with set pieces and style at the expense of plot. The second instalment sees the duo travel across Europe in a bid to stop ultra-villain Moriarty.
Aided by a gypsy fortune teller played by The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace, and with Mad Men’s convincingly sinister Jared Harris as Moriarty, the film certainly has more dramatic talent at its disposal. It’s a shame, then, that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows favours bigger, better set pieces over any deeper exploration of its characters or in telling a good detective story. While the central relationship retains all the charm that made it so attractive in the first instalment, what ultimately emerges is an entertaining if unmemorable action adventure. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Noomi Rapace recently sat down with director Guy Ritchie in London to talk about the film, and what they had to say confirms the suspicion that those involved were as interested in having fun making a globetrotting adventure as they were in creating a fitting take on one of literature’s most enduring detectives.
A major attraction of the films is the chemistry between the two leads. Could you talk about that?
RDJ: People will talk about chemistry, and it’s really great that it comes across that way. You work really hard, and you have immense respect for each other. We’ve all seen, and some of us have been in , sequels that sucked, and we wanted to really avoid those pitfalls.
What are the bad sequels you have been in?
RDJ: I must have misspoke!
So you were concerned about the possibility of the sequel not living up to the first film?
RDJ:I think there’s natural inflation that occurs with success, and until it happens you can’t know it. So I guess the danger is that you take the audience for granted when you presume they’re with you because you are with yourself, and that’s not true, and so i guess that’s the thing. What do we expect, and what could we get wrong the second time because we were thinking about how to spend the money we made from the last one.
JL: I think no matter how happy everybody was having created the first film as a group, it’s always the case that 20-30% of the film is taken up at the beginning getting to know each other. You end on a high and you end up learning how each other works, so we never felt like we dropped the ball from the first to the second [film]. A lot of energy carried from the first into the second, and a lot of enthusiasm for the relationship that worked, and we wanted to flesh that out.
How important was the work of Arthur Conan Doyle in shaping the films?
RDJ: When we first met we cracked the books and we started getting chills. Watson was never this chubby old doofus with his foot in a wastepaper basket. He was dynamic and he was in the army, and Holmes never wore a deerstalker cap and we felt that we had the chance not to rewrite the history of Holmes, but in some ways to extrapolate from the actual history.
JL: You can compare Watson and Holmes in a way to Shakespearean characters who have been played by hundreds of actors over many years, each one is a different interpretation, and the fact is that source material can take that kind of interpretation. I think one of the reasons the books have survived the test of time and have been explored by so many people is because they’re incredibly rich. So first of all we had a tome of work that we can use by Conan Doyle, to investigate how to keep these characters rich and alive, and secondly to create an environment in which we are free to keep structuring and trying new ideas.
What is so special about this interpretation of the characters then?
RDJ: I love his dependency on Watson, and we found a way to make the audience not judge him for driving a wedge between him and his wife! I think he’s somebody who needs to be taken care of so he can do what he does best.
JL: I think the reason they’ve been popular for so long is that they symbolise characters that we all know and that we have in us, the side that’s very down to earth and reliable, and the side that can be imaginative and creative and eccentric and anarchic. There’s a lot there to play with.
How did the film come together?
GR: First of all there’s a creative team . Everyone has an equal part in creating what we think is exciting. It’s a powerhouse of creativity, and no creative individual trumps another creative individual: it’s a case of harnessing all of those ideas and I don’t think any one of us can take credit. It became a living organism, this creative mind. The script was so rough, which some of us found quite frustrating at times, we didn’t think it was the film we wanted to make. But it got broken down and rebuilt, and broken down and rebuilt, by this creative mind.
RDJ: But any moment in the film that touches you, moves you, makes you laugh or makes you cry, that’s mine, and the rest is the creative mind!
The film also has a new cast member in Noomi Rapace, from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo…
NR: I met Joel [Silver, producer] and Robert in LA and it was a very quick, intense meeting, and we didn’t really talk about Sherlock. I came out from that meeting and I was smiling, so it was very emotional. It started from a very honest conversation about movies and what kind of movies we wanted to make. It felt like I was invited into an amazing opportunity to work with people I’ve been admiring and whose films I’d been watching for many, many years.
What was the hardest aspect of the role?
NR: the biggest step for me was to move into the English language, because I didn’t speak English two and a half years ago. I was afraid I was going to be caught up in feeling that I need to translate everything from Swedish into English, and not being able to improvise and adlib, and feel free to live in the language. But what surprised me so much was that thanks to how they work and the way that everybody took care of me, it felt like everybody grabbed me and pulled me in, and I forgot that I was nervous. Everything else faded away.
Was there ever a discussion about whether to do the film in 3D?
GR: Well I like 3D movies and I’m a bit of a film geek: I like the technical aspect of filming a lot. So I did try to push this for 3D but the reticence was that there was a lot of 3D coming out, and it felt tired at the time that we were embarking on this. But I am a fan of it and I think it’s innovative. I think that if we’d gone that little bit earlier I would have pushed harder.
RDJ: Also I think when you’re shooting in 3D you can’t have the alacrity and swiftness of movement. Sometimes Guy would be doing really innovative shots, and the movie leans on being able to go guerrilla style here and there. It’s not just a question of beautiful frames. Sometimes I think that as it stands right now 3D can be really inefficient, but I’m sure the tech is catching up with the needs of filmmakers.
Guy, do you feel constrained by making mainstream films, originally coming from a very indie background?
GR: I don’t at all. Filmmaking has changed as we all know, and indie movies have been somewhat muscled out in conspicuous fashion. Who’s responsible for that I don’t know, but at the same time I still see myself as an indie filmmaker. I certainly got no resistance from the studio in trying anything we thought was innovative, they really encouraged it. Filmmaking in the blockbuster sense has absorbed the influence [of independent film], and I think that’s the upside of the position we found ourselves in. Big movies are becoming increasingly more interesting. So no, I don’t feel constrained at all.
It’s quite a physical film, with a lot of heavy action and stunt work. Was that tough?
JL: It was another important element that we wanted to push further. We were pushing the dialogue, pushing the banter, pushing the characters and the relationship, but we also wanted to step back and say ‘let’s really elevate the physicality’, because going back to our original idea it was to take these guys out of Baker Street. You see them talking about their adventures and we wanted you to see them running with them and living them, and surviving them, and so that bar was pretty high. I think we got into certain things knowing what we were doing, and then somebody would come up with something that would add another 20%, so we’d be working at 150% all the time.
GR: Some of these action scenes went on for 2 weeks, and these guys were working 8 hours or 10 hours a day. No one asks a professional athlete to do that in their work, and consequently these three were constantly on a diet, constantly on an exercise regime. The warm up goes on for an hour, the cool down goes on for an hour, and an then there’s 10 hours in-between. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the demands on them physically.
NR: What’s really impressive about these guys is that they do their own stunts. A lot of actors will do no stunts, but these two do everything. There are some things that the insurance companies won’t let you do, but they did everything else. It was amazing to see.