Sherlock Holmes is one of the most-portrayed characters on screen and on stage. So the team behind the CBS drama series “Elementary” came up with some new things that would make “Elementary” different from the rest of the TV shows, movies or stage productions about Sherlock Holmes. In “Elementary” (which premiered in September 2012), Sherlock (played by Jonny Lee Miller) is still a crime investigator with genius-like intelligence and who has a history of drug addiction.
But in “Elementary,” recovering addict Sherlock is living in New York, not London. And the character of Watson is a woman (not a man) who is more than just a sidekick: She’s a sober companion who’s been hired by Sherlock’s father to help Sherlock in his recovery from addiction. Joan Watson in “Elementary” is played by Lucy Liu. During an “Elementary” press junket at Comic-Con International 2012 in San Diego, I was part of a roundtable of journalists who did this interview with Miller and Liu.
What did you think when you first read the script for the first episode of “Elementary”? And do you think Sherlock will relapse?
Miller: It was a huge attraction for me. I always feel that characters that have problems and issues to deal with are more fun to play, especially when you’re trying to balance that with a supposed genius for something and then make it not comfortable with that. It gives him an edge. It leads into the relationship that Holmes and Watson have. That’s a plus all around for me, to bring some darkness into it and have more problems and something a little more edgy, which you don’t necessarily see too much on network television. So I was very happy about that.
Liu: I do think there’s an element of mystery involved in characters that are damaged. CBS is taking a big risk, for their network, to allow that to happen and to have someone who had a history of drugs or whatever addiction it was, and to have a sober companion as well. I think there’s something that’s dark and it allows you to go to different places.
I think that Watson is a character who’s hiding behind what she really needs to look into in her past and why she was kicked out due to a malpractice, and she lost a lot of respect and her integrity. She’s actually more insecure than she leads on. She sees through that, and she’s trying to help [Sherlock Holmes], but the reality is that helping him is just a distraction for her.
Miller: I think audiences like to identify as well with people who are struggling with trying to be the best people that they can. You’ve got someone who’s supposed to be a master detective, but it’s much more interesting to watch him struggle with that sometimes.
Liu: And I think the idea of relapse is a great thing, because it gives you the opportunity to fall. People fall all the time, and they want to see you get back up. That’s an important aspect of an actor — to not just play straight it all the time. It’s an opportunity to land on your ass and get back up.
Do you find it intimidating to play Sherlock Holmes?
Miller: Frankly, I don’t have to write it, which is good. I love the way Rob [Doherty, creator of “Elementary”] writes, and I have the utmost confidence in him. I love his scripts. So in a way, it gives you a really good feeling to have that behind you, to know you’ve got these wonderful words to say. It’s a good feeling. It’s nice to pretend to be intelligent.
Jonny, you also played Victor Frankenstein and his creature creation in “National Theatre Live.” How did you prepare fro these two iconic but very different roles?
Miller: It was one of the best working professional experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I love doing theater. I guess the main thing about having those two roles is you see it from here, and you see it from there. You get to really work in-depth with another actor and share, which you never get to share like that.
There can be no room for ego … There’s no one-upmanship. In the end, you’re exchanging ideas. We would borrow stuff from each other. You never get that in the acting experience. You can get on people really well, but you’re never sharing stuff.
You’re probably getting asked a lot about the BBC series “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who co-starred with you in the same Frankenstein roles in “National Theatre Live.” Did you have any worries about doing “Elementary” at the same time that another TV series about Sherlock Holmes is on the air? Have you talked to Benedict about it?
Miller: I wanted assurance that it was a different-enough project. He was very excited for me, and he’s very encouraging. We haven’t had a chance to get together a lot recently, but yes, it’s a wonderful character to play, and he wanted to pass that along. We discussed that for a minute.
For more info: “Elementary” website