“The Game Is On”, An Afternoon with Mark Gatiss, 11 November 2012
A summary of the proceedings of the afternoon with members of the Sherlock cast and production team. I believe that a proper full transcript will be published in due course. Not a good start to the afternoon when I arrived with my ticket for seat K22 only to find that row K ended at seat 21 … Only my friend Verity will understand my thought of “Not again!” and I won’t bore you with the reasons, but after I wailed to an usher who chased off back to the ticket office to investigate, she came back and assured me that the ticket had been mis-numbered and my seat really was number 21. I wasn’t fully reassured and was convinced that someone would come in late and insist that I’d nicked their seat! But luckily, despite the website saying that the seat was a restricted view, it was a really good seat, all on its own so I didn’t annoy anyone else with my constant scribbling all through the afternoon.
The theatre went very dark once the team arrived onstage, so I was literally writing blind, which was okay while I was keeping going but whenever I stopped and then re-started I later found that I had written over the previous line. These notes may therefore be a little confused!
Ian Hallard came on to do the introduction and reminded us that Andrew Scott had had to pull out several days previously but – because people had had the opportunity to email questions to the team in advance – he had provided answers to some of the questions directed specifically to him. Ian continued that sadly Una Stubbs had also had to pull out at short notice. As the audience groaned, Ian said, “Shall we just go home?”! He then added, “And Martin Freeman has …” before stopping and grinning.
When Mark Gatiss came on, he reassured us, “I will be playing Una Stubbs in the second half.”
Steven Moffatt and Sue Vertue came on for the first set of questions and were asked if they – along with Mark – were genuinely surprised how popular the show immediately became. Steven said they would genuinely have been happy if the only award they had won had been from an obscure Polish TV station – “not that there’s anything wrong with that” – but they really didn’t anticipate what a sensation the show would be or Benedict becoming a god overnight after being that bloke you couldn’t remember with the funny name.
When talking about casting, Mark said, “A couple of directors said to me afterwards, ‘You bastard - I wanted to discover Andrew Scott!’”
Someone asked on behalf of American fans whether there was any way to speed up the arrival of Series 3 on PBS. “Illegal downloads,” joked Mark.
There was much hilarity over how the writers felt about the perceived homoeroticism in the series, plus an argument about which one of them was putting it in and who was then making him take it out again. The “not his date” bit and subsequent misunderstanding in the restaurant scene in A Study in Pink had basically been inserted because they needed to make the scene longer and even at the time Mark told Steven, “This is all that everyone will ever talk about [in relation to that scene]!”
Mark added that Sherlock’s and John’s friendship is so strong that the misunderstanding over their relationship is fun. They live in a world where their friends make a fond assumption that they’re a couple. Steven added that it’s the same with Irene; but why does it have to be about sex? It’s fascination that Sherlock and Irene feel for each other, not desire. Of course it’s a love story between Sherlock and John and between Sherlock and Irene, but it’s not really about sex. He thought that having a relationship with Sherlock would be awful: just as you were hoping for some fun, Sherlock would look blank and wander off!
They were asked how long they intend to do Sherlock. After some (hopefully not serious!) ominous comments about whether Sherlock will even survive the end of series 3, Sue said, “We’d like to do it for as long as everyone’s interested.” Mark added that he’d love to see the characters reach their fifties in a similar way to the Rathbone series.
Asked about the back story between Sherlock and Mycroft, they talked about the omitted scene from The Great Game which had alluded to why their relationship had gone so sour. Steven said that at that stage they were a little nervous about including anything historical which wasn’t in the canon. Sue pointed out that – although you couldn’t see it – all the Christmas cards in Scandal were to John except for just one for Sherlock, producing a loud heart-broken “Awww!” from the audience.
Louise Brealey then came on, blushing and very embarrassed by all the applause and whooping.
She was asked what had been in the Christmas present to Sherlock, and replied that she had already answered that question recently when she said that it was a lime green Borat mankini. “I need to think of something else!” she said. “I can’t keep expecting people to laugh at that!”
The next question asked about funniest moments on the set. Loo paused for a long time and Mark finally said on her behalf, “Nothing at all!”
She was asked why she thought Molly chose to be a pathologist. “Because they don’t answer back?” she hazarded. The group got into a discussion about some of the horrors of the Merthyr Tydfil morgue, though Loo remembered that one of the team – she couldn’t remember his name but described him as “the man in the wellies” – had told her something interesting: you can’t tell the difference between a smoker’s lungs and the lungs of someone who has lived in a city.
Mark began to read the next question to Loo: “What was it like to be in a scene with three gorgeous actors – Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and … Andrew Scott.” At this he threw down his clipboard and went into a mock-sulk until someone in the audience yelled, “We love you, Mark!”
Introducing Rupert Graves, Mark said, “In Maurice, Rupert shared a passionate scene with James Wilby – a great moment in many men’s lives.” “And women’s!” added Loo.
“What do you think Lestrade brings to the show?” Mark asked Rupert. “Dimness?” suggested Rupert.
Mark pointed out that in the canon Lestrade is portrayed as a ferret-faced man, prompting Rupert to do a hilarious impression of a ferret’s face! Mark added that in the books Sherlock has no problem being smarter than a man who can barely tie his own shoelaces.
The rumour that Rupert ran away when he was young to join a circus isn’t true, although he did work in a circus but got the job through the job centre. Amongst other skills he learned during his time there, he learned how to wrangle Shetland ponies!
“How do you resemble Lestrade?” Mark asked. “Well, we look alike,” said Rupert, “and on certain filming days we dress alike!”
Mark hesitated slightly before commencing the next question. “Are you aware that despite never being onscreen together …” He didn’t need to go any further as the audience let out a massive cheer! Mark finally finished the question: “… a good number of fans fancy Mycroft and Lestrade together?” Rupert seemed to be completely up for it!
Martin Freeman was introduced at this point and was asked how much he had known about the Sherlock Holmes canon before he began working on the show. He admitted that although – like pretty much everyone – he knew of the detective stories, he hadn’t even known that Watson’s first name was John.
He said it was a well-known story that he had been wary when he had started to read the script of A Study in Pink, worrying that the modernisation might be too “hip”, but he’d been convinced within about three pages.
He didn’t do any firearms training before filming but he did have conversations with an army doctor. Being born in Aldershot and being brought up around the military, Martin said that until he was six he thought he was a soldier, but it was at that age that he realised that he never wanted to kill anyone or be shot.
Asked about the chemistry between actors, he said that he couldn’t take any credit for the chemistry between himself and Benedict, or Sherlock and John, because even good actors can only fake it to a certain degree but it just worked between the two of them. He continued, “At the risk of cosying up to my employer, the writing helps.”
The next question asked about The Hobbit. Martin said that he actually hasn’t seen much of it. “I’ve only seen bits while I was doing ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording].”
Mark: “You’ve only seen the first ten hours, haven’t you?”
Martin: “Yeah – and he’s still in Bag End at the moment.”
He can’t help but be a little concerned about whether the fame of the film will be an incursion on his life. “Will people be more keen on me after the sixteenth of December? I don’t know,” he shrugged.
After a break, the team came back and Mark opened up questions to the audience. I found it fascinating how, when some people asked very inappropriate questions about fandom, there were indignant cries from many others, though the team were gracious and still did their best to answer, even if they deliberately diverted from the original question quickly on occasions. When someone ludicrously asked about whether John Watson might be seen wearing red pants in Season 3, the others claimed to have no idea why such a question should be asked but Martin said he knew exactly what it was all about.
Asked what each of them is reading at the moment, Martin didn’t have a clue and had to call on Amanda Abbington – sitting in the audience – to tell him!
Mark added at the end, “I can’t read.”
They were asked if any of them had ever had the chance to, or had wanted to, use lines from episodes of Sherlock. Rupert said he tried to do the Meretricious/And A Happy New Year line once but had got it completely wrong. “Did someone say, ‘Meritocracy’?” asked Martin. Steven said he keeps waiting for the chance to say, “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
Someone asked whether the producers considered that fanart is copyright infringement.
Sue (a little uncomfortably): “What do they say about flattery?”
Steven: “It’s prosecutable!”
They added that some of it really is beautiful, then Steven continued, “And some of it’s been frankly disturbing!”
Trying to move on, Mark said jokingly, “Could we have a question from a man?!” Steven added, “Someone pop out and find one!”
Asked about their first encounters with gay characters on TV and their perception of how such portrayals have changed over the years, Mark started the answer by saying that the first gay character for most of the people on stage would probably have been Mr. Humphreys in Are You Being Served? Loo piped up, “I didn’t know he was gay!” “Molly Hooper’s love life explained,” said Steven instantly.
Mark said that back then, gay characters were always figures of fun; nowadays they’re far more integrated and are frequently just regular characters. The real achievement, he feels, is that they’re incidentally gay. He went on, “… and all the wonderful shades of grey …” which stopped him dead as the audience let out a huge shout of laughter, prompting him to bury his head in his hands!
Someone asked about Sebastian Moran and how they intended to bring him into the series. Mark carefully quoted nothing but canon about his perception of the character, then continued, “I can’t say any more or it would spoil the surprise.” “Or the lack of it,” added Steven pointedly.
Someone asked whether they would ever consider doing a crossover with another series. “Are You Being Served,” Mark said promptly. Martin said that he has already told the producers that he will never agree to do a sketch for something like Comic Relief. He said he would not want to be in a scene where John Watson is cosying up to a character from Doctor Who. Steven added dramatically, “Those children will simply starve!”
Asked about how they almost always tend to refer to the Rathbone version of Sherlock Holmes stories rather than Brett, Steven said that he grew up with the Rathbone version but thought that Jeremy Brett did an amazing reinterpretation of Holmes. Up until then everyone had done Holmes like Rathbone. He felt that Brett was incredibly brave to re-invent him. On a similar topic, he said that if you’re going to re-invent a story, there has to be something that will make it new and exciting.
They were asked if there was anything within the Doyle stories which couldn’t be brought into the series because it’s too enmeshed in Victoriana. Mark thought that parts of The Adventure of the Yellow Face definitely had some sections which would be impossible to modernise.
This led on to a question of whether there were other canonical stories the writers want to do.
Audience member: “That you can talk about?”
Steven and Mark (simultaneously): “No.”
Steven added that one of the great things about Doyle’s stories is that they’re written in such a way that you can take the Victoriana out and they still work.
The gang were asked what their character would most like.
Mark said that Mycroft worries about Sherlock and would like him to be working in an office somewhere safe. “He would also like to film abroad!” he added.
Rupert: “Lestrade would like Sherlock’s brain.”
Steven: “… pickled in a jar!”
Loo: “Just a kiss …”
The audience: “Awwww!”
Loo: “… with tongue!”
Martin: “John would like Sherlock to be a bit more human; he just wants him to calm the hell down. He’d like him to be more understanding when John wants to date [women] … and he would like it to happen in Jamaica.”
Steven: “I’m sensing a theme here!”
After someone asked if there was any possibility that Moriarty – being as clever as Sherlock – might have faked his death too, Mark found a question which hadn’t been asked from amongst the emailed ones which asked, “What do you think Moriarty was feeling at the end of Season 2?” He answered, “Nothing! He’s dead!”
Mark then brought on a mannequin which he sat half on his lap and said that it was Andrew coming on to answer his questions, then did such a hilarious attempt at Andrew’s voice that the audience drowned out the next lines with their laughter.
It was Steve Thompson’s idea that Mark should play Mycroft. Mark was demonstrating how he was going to audition for the role of Peter Mandelson, and Steve said that he ought to play Moriarty. “… because he is evil!” interjected Steven. They added that this gave them the idea of Mark looking like he is Moriarty until it’s revealed who he really is.
When asked if they would get on with Sherlock if he was a real-life person, Loo said, “I think he’s a bit of a cock. I don’t need that in my life!”
The team were asked which were their favourite bits to film.
Martin: “I didn’t enjoy any of it, but I suppose the most tolerable …”
Mark enjoyed the scene on the aeroplane in Scandal, despite the chaos of the extras falling asleep and then yawning just as the actors nailed their lines.
Loo loved the Christmas scene because it was the first time she had been in the Baker Street set.
Martin: “And I suppose I enjoyed being at Ben’s grave!”
Rupert said he also loved the party at Baker Street because he didn’t have to do anything. Steven pointed out to the audience that they really should watch Lestrade’s reactions when Sherlock tells him his wife is sleeping with someone else.
What makes John special to Sherlock?
Mark: “His shoes.”
This was followed by some serious answers which I didn’t catch, then Mark added, “… but mostly it’s his silky hair.”
What’s your favourite Reichenbach theory?
Mark: “It’s all there, if you look.”
Martin: “I trot out the party line [when people ask], but it makes people want to punch me.”
Mark then stood up and re-enacted the last lines of the rooftop scene, taking Sherlock’s role while Martin did John’s lines, then Mark said, “Goodbye, John,” put his phone down, picked up a can of Red Bull and cracked it open, bringing the house down.
There are another couple of reports of the afternoon, which cover some of the points I missed while I was still writing out a previous comment, here and here.