While the last few years has seen a number of great “bromances” on movie screens, I think my favorite was the love affair between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes. Not only did they successfully reboot Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s characters to a new generation of moviegoers, they looked like they were having a blast in the process and their great chemistry made everything more believable.
So when I got to visit the set of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows earlier this year outside of London, I got to see their working relationship first hand. However, if you think the sequel is just going to be more of the same, Downey Jr. told us that the bromance is not front and center as “this time we are attempting to transcend that a little bit by making these two guys go up against something that is bigger than both of them.” During the on set interview Downey and Law also talked about the darker tone, the new characters, Watson’s gambling problem, their filming process, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what they said.
Before going any further, if you missed the recent trailer, I’d watch that first.
Here’s a few of the highlights from the interview:
- They were both excited to come back because they had such a good time working on the first film.
- On the first film, they had come up with a lot of ideas that couldn’t fit into the movie, but they were able to use some of those when it came time to make the sequel.
- The tone is a bit darker.
- A Game of Shadows is closer to one of Doyle’s books (The Final Problem) than the first film was, but it also hints at other works.
- Noomi Rapace’s character becomes a kind of partner to Holmes and Watson. She’s emotionally involved in what the two are trying to work out, and they have a common goal.
- They wanted the characters to grow in the sequel. They wanted to use what worked from the first film, but didn’t want to just repeat what they did the last time.
- They expand upon Watson’s gambling problems this time around.
- They continued the unique filming process that they began on the first film, wherein they will get together with Ritchie, the producers, and whoever else is in the day’s scene, and dismantle it and talk about how they can improve the scene and improvise.
- Law says Jared Harris has fantastic range and can terrify, amuse, entertain, and threaten all in a convincible manner.
Here’s the full on set interview. You can also click here to listen to the audio.
Robert Downey Jr.: Well, ever since Mr. Law and I met, the chuckles, and the fun, and the happiness come. But we are really quite about the business very much, I believe, as Holmes and Watson are. So if it’s 99% perspiration. Oh, you are going to love this – we like getting sweaty together. I mean, we like working our asses off. We like to work.
Jude Law: We like to work and we find fun in the work.
Downey Jr.: Yes, we do.
Law: I think also it’s a very happy….every so often you get to play wonderful characters maybe at the wrong time in your life. Sometimes, you get to play terrible characters at a really great time in your life. Sometimes, the right character comes along at the right time. I think we both felt that happened. So it wasn’t just happening individually. It was also watching someone else have that experience. So, like Robert said, we are working hard, but we are also enjoying it tremendously. It’s a perfect balance.
Downey Jr.: It’s so nice to have an opportunity to…to me, Sherlock being as successful as it was and being received as well as it was by people is probably the single greatest feeling I’ve ever had about something because you know?
Because you weren’t expecting it to be received so well?
Downey Jr.: No. Half of my problem – if I do have a problem that I can speak about half of – I would say is that every time I swing, I think it’s going out of the park. I still try to keep that attitude, but I knew that we had a real winning combination. I knew that just something clicked with us. I never had someone say, “Oh my god. You have such great screen chemistry…with him!” [everybody laughs] It’s what made the movie work. Everything else is kind of ancillary and tributary to that and then us triangulating and the synergy we found with Guy…it’s a tough thing. How do you recreate having caught lightning in a bottle? I’m not used to…well, maybe a little more lately than before. I’m not used to studios being ecstatic about we did and saying, “Please go do that again.”
Law: It was a relief too, right? I remember on the first one, we were coming up with so many ideas or digging out little details from the books. It was part of that process where we were riffing. We would come up with stuff that we just knew couldn’t fit into the first one. That carried on throughout the whole press tour. We would go, “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” So when it was a success and when we knew that it was pretty likely that the second one was going to happen – it was also like a relief. It was like, “Oh! We can use all of that stuff! Thank Goodness! Thank you!” It felt like something that was going to be a home for all of this other creative outpouring that had already occurred.
Downey Jr.: Yeah, and reintroducing it to an audience…well, introducing it to certain audiences for the first time. Their initial context of Sherlock Holmes was seeing Jude and I do this movie. The nice thing this time around is that we are able to honor Doyle even more by pretty much making this a story. A very thrilling story. Not unlike one of the Conan Doyle stories that Watson is retelling. So you get back to the subjectivity of “here is this normal person, an ordinary, if you would, person in these extraordinary circumstances with his friend”
Some time has elapsed since the first film. So what is different for the two characters this time around?
Downey Jr.: I arranged it. As indicated by the end of the last film, Holmes is definitively obsessed with the first super-villain in literature, Moriarty, for whom we have the astonishingly fantastic Jared Harris.
Sequels tend to go darker. That seems to be the new trend. You’re almost very light. Is the follow-up going to keep that?
Law: I don’t know about you, but I find it kind of hard. I don’t know yet. We all said, “It’s going to be darker this time. It’s going to be really nasty and gritty.” I don’t know why there is that trend, but you’re right. It does seem to be so. We went in with that in mind. Certainly the threat of Moriarty and the presence of such an evil mind certainly leads it that way, but we tend to have been coming up with more lighter stuff. Don’t you think, the two of us?
Downey Jr.: Yeah. I honestly think that it’s both a little tiny bit broader and it’s a little bit darker just because of the fellow and the situation we are up against. He reaches out and touches us quite a bit, so to speak. We are in pretty bad shape almost all of the time.
So no drugs then for Holmes?
Downey Jr.: Oh, you mean like he had to sober up so that he could have a chance?
You said that you went back to Doyle for this film. With the introduction of Moriarty, would that suggest that this is a little bit more like “The Final Problem?”
Law: It is a little more like “The Final Problem.” But having said that, as with the other one, there are other hints at other books that are laced in. There are also areas that are completely original. But it’s closer to a book, meaning “The Final Problem,” than the first.
Downey Jr.: Again, just to be clear, thematically, as opposed to last time, it was an origin story with these two guys. You’re kind of meeting both of them and by the end he is saying, “What are those?” and he goes, “Oh, just scribbles.” This time, he is living and recanting a story to an audience after the fact…kind of.
So is it your narration? Will you be narrating parts?
Downey Jr.: I think so far it’s without narration. Who knows how it’s going to wind up? Christ, what am I editing it, too? [everybody laughs]
Law: But tonally it’s interesting answering that question when you are in the middle of making it, because you are only aware of what you want it to be like and what the energy wants it to be like. Then, you are also aware of what you shot. So it’s quite hard. What is clear is there are huge scenes. There is much more a sense of…there is us fleeing, this time. There’s us hunting down, there are a lot more riddles. I don’t know whether you know this, but a lot of it is not in London. We’re fleeing London. There is a real sense, in a way, of living out of a bag, hence I’m wearing my tweeds at the moment.
Are you being chased out of London?
Downey Jr.: No.
Law: Chased out? No.
I’m interested in your relationship with Stephen Fry. Do you have a brotherly contact with him? What is your relationship like with him?
Law: I don’t have any contact with him. Seriously, we’re not allowed to touch him. [everybody laughs]
Downey Jr.: No one’s allowed to touch Mycroft. Stephen, we’ve all had our way. [everybody laughs] His character is arguably the most enigmatic of all the characters in the lexicon, and so what better person? It’s so funny, too, that he’s literally just hitting this super stride. Just as we are here we went to go see him at Albert Hall and then he is at a rehearsal with us just basically thinking and phrasing circles around us. We were just kind of left wondering what happened when he left, but he has to go because he has some other hip thing that he has to do.
Law: He was the youngest member of the Sherlock Holmes Appreciation Society when he was a boy.
Downey Jr.: Baker Street Irregulars or the Appreciation Society?
Law: Yeah, The Irregulars.
Downey Jr.: The Irregulars?
Law: You’re right. There is a difference. I don’t know. He was the youngest in one of them.
Downey Jr.: I guarantee you he knows. [everybody laughs]
Law: Where does she come in?
Law: She comes on board because she is a link early on that Holmes picks up on.
Downey Jr.: She’s a lead, exactly.
Law: She then becomes a kind of partner because she is incredibly handy in different ways, I won’t let too much go. She is also emotionally involved. By the time we meet her on her home turf, she is emotionally involved in what we are trying to work out. So she kind of comes along for the whole journey.
Downey Jr.: We have a common goal.
What are you most careful about when you play the same character in a franchise like this?
Law: You just want it to grow.
Downey Jr.: Yeah.
Law: You are aware that you don’t want to repeat stuff, but you want to use what has worked. But you don’t want to be accused of just going over the old thing, you know? You want it to start growing a little bit more.
Downey Jr.: Yeah.
Downey Jr.: Well, I’m sure he might have had a complaint or two. I can’t speak to the strength of transcripts of stage productions, but we’ve definitely put the most of his words in our mouths. If anything, he might be happy that we brought Watson back to how he was originally described. There is something about it. Last time around, there was, for some reason or other, that wave of “bromance” in the air. I think this time we are attempting to transcend that a little bit by making these two guys go up against something that is bigger than both of them.
If I have learned anything it is that comparison is a dangerous place to go because nothing is ever like anything else. So I always think that a sequel you assume is a logical continuation of something that you already understand, but I don’t understand how we did it the first time. So going into comparison I would just confuse myself.
Law: I think when you got source material, whether it’s a play or a book – a great writer often appreciates being adapted and developed. It’s like when you go see a production of a great play and they are always different. There is always room for interpretation, and this is our interpretation. I don’t think we drifted as far away from the source material as people expected, but equally I think that we were original enough to keep it fresh and our own. So I think he would have been very appreciative.
Law: Oh, yeah.
Downey Jr.: I promise.
Law: We tackle that in the first ten minutes I think.
Downey Jr.: It’s a problem. I don’t think we went far enough. I would like to see you not be able to afford the wedding or anything. Oh, well. There is always next time.
Law: Yeah, there is next time. We do. We tackle all of those kind of seedlings that were planted and looked at I think pretty much.
Are we to assume that Mary isn’t too thrilled about the gambling?
Downey Jr.: That’s the least of her problems.
Law: It’s true. [laughs]
When you make a great first film how careful are you? Are either of you superstitious about the way you rehearse when making the sequel and trying to recapture that magic? Could you talk about the process of making the sequel versus the first film?
Law: I always worried about that process. When we started the first one we evolved this process.
Downey Jr.: Yeah, we didn’t know what we were going to lock into.
Law: And really that process didn’t find its left feet until we were about a month in; maybe a little bit later, maybe 6 weeks in. By the end, we were just loving it. I’m talking about how we would dismantle a scene, improvise it a little bit, and then go back to the source material and use Conan Doyle. Then, we would have a scene that was great scene, but maybe nine pages long that has to be one page long. It’s a long process and Guy is very heavily involved and any of the actors of the day are very involved.
Downey Jr.: And the producers and writers. Last time, we finished basically in Baker Street and then a bunch of stuff on the bridge. But we finished our journey by shooting the beginning of our journey. This time, we began our journey at Baker Street. I think some of it was really daunting, but it’s like we can kind of only do it one way. We do it full steam ahead and we do it the entire time that we’re working. We don’t have a lunch break and we work when we are eating. My wife, our producer, Lionel [Wigram], and the other people in our little pit crew – none of us can help ourselves. We’re always talking about something that is 3 weeks away or 3 minutes away. It’s kind of like, in a way everybody is an honorary associate producer.
Law: That process was weird. I’m not superstitious, but it was that process that I was nervous about recreating. I kind of thought, “Maybe that just worked on the first one.” How do you step in and start that up again? But like anything, you have to drop into it. So starting on this one, we started a little earlier than day one. We started writing a good few weeks before and it just happened.
Downey Jr.: We already want to pitch you Sherlock 3 by the way. That one is going to be fantastic!
Can you tell us about today’s scene?
Law: I haven’t done anything yet.
Downey Jr.: But he still had something to say about it. Today? Honestly, I’m in the phase…we’re two weeks out and by the time I’m slapping wigs and mustaches on, running down hallways, and all of that, I call myself the “Man of a Thousand Crabby Faces.” [laughs] We still have a little bit of action to shoot. Crazy. Last time, we basically met, shot a scene or two, and then started kicking ass together for weeks. In some way, I feel like I got to know you better doing that than anything else. I would be shooting and they would have two cameras coming down two sides. I would look over and I would be like, “He’s keeping up. He likes to scrap.”
What does Jared bring to the role of Moriarty? What should we expect from his performance?
Law: Jared is a fantastically experienced and quality actor, which was the most important thing. You wanted someone who could pull the job off. What I got immediately when they mentioned his name is that this guy has got a fantastic range. He can in equal proportions terrify and amuse, entertain and threaten. You just need all of those on your palette if you are going to play this guy who is meant to be as brilliant and as evil and as mysterious as Moriarty is.
Downey: Yeah, and he asked all of the right questions. He really put us to task, too. He’s built a sort of reputation for himself and it would be a shame to expose him to a vast audience in not the best possible light. So he really put it to us about how “Hey, let’s not make this mistake. I think we can do better than this.” We were like, “Absolutely. That’s how we feel.” He basically lead the charge on this particular incarnation of Moriarty. It’s even better than we hoped it would’ve been. I think people are going to be, not surprised, but I think a lot of people are going to really recognize him for who he is for maybe the first time in a big scenario like this. We are proud, but we earned it for sure. He also likes to work.
You had a very successful first movie and I’m assuming this is going to be a very successful second movie. How much are you guys dropping in Easter eggs and laying the foundation for what will hopefully be a third film?
Law: I don’t understand the Easter egg term.
Downey Jr.: Let me help you. Like in the Marvel world, right? We will have Captain America’s shield. They will go, “Is that?” I’ll go, “Yeah.” Then, I use it. We do something silly with it.
Law: I see. It pops up, but not referred to, necessarily.
Downey Jr.: Exactly. The fans call those “Easter eggs”. I didn’t know what it was on Iron Man 2. I heard it twenty times. I was like, “Why are you talking about Easter eggs? It’s fucking July!”
Law: That’s cool, I like that. I get it.
Downey Jr.: We don’t have a one yet.
Law: That’s another terminology I don’t understand. What is a “one”?
Downey Jr.: We don’t have any.
Law: What do you mean?
Downey Jr.: We don’t have a one Easter egg.
Law: Sorry. I’m catching up on these Easter egg references. [everybody laughs]
Downey Jr: There are none that I am aware of yet, but we might do some additional photography.
Law: I can’t think of any Easter eggs.
Law: Hell, no. [laughs]
Downey Jr.: I don’t think when you see this, you’ll feel that we’ve restrained ourselves at all. Truth be told, the bottom line with these stories, it’s about this one man’s observation of this other man who tells him that he is the only true friend he has and him realizing that he is the only person that he is actually very, very close to besides his wife. I think that that’s just a great theme. The bottom line is that we are in this love together.
Law: The brother theme is really strong in this one actually. That’s when Noomi gets involved, too. There is a theme or a demand later on in this film where it questions one’s reliance on someone else and can you really trust someone?
Downey Jr.: Is anybody ever really what they put themselves forth to be? Including us, including our nemesis, including pretty much every character in this movie. That’s what I think is so interesting. It really is a lot about the shadow elements of everybody. I just thought I would end on that dour note.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens December 16th.
Here’s more from our Sherlock Holmes set visit:
- 20 Things to Know About SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS From Our Set Visit; Plus Video Blog Recap and Director Guy Ritchie Interview
- Producers Susan Downey and Lionel Wigram On Set Interview SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS
- Noomi Rapace SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS On Set Interview
- Jared Harris Talks About Playing Moriarty on the Set of SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS