Moriarty (Jared Harris) is sitting at a table inside the Hotel De La Ville in Paris surrounded by people. He’s reading a newspaper inside the cafe. After a few seconds, someone walks in to tell him something. While I can’t hear what they’re saying, the news must be important since he gets up after hearing it. As he rises out of the chair, the focus of the shot pulls to an old man sitting at a table in the foreground of the frame. The man is unremarkable. He wears a suit of no importance. He has a long grey beard and long grey hair. I didn’t notice him until the camera pulled focus. As Moriarty leaves the room and the man jumps out of his chair, I realize it’s Sherlock Holmes in disguise.
But let me back up a second.
Back in January, I got to visit the set of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows when the production was filming 45 miles outside London at Waddesdon Manor. While on set, I got to participate in group interviews with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, producers Susan Downey and Lionel Wigram, and director Guy Ritchie. As you might imagine, I learned a great deal about the Sherlock Holmes sequel, and if you hit the jump, you can read my “20 Things to Know” and watch a video blog about the visit.
Before going any further, if you missed the recent trailer, I’d watch that first. The sequel sees Holmes in pursuit of Professor Moriarty ( Harris), who “might be the world’s first supervillain”. The film also introduces Noomi Rapace in her first American role as a gypsy named Sim. Along for the ride is Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, a character who is, according to producer Susan Downey, “stranger and perhaps even more brilliant,” than Sherlock. Meanwhile, as Sherlock and Watson pursue Moriarty, Watson is trying to keep his relationship with Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) afloat.
20 Things to Know About Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
- The story starts about six months after the events of the first film.
- The whole story of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a plot that Moriarty has set in motion long before the story starts, so the film is Holmes arriving at the end stages of that plan and trying to stop it.
- The film follows Holmes as he’s on the scent of Moriarty, trying to figure out what he’s up to, but there are smaller mysteries along the way that add up to a larger thing that’s happening.
- They discussed the possibility of making the film 3D, but ultimately decided from a practical standpoint and a creative standpoint that it wasn’t the right fit.
- In the spirit of improvising, the core collaborative team of Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Guy Ritchie, and the producers gathered together every morning to work on the scene for the day. Even if it was a good scene that they were happy with, they were always trying to think of ways to make it better.
- 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 ideas when it came time to make the sequel.
- Ritchie’s goal this time was to improve the action, the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and the significance of the plot.
- The tone is slightly broader and more ominous than the first film. Moriarty and his plans are darker than the first film. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is still a bromance.
- Producer Lionel Wigram always had an idea for the first three movies in the franchise, a general direction for them, and he says they’ve sort of followed that on the second film.
- Noomi Rapace’s character wasn’t fully fleshed out when she was cast, so the actress brought a lot to building the character.
- Rapace’s character isn’t a hard-hitting fighter, but she’s a scrappy, street-fighter. They wanted to make it credible and realistic, so her approach to fighting is more about survival than dominating her opponent.
- You don’t need to have seen the first film to understand Game of Shadows.
- The film moves the characters out of England and takes them to Paris, Germany, and the Swiss Alps.
- Jared Harris landed the part of Moriarty at the very last minute. Shooting began a week or 10 days after he found out the part was his.
- They talked about a lot of different possibilities to play Moriarty, and ultimately wanted someone who would stand out as the character and not be overshadowed by the star power of the actor.
- Harris and Ritchie talked about the character of Moriarty and decided they didn’t want him to be the typical bad guy who gives a big speech toward the end of the movie laying out his plans, giving the good guy enough time to fix things. So with Moriarty, he never lays out what he’s trying to do and remains a mystery throughout the course of the film.
- Harris says Moriarty is so manipulative that he doesn’t need to commit violence himself or kill people; he can get everyone to do what he needs to do.
- 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.
- Hans Zimmer is back as composer.
- They’ve discussed ideas for a third film, and if they’re lucky enough to make one, they’ll probably do it. But they don’t have specific plans. (Note: Drew Pearce was just hired to write the 3rd movie.)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Video Blog
As most of you know, whenever I do a set visit, I’ll always record a video blog when I get back from set. However, for this one, I recorded one with Silas Lesnick from ComingSoon the following day at Heathrow Airport in London. And since we had to rush to make our plane, it’s a manageable 15 minutes. We talked about what we saw on set, what we thought, and what the films about.
- Where we are
- :46 Our opinions of the first Sherlock Holmes film.
- 1:35 We talk about the location we saw them filming at. They were at a French-inspired manor that was doubling as a Paris hotel. Silas describes it as going to a mansion from the town in Hot Fuzz. The one location was doubling for 7 locations.
- 2:45 Talk about the speed at which Ritchie was filming. They did about two takes and then moved on.
- 3:41 What scenes we saw being filmed. Saw a scene with Moriarty, Holmes was present wearing a disguise. There was also a scene with about 100 extras and horses and carriages.
- 5:33 Talking with Jared Harris. The actor had a lot of input in his character Moriarty and when he signed on, made some important script notes and revisions. Talk about the different approach to the villain for the film.
- 6:30 The plot. The film picks up six months later and Watson is about to get married. They go to Paris, German, and the Swiss Alps.
- 7:40 The set visit as a whole. Talk about getting to interview Downey Jr. and Law together and how they have a rapport in real life.
- 9:14 There are ideas in place for a third film. They initially mapped out a trilogy and they know generally where they want to go.
- 9:52 Talk about what they learned about Stephen Fry as Mycroft and how he fits into the film.
- 10:59 General impressions of Ritchie’s filming style and how he directs. He leaves room for improv and changes things up.
- 11:34 Talk about their “improv” style of filmmaking. They watched six or seven takes of a scene and they were all wildly different from each other.
- 12:19 This sequel is very much playing up the actors instead of bringing in some major star to be the focal point of the sequel. Talk about the casting of Moriarty and how they wanted a genuine actor for the part rather than a movie star.
In addition to the scene I already told you about in the intro, we also got to watch an outdoor action scene being filmed at the end of our set visit. As we stood around a monitor in a heated tent (it was very cold outside) we watched a dozen horse-drawn carriages and a hundred people react to an explosion that will be added in using CGI. In the trailer you can see the explosion.
What I remember most about the scene is how fast Ritchie and his crew worked. Perhaps it was the cold, but even though the crew had been working all day and was in the middle of a long shoot, they were able to quickly set up for take after take. It was even more impressive considering the scene was loaded with extras and horse-drawn carriages.
Guy Ritchie Interview
During a break in filming the outdoor scene that I just wrote about, we were able to get a few minutes with director Guy Ritchie and producer Lionel Wigram. While I usually would post this as a separate article, since it was such a short interview, I decided to add it here.
Guy Ritchie: We enjoyed the last one so much it would seem churlish not to return and do another one. I think we’re about nine-and-a-half days away from the end – not that I’m counting. We’ve pretty much reached the end of this one, and it’s been great. I like filming in the UK – I’ll sleep in my own bed, which I’m really happy about. It’s been a pleasure doing this one.
What are you doing differently this time?
Ritchie: Just trying to make a better film than we did last time. I’d like to be more eloquent than that, but that’s essentially our goal. We found the identity of the relationship in the last one and we’d like to big that up so to speak. We’d like to try to improve the action a bit, and their relationship a bit, and the significance of the plot. We’re just trying to make a better film.
Are you having fun with having Moriarty in it this time around?
Ritchie: Yeah it’s nice to have Moriarty. He’s arguably the most infamous, intellectual villain ever, so that’s been a bit of a challenge. But he’s great, Jared. As I keep telling him every day, he is significantly evil, and he finds that most flattering. Every thinks he’s very evil, so that works very well. It’s been great, he’s been a pleasure to work with.
Ritchie: I’ll have to go and think about that. Give me a few minutes. I don’t know – we’re oo-ing and ahh-ing about it.
We know they’re on the trail of Moriarty, but is there a central mystery? What are they trying to solve?
Ritchie: Well that’s the question, isn’t it?
Just, they know Moriarty’s doing something bad?
Ritchie: Oh it’s very bad. It’s very bad. I’m not gonna say what it is, but it’s bad.
Are you already making plans for a third one?
Producer Lionel Wigram: It’s too soon to ask.
But you have a general idea for a third one?
Wigram: We have a general idea if it moves forward, yes.
Ritchie: Well I’m a big fan of Noomi’s and she’s mucked on in with the best of them. She fits in really well, doesn’t she? She’s great and she’s tough.
Lionel: She fits in really well with the boys.
Are you trying to do things differently this time around or keep things the same?
Ritchie: I think a bit of both. We’ve tried to maintain and hold onto the identity of the relationship of the last one, but at the same time try and take it on and evolve that relationship. My main priority was the interaction between those two. And that’s still what I really care about, is the relationship between those two. So we’ve tried to hold onto that and we’ve tried to augment it and improve it in certain ways.
When Sherlock Holmes hit theaters in December of 2009, it was a big success as it made over $500 million worldwide. However, since the film came out at the same time as James Cameron‘s Avatar, I was one of the few people buzzing about the World’s Great Detective while almost everyone else was talking about 3D and large blue creatures.
I thought the first Sherlock Holmes was a great movie and I loved what Ritchie, the entire cast, and Zimmer did with the material. And based on what I saw and learned on the set of the sequel, I’m extremely confident the second film is going to be a very fun ride, and hopefully it will get the attention it deserves.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens December 16th.
Here’s more from our Sherlock Holmes set visit:
- Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS On Set 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