When it comes to playing Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch is riveting as he puts a modern day spin on the classic sleuth in the Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock, Series 2. The current second cycle of shows is a ratings winner on PBS, bringing back Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for a new round of clever crime-solving in 21st century London.
Cumberbatch is in the title role, getting help from Martin Freeman as his deadpan sidekick Dr. Watson. Even the mastermind of evil Moriarty (Andrew Scott) works into some episodes for added intrigue. Benedict has been praised for being witty and engaging, bringing “the perfect combination of IQ and GQ” to the PBS audience. He recently starred on the big screen in War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which also gained him accolades.
In the role of the updated Sherlock, Benedict says he pays homage to all the Sherlocks who have come before.
So how does one go about playing someone as iconic as Holmes, yet make him contemporary? Noting the fact that Sherlock is very much “a modern man in the books,” Benedict explains, “It is the most played literary fictional character. It’s in the Guinness Book of Records for it. I follow in the footsteps of about 230-odd people, in many different languages, and different ages, different times as well.”
While he admits that is daunting, Benedict says, “I think for any actor to play an iconic character there is a huge pressure that’s associated with delivering something that everyone knows culturally.” That’s especially true in England.
“So it was quite nerve-racking,” says the English actor, “but there is an element of a blank canvas because of this brilliant reinvention and reinvigoration of him being a 21st century hero. I believe it maintains the integrity of author Arthur Conan Doyle’s original, much to the enjoyment of die-hard fans of the books. And hopefully it turns on kids to the books.”
Benedict did read the books before taking on the role. But he says, “I didn’t want to watch a lot of interpretations before filming. I had seen Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone, who are my two favorites, the ultimate late-Victorian Holmeses.”
Benedict’s favorite book on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes is “The Sign of Four.”
He recalls that he was about twelve years old when he first read a Sherlock Homes story. And he describes that he was “hungry for more” as he turned each page as the story unfolded.
“It’s very addictive reading, and it’s an utterly absorbing world in character. It’s thrilling as a child to read those books. You get drawn into a London which suddenly becomes alive like a pop-up book. It’s brilliant with this incredible, really rich tapestry of characters and extraordinary adventures. It’s a real thrill to go into this world,” he says.
Both of his parents are distinguished actors, who Benedict says “worked incredibly hard to give me a very privileged education, so I could do anything but be as stupid as them and become an actor. But unfortunately, like a lot of children, I didn’t pay any notice to my parents’ wise words.”
Well, he admits for awhile he did, and toyed with the idea of being a criminal barrister [an attorney in England]. “I had a romantic notion of that job, a ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ thing, requiring a bit of acting and dissimilation, and audience influencing. I thought that would be quite fun. They [his parents]threw an awful lot of people at me that dissuaded me from that path.” So he turned to acting, which seems to require some of the same skills, reports Benedict Cumberbatch, the definitive star of the modern Sherlock adventures.