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PREVIEW: ‘Sherlock’ Christmas Special Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (VIDEO)

PREVIEW: 'Sherlock' Christmas Special Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (VIDEO)


“The stage is set. The curtain rises. We are ready to begin,” Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes says in the dramatic trailer for the BBC’s Victorian-set Christmas special, which will air on “Masterpiece” (PBS) before being released in select theaters via Fathom Events. “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride,” a 90-minute special, will premiere Friday, January 1, 2016 on MASTERPIECE Mystery! on PBS at 9:00 p.m. ET, and simultaneously online. The special will have an encore broadcast on Sunday, January 10 at 10:00 p.m. ET. Bowing to popular demand, this marks the first time that “Sherlock” has premiered in the US and the UK on the same day. True to producer Sue Vertue’s promise at the jammed “Sherlock” Comic-Con panel last July, the powers did bring the showings in the UK and US closer together.

Watch the first clip and full Comic-Con panel with “Sherlock” executive producer/showrunner Steven Moffat, his wife/producer Vertue, and actor Rupert Graves (Inspector Lestrade), as well as Comic-Con no-shows Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott’s fan greeting videocast, below.

With long, Gothic shadows and foggy London streets, the new “Sherlock” entry harkens back to the iconic detective’s 19th-century origins in the fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “You’re Sherlock Holmes,” sidekick John Watson (Martin Freeman) commands in one knowing aside. “Wear the damn hat.”

Scottish writer Moffat alternates writing and showrunning “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who”—he has no plans to cross them over—and shared details of the Victorian standalone Christmas special separate from Season 4. The cast went to town dressing up: Cumberbatch looks totally Basil Rathbone and Freeman sports a mighty mustache, while Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is in tight-corset mode. Graves as Lestrade took the opportunity to grow a set of healthy mutton chops, he told the convention hall. “If you see a hedge coming, that’s me.”
Moffat, who has a puckish sense of humor, took the same “Sherlock” characters from contemporary London back in time into the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle universe. “It’s a game of variations,” he said. Each season, he always knows “clearly what stories we’re doing and where each episode will go, what the shattering, emotionally draining cliffhangers will be. I have to build up the faint illusion of hope that we might not be so evil as to sucker punch you into emotional devastation.” [LAUGHS]
Moffat and series co-creator writer Mark Gatiss realized that they had to beef up the Victorian episode women characters while trying to be “honest to the era,” he said, because in the original Conan Doyle stories they barely speak. “We built Mrs. Hudson into an incredibly exotic creature with a past. There isn’t a Molly Hooper. We forgot we fucking invented Molly. What were we going to do? It was an unbelievably sexist era, you can’t pretend it wasn’t there. How did we put female characters into the era in a way that absolutely make sense?”

Finally, Moffat admitted, “‘Sherlock Holmes’ is about those two blokes. It’s central to it, like everything else, it’s story-driven with a lot of character work, but in ‘Sherlock,’ we made the commitment to always doing Doyle’s best version of anyone, like Lestrade, who in the original stories ranges from aggressive idiot to wise man.”

On beefing up Lestrade. In the original stories, Lestrade doesn’t always get involved with every Holmes mystery, he’s only in five or six—now he does. In the “Sherlock” universe, Lestrade is a Holmes fan. He thinks Lestrade hates him, but in “The Six Napoleons,” Lestrade tells him, Moffat said, “‘You think we’re jealous of you at Scotland and we don’t like you, but if you came round to Scotland Yard, they’d shake your hand and say how great you are.’ That’s the version of Lestrade we want. He is a great copper. It takes a clever man to recognize a cleverer one.”

Moffat likes making Sherlock the dick who doesn’t appreciate that Lestrade is one of his best friends, always there for him. The writers “developed and warmed up the relationship between Sherlock and Lestrade,” said Graves.

Why cast Cumberbatch? “We were never in doubt about casting Benedict,” said Moffat. Added Vertue: “Thing is, he became so good-looking once he was playing Sherlock.”

“It’s about fame,” said Moffat. “When we first cast Benedict as Sherlock Holmes, there was a slight tremor, he’s quite good-looking, but he’s not stunning. No one particularly disagreed, including Benedict! And then he caught on and he put his swagger on. I remember watching on a monitor and saying to Martin, ‘What happened? He’s a matinee idol. Where did that come from?’ Look at Benedict in the series, he just gets more and more handsome! Not as handsome as this one [gestures to Graves]. Benedict can be swanning around the place, but if Rupert wanders past all the women ignore Benedict and just go ‘aah.'” [LAUGH]

On writing comedy. “The laugh comes not on the joke but to the reaction to it, that’s why brilliant comedy actors are so rare. Benedict says something outrageous and it goes to Martin or Rupert, that’s where the joke is, someone tells you, in a way, what to think about that.”

“A story is an ending and how you get there,” he warned. “You know where you’re going, you have to. On ‘Sherlock,’ whoever is writing it, we have worked out where the biggies are, there will be a few things kept loose so we can solve it in the moment. Never start writing until you know where you’re going or you’ll end up in a terrible mess. Even when you do know where you’re going you end up in a terrible mess anyway.”

On gut punches. Moffat explained that gut punch moments seem easy, but only work if you carefully seed bits of information you need, and build up to them: “It’s all in the construction of the story, before you get to the acting, the back swing you didn’t know was there. We seed every piece of information you need. When the twist comes it’s not that it’s surprising, it’s that you should have seen it. The rug is pulled, but you’ve been warned for ages. You’re not paying attention. So you fall for it, you’ve got to think, ‘I was stupid and didn’t listen to you.'”

On enjoying writing. He tends to be haunted and miserable when he’s writing, Moffat said. ‘I’m thinking it’s awful, and I’ve never felt this way before about a script.” Vertue said she always tells him, “you said the exact thing three weeks ago, I’ve got you on my iPhone saying it.”

“I don’t feel good at all, ever ever,” he said.

As far as how his writing has evolved: “I’ve got better, not good, at handling emotion, than I used to be. My fateful predilection for not knowing when enough’s enough in terms of a surprise, I’ve got better at controlling that. And through the constant pressure of Sue and Mark, I am not in as such fabulously poor taste as often I used to be, but still quite iffy at times. I think everything is funny, and I’m told, ‘that’s not funny, it’s offensive actually. To you and no one else who has ever lived is that funny. You laughed, no one else is going to laugh, they’re going to hate you.'”

On enjoying table reads. “I always do the stage directions, it’s nice to hear the laughs. It usually tells you where the beats and troughs and gags are.”

On running out of Holmes material. “We’ve done ten, there are 60 stories. The tonnage of Holmes that has never been touched is vast. I am certain that something else will close us down before that, like old age or death. We take one idea, replace it with another idea, in effect we are sort of making up new stories—with “A Scandal in Bohemia,’ the first 20 minutes is roughly the same but then it goes off somewhere else entirely.”

On going back to the source. After adapting the best-known stories in the first two seasons, said Moffat, “we like best those bits that nobody knows about that are so good, moments of humor and insight, and bringing those to the front are the most exciting things.”

Vertue reminded that the writers often go back to the originals to solve problems. Moffat agreed: “‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was a tough script. I wanted a great entrance. So Mark went back to the original, when Peter arrives with a harpoon after slaughtering a pig. ‘Let’s do that!’ When Watson looks for someone in a drug den, and Sherlock is there, ‘What a great way to introduce your BBC1 hero!'”

On seeing Irene Adler again. “That episode is close to our hearts,” said Moffat. “We don’t know how that night worked out. I wrote a version of it, for my own entertainment, it was not salacious at all, she ends up stealing his clothes and runs off.” He outlined various possible outcomes. “Maybe not knowing how that played out is better, to be honest they never saw each other but they both smile once a day when they think of each other.”

Will he make it public? “It’s somewhere in the files, it’s quite good. I like where it ended. I love that last moment when you see Irene, the smile on her face. We did take after take. Just the smile. She wins.”

Why is ‘Sherlock’ so popular? “We are always going to be in love with the idea of the man who understands everything but himself (he’s a damaged individual), the freak genius, his superpower, the achievable superpower of deduction, and also the sheer warmth, gravity and strength of that instant unmovable friendship of those two, steadfast friends. Whatever their failings individually together they make such a lovely unit. Essentially sweet reason and rationality work brilliantly—every other detective series is based on Sherlock Holmes, ‘House,’ loads of the films.

What makes ‘Sherlock’ unique? “With Benedict and Martin, we got one of the all-time stellar combinations of Sherlock Holmes. Floating text, that’s what unique about ours. None of the others have that.”

How Conan Doyle messed up. Moffat was bemused by how many mistakes Conan Doyle—who he calls a “brilliant writer”—made in the stories, which are often inconsistent. “He changes Mrs. Hudson to Mrs. Turner, how can we fix it? Doyle changes John Watson to James when Mrs. Watson calls him James. Watson has a wound from a bullet in his shoulder and in the next story it mysteriously migrates to his leg. He didn’t go back and look? We made it psychosomatic, because we really care.”

On Sherlock as loser. “I rather like Sherlock Holmes losing,” said Moffat. “In ‘A Study in Pink,’ the murderer turns up at his door and gives him a lift. That’s making crime solving easy! He makes a complete fool of himself in ‘A Scandal in Belgravia,’ he’s completely outplayed and shoots the villain in the face. The great moments of high drama are when his supreme reason doesn’t work and his great heart rescues the day. On the other hand I probably have to write the Sherlock Holmes story where he wins properly.”
Which prior Holmes had the most influence? The BBC helped to fund the restoration of the 1916 silent “Sherlock Holmes” film starring William Gillette, which Moffat can’t wait to see. He thinks handsome, urbane Gillette was the most influential on all the following actors playing Holmes.

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