Sherlock Holmes is back on the case in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. If you saw the first Sherlock Holmes you know this isn’t a stodgy old costume drama. Robert Downey Jr. brings his chaotic energy to the performance, and director Guy Ritchie infuses the film with action and special effects. The new case brings Holmes face to face with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), and also a new lady, the fortune teller Simsa (Noomi Rapace.) When it came time for Downey to answer questions, he kept the mystery alive with innuendo and sarcastic jokes.
Gonzo: What did you want to do this time to take Sherlock Holmes to the next level?
RDJ: Oh, well, after the first one worked out pretty good, we were pretty much doing the press tour talking about things we would like to improve, other directions we could go, blah blah blah. And then there’s the reality of doing it. Anybody who’s ever been involved in making the second part to a first that worked, there should be a whole online support team for this. We happened through it. We were just thinking about this over lunch too. There’s so much to learn and again I think the greatest disguise was us disguising ourselves as consummate by the numbers professionals when in fact we’re all kind of incredibly eccentric. And Warner Brothers has given us the opportunity to try to do something that’s complicated and needs to tick a bunch of boxes and all that. The great thing we had this time is we had Noomi and Jared.
Gonzo: How did you transform into a woman for Sherlock’s great costume on the train?
RDJ: Okay, so I guess we’re not talking about this as being one of the most important films of the year? Uh, I put on some makeup.
Gonzo: Are you and Jude Law doing Some Like It Hot with Guy Ritchie directing?
RDJ: That’s called act two of Sherlock 2: A Game of Shadows. No, the Mrs. [Susan Downey, producer] referenced that a while ago. That’s what it reminded her of. I thought I looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dwarf brother. That’s what I thought I looked like. And the lead singer from The Cure. Robert Smith, sorry. I should know that. It’s embarrassing. Any other movies you want to talk about? Did you like The Artist?
Gonzo: Did you and Jude improvise a lot?
RDJ: You know, I think the goal is to make a well written scene seem like it’s improvised and/or to come up with things that you find in the room that you couldn’t have known until you get into the real situation, just try to improve things as you go along. It was a democracy in the truest and most frustrating and most rewarding sense of the word. Anybody could come in and say, “You know, I’m just not cool with that.” We’d be like, “Who’s that?” “Oh, I was just cleaning the trailers.” It was nuts.
Gonzo: So with Jared Hess as Moriarty, was it all very scripted?
RDJ: All right, he would come in and we’d have a scene that he’s shooting in two days and he’d be like, “Is this going to pretty much stay like this?” I was like, “Not a word of it.” “Can I have something that I can study the night before?” I’d say, “I’m going to venture a no on the possibility of yes.” It would be like that and the stakes were so high in every scene, and then there’s complicated camera shots and stuff like this. It’s pretty terrifying but what really happened is we noticed with Jared is he kept pushing toward it wasn’t personal, it wasn’t like I don’t want to be embarrassed and I want to do a good job and I want to come off great and I want great dialogue. It kept going back to this archetype that you were trying to represent. Then there would be stuff where we were all in a groove with a fight team and he’d come in and be like, “Okay, we’re going to do this.” Guy was just introducing something the stunt team had found kinda by accident, a way of shooting something super super super slow. Next thing you know, he’s doing a rehearsal scene with our fight guys. Everything Jared Harris did in the course of making this movie was essentially thrown at him with very little time to prepare and also talked about a lot philosophically as opposed to actually getting ready to do it in a professional way. So it was shock and awe. I think what he brought back with him was something that was just so particularly him and the essence of him while still being this character. It honestly is the main reason that the movie works, but it was also an exercise in trial by fire. Guy told him to go home and he wanted him to come back singing a German aria the next day. Nobody learns a German aria overnight, except Jared Harris.
Gonzo: Have you ever had a guy friendship or bromance like Holmes and Watson?
RDJ: Yeah, well, Jude and I are pretty close but Guy and I are practically brothers which makes things really interesting. There have been times when I’ve wanted to lop off his head with a machete, but it’s just because I love you so much. You know what I mean?
Gonzo: Were there a lot more physical challenges? Did you have to train a lot more?
RDJ: As far as me being in shape, I think you and I should probably talk about that for a half an hour as it is my favorite topic.
Gonzo: What are the key things you keep in mind as you try to stay loyal to Sherlock Holmes, but also blow it up differently?
RDJ: Well, you just keep Doyle in mind because I just respect the guy more and more. I think the other thing is oftentimes what’s required, particularly if you’re in any central position is you just have to let go. You have to let go of the things that are darling to you. You have to take the focus off yourself and put it on the shape of the scene and the intention of what everyone else needs. You have to give people something to actually write music too so that you’re not just running your mouth all the time.
Gonzo: Having done two of these, do you feel a sense of ownership towards Sherlock Holmes? Do you have any interest in the other actors’ portrayals on film over the years?
RDJ: Yeah, I kinda like everybody. Whenever I watch someone doing something, even if it doesn’t turn out so great, I at least admire their intentions and stuff. I know that there’s some kind of quintessential performances that have happened out there. I’ve heard more about the series than I’ve seen but I’m intrigued by it. I think it’s important that we’re all part of the same collective of honoring this great writer and his stories.