Producer Sue Vertue Talks SHERLOCK, Her Reaction to Hearing Season 3’s Story Ideas, Fan Reactions, Casting Decisions, Shooting on Location and More

     February 4, 2014


With Sherlock (which airs on Masterpiece on PBS), the contemporary reinvention of the Arthur Conan Doyle classics, written and created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) face enemies, solve crimes and try to figure out how to navigate their own friendship.  After Sherlock barely survived Moriarty (Andrew Scott) in Season 2, Watson had to survive not only marriage to Mary (Amanda Abbington), but what her secrets would mean for their future.  And even though fans might have to wait another couple of years to see where things are going next, I know that I sure can’t wait to learn what twists and turns will be in store.

During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, producer Sue Vertue talked about at what stage her husband, Steven Moffat, pitches ideas to her, what her reaction was to the ideas for Season 3, the fan reaction about Sherlock having a girlfriend, at what point she knew how Sherlock escaped death, casting Lars Mikkelsen, how her son came to be playing young Sherlock, just how tricky it is to shoot on location, at this point, and why this series works best as 90-minute episodes.  Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers

sherlock his last vow martin freeman benedict cumberbatchCollider:  Is your husband (Steven Moffat) the kind of writer who likes to bounce things off of you while he’s working?

SUE VERTUE:  On Sherlock, it’s quite specific.  Steven and Mark [Gatiss] meet quite a lot and talk through the next [season].  Well, they say two [seasons] now.  And then, when they’re ready to pitch it, they’ll pitch it to me.  I don’t read as many of the Sherlock Holmes stories as they do, and they know them inside out.  I don’t know them that well, at all.  I read the bits that I need to read.  But, the pitch has to work for me, as a viewer, and not as a Sherlock Holmes fan.  When he’s actually writing, he’ll chuck me some pages.  He’ll say, “I’ll send you 20 pages, by the end of the day.” 

Is it nice to have an idea of where things will be going?

VERTUE:  Yeah.  With certain things, they’ll talk to me and I’ll go, “Oh, I don’t think you can do that.”  But, it’s quite an open discussion, really.  

When you were presented with the idea for Season 3, what was your reaction?  What did you think of it?

VERTUE:  We all knew that we had to be careful with Mary Morstan and bring her in the right way, so that she didn’t become the woman in the middle.  I think they did that brilliantly.  She’s gone down incredibly well, but she’s a good addition.  She doesn’t get in the way of their fun.  You see that with the wedding, when she’s getting them both out.  We’ve looked back on shows where you see the annoying girlfriend, and we didn’t want to have that.  There was a sense of nervousness, but I think it goes, as soon as you see her.  That was the main thing.  And Sherlock likes her, and she likes him. 

What did you think about the fan reaction to Sherlock having a girlfriend? 

VERTUE:  It was interesting, when that was happening.  When the episodes aired in the UK, we were actually in Switzerland, so we had to follow it by Twitter feed.  It was hysterical to watch the Twitter feed and see people were getting more and more and more angry, and saying, “This is ridiculous!”  And then, people were going, “Apologies for my earlier tweet.”  It happened again with the Episode 3.  People were saying, “What?!  He’s got a girlfriend?  How dare he have a girlfriend?!”  And then, he dumped her and they were like, “Oh, thank god for that!”  And we’d go, “He just dumped her,” and they were like, “Yeah, that’s a relief!”  But, they’re mates, really.

sherlock his last vow benedict cumberbatchDid you know, at the time of the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes, how they would get themselves out of that? 

VERTUE:  Yeah, we did.  They knew what they were going to do.  It was going to be a double-stage fall, where you go half-way down, and then another body comes the other half of the way down.  That’s what the original plan was.  And then, when the director was shooting the third episode of the last [season], he said, “Because of this ambulance building, you don’t need that middle thing.  You can’t see it.”  And you actually couldn’t see it, at all.  So, that all absolutely worked with the blue crash mat.  It was the right size for that size of a building.  It worked out. 

How did you come to cast Lars Mikkelsen as Magnussen?

VERTUE:  Isn’t he great?  You know, he’s Hannibal’s brother, don’t you?  We’d seen him in the original Danish version of The Killing.  We were thinking of probably getting an American, originally, and then his name was suggested.  He just happened to be in London on a film, so I went to meet him, partly because I had never heard him speak English.  I had only ever heard him speak Danish, so I wondered how good his English was.  Actually, it was so good that I had to say, “Could you do a slightly more Scandinavian version?”  But, I think he’s fabulous.  He has cold eyes, but he’s a really nice person.  With the pace of Sherlock, you’ve just got this very cool, still person.  And Sherlock hates him.  He was just stunning.  It was exciting, bringing that angle in. 

How did your son come to play young Sherlock?

VERTUE:  Bless him, he didn’t tell anybody.  He wants to be an actor, and he keeps seeing parts that he’s not allowed to go up for, like Doctor Who.  He said, “Can I just go up for it?”  We said, “Yes, but you probably won’t get it.  We won’t be in the casting.”  So, he went in for the casting session.  The director saw various other children.  I told him that he had the wrong colored eyes, but he said, “Mom, anyone else would be supportive.  You’re not being very supportive.”  We said to the director, “Do not cast him, just because he’s our son.”  But, I thought he did brilliantly.  And he wore colored contact lenses. 

sherlock his last vow benedict cumberbatch martin freemanHow tricky is it to shoot out on location, at this point?  Do you have to be even more secretive and try to throw off fans a bit?

VERTUE:  If we’re outside, there’s only so much secretive stuff that you can get away with.  Wherever we are, people will turn up there.  You have those signs when you’re filming and I changed those, calling it something else, and they still turned up.  So, we assure they’re going to be there now.  We thought, “That would be nice, if we didn’t show her wedding dress,” but then we thought, “No, we might as well show her wedding dress.”  “The Fall” was slightly more fun because there were the different versions, anyway.  Also, we chucked in a few of our own.  We had a great one where he had Moriarty in Sherlock’s coat, talking to Mycroft.  People were like, “Why are they doing that?  What’s he got on?”  “The Fall” was hysterical because they couldn’t work it out, at all.  I saw one newspaper say, “The stunts are so dangerous, they’ve had to use a dummy.”  But in London, we just allow for it now.  We have barriers and more security people, and they’re brilliant.  When you look at the Twitter feed, you know they’re all turning up because they’re flying in or on a train.  And then, they seem to have a great day out.  We had near a thousand at Baker Street, and they’re very respectful. 

Was this series always envisioned as three 90-minute episodes, or did you ever consider doing more episodes at 60 minutes?

VERTUE: Very originally, they were going to be 60 minutes.  The pilot was 60 minutes.  But the BBC said, “You ought to make them 90 minutes, and then we can make them more like event TV.”  So then, we shot it again and made the pilot 90 minutes.  Since then, it’s always been 90 minutes.  You might not always have three, possibly, but they’ll stay that length.  It’s a good length, I think.  If they’re 60 minutes, people feel like they can miss one or two.  If they’re 90 minutes, people put the hours in.

For more on the future of Sherlock, here’s our exclusive interview with Moffat and producer Sue Vertue.  They talk about plans for season 4, 5 and more.



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