Producers Susan Downey and Lionel Wigram On Set Interview SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

     November 14, 2011

Producers Susan Downey and Lionel Wigram SHERLOCK HOLMES A GAME OF SHADOWS Interview slice

As the producers of the Sherlock Holmes movies, Susan Downey and Lionel Wigram (who helped write the first film) deserve a lot of credit for bringing Holmes into the 21st Century and making him appeal to a new generation of moviegoers.  If you’re a movie nerd, you know the challenges of trying to bring classic literary characters to life.  Especially ones that have been done many times before.

Anyway, earlier this year I got to visit the set of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows when the production was filming about forty-five minutes outside of London. While on set, I got to participate in a group interview with Downey and Wigram.  We talked about the new cast members (Stephen Fry, Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris) and why they wanted them, Moriarty’s plan, where and when the sequel takes place, if there were any discussions about 3D, their thoughts on a 3rd Sherlock Holmes, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for more.

Before going any further, if you missed the recent trailer, I’d watch that first.

robert-downey-jr-sherlock-holmes-a-game-of-shadows-movie-posterHere’s a few of the highlights from the interview:

  • The story starts about six months after the events of the first film.
  • The film takes place on the continent this time, as they leave England. The film takes place in Paris, Germany, and the Swiss Alps.
  • People who know the short stories and novels will be able to spot homages to the source material, but they don’t follow the stories exactly.
  • 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.
  • You don’t have to have seen the first film to understand Game of Shadows.
  • They talked about a lot of different names for Moriarty, and ultimately wanted someone who would stand out as the character and not necessarily the actor.
  • The voice of Moriarty in the first film was just one of the crew guys.
  • In the spirit of improvising, the core collaborative team of Robert, Jude, Ritchie, and the producers gathers together every morning to work on the scene for the day. Even if it’s a good scene that they’re happy with, they’re always trying to think of ways to make it better.
  • Stephen Fry was the only choice for Mycroft.
  • Noomi Rapace’s character wasn’t fully fleshed out when she was cast, so the actress brought a lot to building the character.
  • The 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.
  • 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.
  • Hans Zimmer is back as composer.

Here’s the full on set interview.  You can also click here to listen to the audio.

Question: Does this start immediately after the first film?

Susan Downey: Not like the next day but pretty much. What did we say? About six months or so. It’s non-specific. It’s a bit of time.

Because the first movie ends and he’s on the Moriarty case.

Downey: Yeah and he stays on it. It picks up in the sense that we sort of account for the passage of time in between what’s happening after the first one ended and when this one begins, but things that we left — like him on the scent of Moriarty and Watson with Mary — those things have progressed a little bit. We sort of pick things up and take it from there.

It sounds like there are a lot of secrets about this one. What can you tell us about the plot?

Lionel Wigram: We can’t reveal anything.

Downey: (Laughs) You will get stock answers.

Wigram: Well you know, obviously, that it’s the continuing story of Holmes and Moriarty. It takes place on the continent. We leave England.

Lionel WigramIs it based on any of the books?

Wigram: No.

Downey: No, like always, we take influence from the canon. So people who know the short stories and the novels well are going to find things that we kind of pay homage to. Obviously, Moriarty is in “The Final Problem”. We don’t follow that story exactly, but there are bits from it that we take so we are true to the characters. But, like the first movie, it is its own story. We do pick up Holmes and Watson and Watson is intending to get married to Mary and, as you might assume, obviously Holmes gets in the way, not necessarily intentionally. Then there’s sort of a question of how that’s going to be resolved. He has been obsessed since the first movie with the scent of Moriarty and believing that he’s on to something much bigger. This movie is essentially following him, figuring that out. But there are smaller mysteries along the way that are adding up to a bigger thing that’s happening. Then, obviously, new to this one is Stephen Fry, who plays Mycroft and Noomi Rapace who place this fantastic gypsy girl who finds her way into one of these mysteries and winds up kind of along for the ride. That gives you a little bit more, but that’s about it.

The two movies stand alone, right? You don’t have to see the first one to understand the second one?

Downey: No, you don’t have to see the first one to understand the second one.

Sherlock-Holmes-2-A-Game-of-Shadows-Jared-HarrisHow did you go about casting Moriarty? There were a lot of rumors online as to who he would be.

Downey: It’s a tough one. We did talk about a lot of different names. Ultimately, what we decided we wanted to do was to have whoever we cast stand out as the character and not necessarily as the actor. So we decided to go with a really great British actor and that was who we ended up landing on. There were a lot of rumors and names of people that we didn’t actually ever talk to tossed about and speculated online. There was speculation in the room. But Jared was really the only guy that we actually went after and that was when we decided to let whoever this is, be it a fantastic character actor, really become Moriarty. So that’s what we’re paying attention to. We already have Jude and Robert and, I think, in the first movie, they were able to become those characters. So we didn’t want that to get in the way. Jared is so fantastic and we had been fans of his work, more recently from Mad Men but he has quite a body of work. We met with him and he really balances that kind of professorial thing with something very sinister underneath.

Wigram: He really was the person that we thought was the most authentic Moriarty in the end of the various people we talked to.

sherlock-holmes-2-character-poster-banner-jared-harrisThere are pretty persistent rumors about who provided the voice of Moriarty at the end of the first film.  Can you say who that was?

Downey: It’s not a big mystery. It was one of the crew guys. That was it. There’s no great mystery to that. We decided that we wanted more of a texture of voice than to worry about it being a person and therefore having to figure out, “Okay is that?”—at that point, we didn’t even know if we were gonna be able to do a second movie. We hoped and we had ideas on what we wanted to explore, but it was really up to the audience as to whether they were going to go and see it in a big enough way that Warners was going to let us go and do another one. So it’s quite presumptuous for us to bring someone on just for that, but we loved watching the rumors fly.

Did you have a favorite Moriarty rumor?

Downey: There were just names. I don’t know if there’s a favorite—

Wigram: There’s no such thing as a favorite rumor. (Laughs)

Downey: Robert was trying to start one that he was going to be Moriarty, also. But that never caught on.

Is the title Sherlock Holmes 2 something that you’re going to stick with?

Downey: No, no. We’re definitely going to announce a proper title.

In the first film, Robert did a lot of improv, coming up with lines on the day. Are you encouraging that for this one as well or is it going to be more structured?

Wigram: Absolutely. Our process is very much that. There’s sort of core colloborative team of Robert, Jude and us and every morning we work on the scene. Even if we have a very good scene that we’re happy with, we’re always thinking about way to make it better and to improve it. There’s always something about being there on the location that’s inspiring and there’s great stuff that comes in the moment. We love that process and it works very well for us.

sherlock-holmes-2-ritchie-downey-law-set-photo-01Downey: Just to clarify, though, we have a solid structure to the movie and we know what the scenes are. It’s just a matter of finding ways to improve them. Like Lionel says, sometimes showing up onset and it’s the first time you’ve been there and the first time a lot of the guys have been there. You sometimes discover something. Or maybe the scene played out a different way and you realize, “Hey, we could actually pay off something that we set up before that you haven’t thought of already.” But we’re not just showing up on the day and saying, “Wait, what are we doing?” and trying to, in the moment, figure stuff out. It’s more about trying to improve it. Definitely Robert always thinks you can make a scene better and Guy really comes to life on a set when he can actually work within the environment and get out there on the floor with the actors when they’re doing rehearsals and blocking. And Jude is so game to be a part of that. It’s kind of like the perfect group to come together and work in that way, and we sort of wait in the wings to make sure that we’re not missing any story points. We’re taking all the boxes that we’re going to need to fill in the scenes.

Can you talk about the addition of Stephen Fry and Noomi Rapace?

sherlock-holmes-2-character-poster-banner-noomi-rapaceDowney: I think Stephen was the only–it was like Mycroft – Stephen Fry. And, fortunately, he wanted to do it. He was just so perfect. The description of Mycroft being his brother who is potentially even smarter than he is but far lazier. It was just perfect, and again fortunately Steve wanted to do it. Noomi was interesting. I kind of heard Lionel say it nicely the other day.

Wigram: I can’t remember what I said. But we wanted an interesting, fresh face. We wanted a strong European actress. She was so amazing in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Guy and I and Susan met with her in America and she had such a great intelligence to her. Her whole approach was just very inspiring and exciting. She’s turned out to be an amazing part of the team and has held her own with the boys in an amazing way.

Downey: Her character was not fully fleshed out when we brought her onboard. She was already a gypsy and we knew the way, from a pure plot standpoint, that she was going to weave in and out of their story, but her actual persona was something that once we got Noomi, we decided to build towards her strengths. She really helped ultimately develop the character to the place where you’re going to see her.

Was there ever any discussion about shooting this in 3D?

Downey: Of course.

Were certain people fighting for it and against it?

Downey: No, it was an exploration, really. I think that you can’t do a movie of this kind of nature and scale and not ask that question. At least for that time period when we were, I don’t know if things are starting to shift again, but during the time that were being given the greenlight on this we, of course, asked the question. But 3D comes with certain things, it comes with certain restrictions on the day and it comes with ways you need to shoot things. I just ended up not being the right fit. It depends on how you do it. There’s all the different natures of whether you shoot it as 3D or if you do a conversion, or if you do a half and half type of thing. Obviously, we had the whole conversation of all the pros and cons of doing that and what the ultimate result would be. It just didn’t end up, both practically speaking from a production standpoint for the kind of story that this is, it just didn’t fit enough to do it.

sherlock-holmes-2-movie-image-jude-law-noomi-rapace-robert-downey-jr-01Wigram: Somehow it didn’t feel creatively right. We weren’t going, “We’ve got to do this! It’s got to be 3D!”

Maybe Sherlock Holmes 3…D

Downey: (laughs) Maybe. But it was very much both a production, practical thing and a creative thing and it just didn’t beg for it, but yeah you gotta have the conversation.

This is a sequel that has moved forward quite quickly. How much are you possibly laying Easter eggs for a potential third chapter in the franchise?

Downey: Probably not nearly enough.

Wigram: I always had an idea, when we started this, of more or less where the first three movies should take place and what I wanted to see. A general direction for them. We’ve sort of followed that on the second one, although it was just a tiny concept and, collectively, we’ve come up with a much stronger story for it. So yeah, we do have an idea of where we want it to go. We’ve discussed ideas for the third one with Susan and Robert and Guy and we all sort of agree that we like the idea. If we’re lucky enough to make a third, we’ll probably go there. But beyond that, no we don’t have very specific plans.

Downey: There’s things we still would want to explore if we get to do a third one, but the thing that—if we’re laying down any foundation—it continues to build upon the characters. That’s what’s going to be able to let us do another one. Not necessarily clever plot things. Fortunately Conan Doyle left a ton of material to continue to mine and a lot of the previous incarnations all did multiple stories. They did a bunch and, if we can, that’s great. But if we don’t continue to focus on making sure that Holmes and Watson and whatever other characters we introduce are really good, then I don’t think we’re going to get past that.

sherlock-holmes-2-harris-ritchie-downey-set-photo-01Wigram: And there are things in the books that would be very exciting to explore in a third movie so, if we have the opportunity we’d like to do it.

What can you tell us about the score for the second film?

Downey: Well, Hans [Zimmer] is back. There will definitely be some carryover. There is, as we mentioned Noomi’s character’s a gypsy, so we’re going to be playing with that. I don’t even think it was that intentional, but music is a huge component in this movie, much moreso than the first one. There are a number of sequences that specifically involve music and I think it’s going to give Hans a ton to play with. Hopefully the rest of the movie will have the elements you liked about the first one, but taken to another level, and hopefully that will happen with the music as well.

Is there something of a European tour to this one? Can you talk about some of the places that the characters visit?

Downey: Well we definitely go, as we said, on the continent.

Wigram: Yeah, we can say. We go to Paris. As you know, today’s scene takes place in Paris. We go to Germany, sort of industrial Germany. And we go to the Alps.

The SWISS Alps?

Wigram: (laughs) Yes.

sherlock-holmes-2-movie-image-03How involved are you guys, as producers, in the putting together of the trailer? Can you talk about the balancing act between promoting your movie and not giving away too much?

Downey: It is a balancing act. I always think we give too much away in the trailers. I do, and everyone’s like “Oh it’s out of context, people won’t get it.” But I put stuff together all the time. I’m watching a movie and I’m like, “I know I saw this one shot in the trailer” so I’m waiting for that. So I agree, it is a balancing act. Because you want to put out the things that people are hopefully going to be wowed by and want to come and see, so there’s a bit you have to divulge. But to be honest, I mean just speaking for myself, it’s a balancing act; they do a ton of testing at the studio with trailers and that kind of thing. We work with great people and great trailer houses and the folks at Warners do a fantastic job, but I know what you’re saying. It’s like, “Why aren’t you telling me more? You’re going to show it to me in a few months anyway”. I get it. But I guess, for us, you try and preserve that stuff and, as you get closer and closer, you kind of have to let more and more go.

Wigram: To be honest we’re desperate to tell you, and we could spend an hour talking about it (laughs). But we can’t. That’s the truth. We’re very excited and we’d love to tell you all about it, but at this point we’ve gotta keep it a secret.

Do you guys have involvement and do you eventually say “Okay this trailer’s OK to go?”

Downey: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. The whole part of it. We’re not the end voice in it because you have other creative people involved in it at the studio, and you have Guy [Ritchie] who’s gonna have an opinion about it, and you know we’re a great creative unit so Robert sees stuff, and we have a couple other producers that are involved. So it ends up being this collective group of people and we have a say on the trailers and the one sheet and the posters, and all that. You definitely are involved in every step of that process. There are sometimes certain sequences that we’d love to get out there and other things that we’ll see that we want to hold back.

robert-downey-jr-jude-law-sherlock-holmes-a-game-of-shadows-image-3Was there any particular element from the first film that you weren’t completely satisfied with that you want to improve upon or top in this one?

Wigram: Well, you always think you can do better. No question about that. In a way, you want to try and do every aspect better. We’ve certainly tried to improve on the things we loved about the first movie and make them even better. But sure, you always try to make it better, absolutely.

Is it funnier than the first film or more action-packed?

Wigram: Both. It’s both. I think it’s much funnier. I think it’s much more emotional and I think it’s definitely more action-packed. It’s got a better bad guy plot. It’s got bigger scope. We feel, at this point without wanting to jinx ourselves, that we’ve made a better movie than the last one. We’ve certainly tried very hard to. And we try every day.

Will Irene Adler make an appearance in this one?

Downey: (Laughs) Maybe…

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens December 16th.

Here’s more from our Sherlock Holmes set visit:

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