The detective returns for a new three-part run, the series’ darkest most daring yet. TV Choice caught up with star Benedict Cumberbatch back in the summer, when he’d just finished filming on the Marvel movieDoctor Strange. He talks about the challenges he faced in picking up the role of Sherlock again… perhaps for the final time?
What are you allowed to tell us about the new series?
I’m allowed to tell you there are a huge number of pay-offs. There’s a lot that’s very exciting about it. It’s nice to be back, it’s nice to be doing it again, but it’s also better when you’re doing something you’re familiar with – or think you are – when you then have everything ripped from underneath you, and you feel like you’re starting the character again. It’s just more challenging, more fun, more interesting – selfishly. But also for an audience, it means you get to see stuff you wouldn’t necessarily expect to in the show. Each episode is standalone in tone, they each have a very, very different feel, but where I think in the past you could get away with watching a few in isolation, this time they’re like vines in the jungle of Sherlock – you have to keep swinging from one to the next to really understand them. The pay-offs are massive if you do.
You talk about pay-offs, is this a finale?
Erm. No comment.
Mark Gatiss [the show’s co-creator, who plays Mycroft] tweeted something about it coming to a climax.
Yeah, stuff happens. What can I say?
We notice you’ve got a bit of beard coming on…
Sherlock’s just lost his shaver.
How does he react to Mary and John having a baby?
Mmm. Mild indifference, I’d say. He’s not quite as in love with babies as I am.
Would they trust him to babysit?
You’ll have to wait and see.
At what point do you get given the scripts?
Very, very, very late. I mean it! I was finishing Doctor Strange in America going, ‘Please! I haven’t got time to learn this stuff. You’ve got to send it to me now’. Of course, I was also a little bit excited about what happens. It was amazing reading them. I get that kick, I guess, that the audience does when I have that virgin read.
How is it working with Toby Jones (who appears in the second episode)?
It’s ongoingly beautiful and brilliant. This is maybe the fourth or fifth time we’ve worked together. And he’s an old friend anyway. He’s just at the height of his powers. He’s phenomenal. Wait till you see what he does, it’s extraordinary.
It’s said the show’s going darker, but is it going to keep its trademark wit and lightness of touch?
In the most sort of precariously brilliant way. It’s just incredible how they can – and hopefully we pull it off in practice – switch tone. They still keep you hooked into stuff that seems really high stakes and really dark, and yet it can make you laugh out loud in the same scene.
Did you have to do anything to prepare for getting back into the role?
No!... Of course I do. Of course I do! I was not in Sherlock-shape. I was in Doctor Strange-shape. So I was quite big and chunky, in a healthy way. In a sort of athletic way. I have to say, it was a bit tricky. Because of the Victorian special [2016’s The Abominable Bride], I hadn’t quite realised what a long lag there had been since I’d played the modern character. There was only really the scene on the plane where he comes to that you saw him in his current day guise. So that’s always a nervous first few days. But, there are just so many rugs being pulled under our feet so fast as characters in this particular series that you don’t have much time to re-establish what you already know of him before you’re being challenged.
You’re talking about the pay-offs – do you always see them coming? Do you have to be reminded of things in the past?
No, no, no. It usually hits home. Although there’s one thing in the third episode that even I didn’t spot, which Mark [Gatiss] was very smart about.