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Sherlock Holmes - Guy Ritchie interview

Guy Ritchie directs Sherlock Holmes

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRITISH director Guy Ritchie talks about making the step up to blockbuster movies with Sherlock Holmes and the challenge of re-inventing such an iconic character as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective.

He also explains why re-shoots are a natural part of the filmmaking process for him as a director and why he decided to make sidekick Dr Watson more of an equal…

Q. Why did you choose this as first blockbuster?
Guy Ritchie: Mainly because I needed a job. Outside of that I wanted to go from a small independent film and this seemed to be the perfect segue way and do something that retained an English identity, but at the same time had American muscle and American pockets. It was the perfect segue way for me to have something that’s big and broad but essentially English with that American Muscle.

Q. Was this an artistic rather than a commercial decision to do this film? And will we lose you to Hollywood now?
Guy Ritchie: I don’t know is the answer to that. I make the films that I want to make… the interesting thing about this experience is that it wasn’t a clichéd experience between filmmaker and studio. I argued for the studio, I wanted to make an accessible, broad, what they call a four-quadrant movie. And what they wanted was Guy Ritchie-isms, so to speak, so I argued for the studio and the studio argued for me. It was like two people trying to get to the bar and the other one was trying to insist that they should pay. So, all the arguments between the studio and myself were always coming from a positive place. I think studios have changed, with their approach toward filmmakers. I certainly found with Warner Bros and Jeff Robinov that they really do seem to support a filmmaker’s vision. So, I had a tremendously positive experience from beginning to end, and I had no negative arguments. There was no “us and them” which I had anticipated and I’d heard was inevitable. That just didn’t happen.

Q. Is there any more pressure because of that muscle and those pockets?
Guy Ritchie: You’ll have to ask me that in a few days, once the film opens. But as yet it’s really the same, the same process is involved for a small film as a big film. That may all change in a few days.

Q. And why Sherlock Holmes in particular?
Guy Ritchie: Partly because I was invested in Sherlock Holmes as a child, so I really had a strong visual sense of who I thought Sherlock Holmes should be. Not only that, I hadn’t seen any other productions, unlike most people. I had no visual reference other than what I’d knocked up in my mind. Warners came to me with it as an idea, and as soon as they mentioned it I was fascinated.

Q. When was your first introduction to Sherlock Holmes?
Guy Ritchie: I was about six and they were the first stories I was familiar with and I knew them all extremely well from school.

Q. What were the most challenging aspects of trying to recreate Victorian London?
Guy Ritchie: That’s really a question for [production designer] Sarah Greenwood, I certainly had no complaints which I usually do. I mean I’m used to having a hammer and nail myself in all the films that I’ve done before, while I’ve knocked things up. It was a relief to come to work and have these great cities built. They managed to manifest something that felt so authentic to me, although we shot almost entirely on location it was inspiring to see what it was that the production department could manifest.

Q. When did you decide that Watson should be a very attractive character, like Sherlock Holmes?
Guy Ritchie: It’s [previously] been coined the Hotson versus Potson scenario. We really wanted a good looking Watson, and in the tabloids it got coined ‘Hotson’, and this was because I’d always seen their relationship as much more of an equal partnership, more like Butch and Sundance than I had seen it as this bumbling ‘Potson’. I thought that was fair to Conan Doyle, and [writer-producer] Lionel [Wigram] and I agreed on that. Lionel and I were always in agreement with exactly how we thought this partnership should be portrayed.

Q. Would you describe this as the most faithful screen adaptation of Conan Doyle’s Holmes’ stories, or is it a revisionist version?
Guy Ritchie: It’s subjective because obviously, it has to come through some sort of creative conduit. I was, as director, to some degree that conduit. From a very young age I had an idea, an image, of Sherlock Holmes as a partnership. So, I feel as though I’m informed by, and I drew most of my creative ammunition from Conan Doyle but it’s subjective. Every other production obviously had to deal with that which came before it.

Q. What makes Holmes so quintessentially English?
Guy Ritchie: I don’t know, in part it’s the period, he’s a caricature of that period I suppose. What Conan Doyle managed to create was a three dimensional character, he’s flawed which isn’t necessarily conspicuous in many of our contemporary heroes and the fact that he is rather selfish, rather arrogant and suffers from depression, I think there are things about Sherlock Holmes that make us interested in him as a character. But I don’t quite know why he’s so quintessentially English.

Q. Were there re-shoots on this and were you happy with the final result?
Guy Ritchie: On every film I’ve ever done I always leave a contingency of a week for re-shoots because you never know what’s going to surface during the editing process. So, we always leave a week, and we left a week on this one. Am I happy with the results? Yes, I’m happy with the results… it’s the film that we all intended to make. If you look on the DVD there are no deleted scenes either, which is rather disappointing for those that like deleted scenes. But there was absolutely no fat. Pretty much what we started with was what we ended up with.

Q. Do you think it was a risk leaving out Holmesian symbols, such as the term “elementary my dear Watson” or the deerstalker hat?
Guy Ritchie: The deerstalker and ‘elementary, my dead Watson,’ never happened [in the books] actually. The deerstalker is never referred to in the books, although we’re all aware of the obvious symbols of Sherlock Holmes. Lionel and I made a decision early on that if we were going to do this we’d have to dust off Sherlock Holmes and create what we thought to be, to some degree, an authentic Conan Doyle version of Sherlock Holmes that wasn’t contaminated with previous symbols, so we could have a fresh take on Sherlock Holmes.

Read our review of Sherlock Holmes

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