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Sherlock Holmes - Robert Downey Jr interview (2)

Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ROBERT Downey Jr talks about re-inventing the iconic detective Sherlock Holmes, his passion for filming in Britain and the joy of getting to work with his wife, producer Susan Downey.

He also discusses the “7 percent solution”, bare-knuckle boxing and just how faithful Guy Ritchie’s version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective is.

Q. Were you ever scared about taking on such an iconic British role?
Robert Downey Jr: Scared? I don’t get scared any more, I just get busy. I already knew by the time Guy was directing this that it was a fresh interpretation. I’ve worked with [producer] Joel Silver a bunch, I’ve lived with Susan Downey a bunch and [producer] Lionel Wigram is basically the person who figured out who to reprise this as a film, so I knew I was in good hands. Then it was just a matter of getting down to business. Fortunately, I’d spent some time here in the late ’80s playing Chaplin and I had a great tutelage in all things British from Lord Attenborough so I felt like I had passed go. I definitely felt the onus of, it’s not the fear of judgement of others, it’s just at a certain point it just comes down to will you meet the standards that people are expecting of you and you expect of them?

Q. How easy was it creating your on-screen chemistry with Jude’s Watson?
Robert Downey Jr: It’s one thing to promise you can get there and it’s another thing to just roll up your sleeves and get into it. Guy created such a sublime atmosphere on set that really there was no… we weren’t sure that it was going to turn out as well as it did but we really efforted and efforted. It’s so funny to me because usually [people] say you and so and so, who’s female, have this great chemistry, but this time they’re talking about Jude and I like we should be doing romantic comedies together or something [laughs]. But this film is not a comedy, it’s a love affairs of sorts. I think that Holmes and Watson are aspects of all of us and I think that we knew when to yin and yang back and forth and we were just a good team.

Q. When was your first introduction to Sherlock Holmes?
Robert Downey Jr: I saw The Hound of the Baskervilles, and had read a couple of the short stories but when this was percolating I’m a very good student so I kind of locked myself away one weekend and read everything.

Q. Would you describe this as the most faithful screen adaptation of Conan Doyle’s Holmes’ stories, or is it a revisionist version?
Robert Downey Jr: There’s an esoteric element to this as well in that sometimes you just feel like you’re in the right groove and you feel the history and the legacy of something. I’m sure [Jude Law] could say this about Shakespeare having just done Hamlet, but sometimes you just feel like you are being silently approved of from some other place and time. There were times when we were so locked in exactly as Conan Doyle expressed it, and you can’t beat the guy’s words, so we had one of his quotes of a call sheet every day.

But we had to twist it up a little bit. I think it’s no mystery that Sherlock Holmes didn’t invent the silencer. If he invented it he certainly did a crap job because it doesn’t work. But the fact that he’s shooting the letters VR into the wall is right out of one of the books, something to do with the jubilee or something. It was a strange way to celebrate… but it spoke to how strange the guy was. It was just an interesting way to get the job done – we were honouring it but still being entertaining.

Q. This movie has none of the “7 percent solution” – was that at your insistence, not wanting to glamorised cocaine use?
Robert Downey Jr: I loved the “seven per cent solution”. There was never a high enough percentage for me. That’s a weak tepid solution. But this is a PG-13 movie [in the US]… but even if it wasn’t, the idea is that if you go back to the source material, he’s never described as being some strung out weirdo. And also back in Victorian times, it was legal and you could go into pharmacists and grab all that stuff, so we thought it would be irresponsible to not make reference to it. But again, I think a lot of the flaming hoops we had to jump through doing Sherlock were: “How do you take what comes from the source material? How do you amend it so that it’s accessible? And how do you not whitewash it, but still be respectful?” If there’s anything we’ve added this time around, as much as it’s about this very far-reaching case when Holmes and Watson save life on this Earth as we know it, it’s also a fight over Kelly Reilly’s Mary Morstan.

Q. Can you tell us how you prepared for the bare-knuckle boxing scene?
Robert Downey Jr: There was a choreographed version of it. I went in and got all pissy about it, Guy came in, we worked on it. So I think you were probably seeing version 6.0 by the time we shot it. But it was so fun, and by the way by the time we were done shooting that scene I felt like we really had a handle on the movie. Not because they finally top lit me and showed my rippling abs and all that self-important garbage, but because this was Guy’s idea – Holmes-a-Vision – and it was a really bold thing. It could have gone very poorly, in which case the rest of the movie is trying to recover from the bad Guy Ritchie idea that we went out and shot. But it was literally perfect, and I think it set the tone. It was his take on the film, and it was about me trusting him and us kind of getting each other’s approval, so to speak.

Q. Why do you like filming in Britain so much?
Robert Downey Jr: I think there’s just something about the work ethic here, about the people and the culture. Obviously, as Americans, there’s sometimes a bit of an abrupt attitude that we have, like: “Alright, we’re here, let’s get down to the work – f**k what you’re going through! We’ll eat later!” We were very shortly put in check that there’s a more civilised way to operate, that it’s nice to put out a little cheese, let’s talk, let’s be grown ups about this. And by the way, we’re not vulgar or anything, it’s just very much part of the furniture here and for me anyway it was just a huge experience in the proper way to do things. I’ve taken it forth ever since.

Q. How was it working together again with your wife Susan, who serves as one of the film’s producers?
Robert Downey Jr: It’s intolerable [laughs]! She’s fantastic, I mean there was a lot of den mothering going on during this process. Sometimes us ‘fellas would be having just a little too much fun, and you’d see her and [writer-producer- Lionel [Wigram] scratching their heads thinking we just had to get something shot. Or there’d be some huge stunt just about to go down, or maybe something didn’t go so well, and Guy would be playing his guitar, and I’m sure we’d all be thinking: “Look at Nero over there, fiddling while Rome burns..” And she’d say: “Don’t say that, it’s not funny, we’ve got to get this down and do something.”

Read our review of Sherlock Holmes

Read our interview with producer Lionel Wigram