Original post: SuperHeroHype
Guy Ritchie shoots like he's running a triathlon.
He and his crew jump from set-up to set-up with a fierce determinacy
that has them in small made-up hotel restaurant one minute and, just
hours later, directing a hundred outdoor extras (all in period costumes
and some riding in horsedrawn carriages) on how to react to a tremendous
explosion that will be added in post-production.
Welcome to the UK set of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
(which, when we visited the this past January, was still without an
announced title), Ritchie's follow-up to his 2009 hit, reuniting Robert
Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes and the
famous detective's faithful assistant, Dr. Watson. This time around,
they're joined by Noomi Rapace as a gypsy, Simza, and Jared Harris as
literature's definitive criminal genius, Dr. Moriarty.
Again pulling in elements of various classic Doyle stories (including
significant elements of one of the most popular, "The Final Problem"),
"Game of Shadows" sets out to prove that you really can go "Holmes"
"We enjoyed the last one so much it would seem churlish not to return
and do another one," Ritchie says as the set is prepared for a chilly
outdoor shot, "...[We're] trying to make a better film than we did last
time. I'd like to be more eloquent than that, but that's essentially our
goal. We found the identity of the relationship in the last one and
we'd like to big that up, so to speak. We'd like to try to improve the
action a bit, and their relationship a bit, and the significance of the
A two-hour drive from London, the expansive Waddeson Manor country
house is serving as seven different locations for the film. Built in
1874 and currently owned by England's National Trust, the Manor offers a
neo-Renaissance style that lends itself to the day's location: the
Parisian Hotel de Triomphe where Holmes and Watson find themselves on
the trail of the villainous Moriarty.
Because of the antiquity of the building (which is also home to a vast
collection of art and centuries-old bottles of wine), visitors are
forbidden from even bringing pens inside certain rooms and the film crew
has gone through the laborious process of setting up special lighting
designed so as not to damage the location's priceless hanging
Set up as a hotel breakfast, the scene's center stage feature Harris,
as his meal is interrupted by another man, delivering to Moriarty news
that appears to be of some urgency. The men leave together and we learn
that their conversation was being overheard by a seemingly older man
with round glasses and an enormous grey beard who, up until they leave
the room, pretends to simply be enjoying his tea and morning paper. When
Moriarty is out of range, however, he leaps into action and out the
front door, tugging at his facial hair, he reveals himself as Holmes in
disguise. He tosses the beard to a passing waiter and is out the door,
following his nemesis to thwart whatever evil he has planned.
Holmes' interest in Moriarty spins directly from the end of the first
film, which (though Moriarty remained unseen) revealed that mastermind
had been pulling the strings the entire time. "Game of Shadows" picks up
shortly after that.
"Not a lot of time has elapsed," explains Law. "I am nearly married.
I'm a couple of days away from getting married. I've moved out and I'm
getting very comfortable with Mary."
Not surprisingly, that relationship doesn't exactly move forward
smoothly, though this time it's not going to be Watson's gambling that
has Mary upset.
"That's the least of her problems," Downey coyly smiles.
Susan Downey, producer and wife of the star, points out that Holmes
himself will take a fair share of the blame regarding his friends'
"[Holmes] has been obsessed since the first movie with the scent of
Moriarty and believing that he's on to something much bigger," she
continues, "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."
Introduced in voice only at the end of the first film, Moriarty's
casting was for some time the subject of much speculation. Online rumors
had, even before the release of the 2009 film, suggested various
talents that had secretly done the voice.
"It was one of the crew guys," Mrs. Downey explains, "That was it.
There's no great mystery to that. We decided that we wanted more a
texture of voice than to worry about it being a person and having to
worry about whether or not we were even going to be able to do a second
movie... but we loved watching the rumors fly... Robert was even trying
to start one that he was going to be Moriarty, also. But that never
Harris, best known for his work on "Mad Men," was a surprise choice for
the role, but both Susan Downey and producer Lionel Wigram felt that a
bigger name might ruin the part's mystique.
"Given how little he appears in the books, he's such a famous
character," says Harris of the role. "He's such a famous villain and he
really was the very first literary super-villain. From there,
super-villains have become this thing where they are so pastiched that
you want to do something that honors that title without it being you
stroking a cat."
First appearing in the 1893 story "The Final Problem," Moriarty also
plays a significant role in "The Valley of Fear," published two decades
later, but taking place prior to that adventure. From those two main
stories, Moriarty's back history had to be reverse-engineered.
"We batted around a lot of different ideas about who this guy was and
where he came from," says Harris, "One of the things that we found is
[not to] make very obvious choices, like he being Irish. 'Moriarty is an
Irish name, so he's Irish. So he's secretly motivated by a desire to
destroy the British empire because he's --' All of those things end up
becoming boring because you've seen them all before and because as soon
as you know what someone wants or what someone is trying to do, they
lose their power."
"[Jared] asked all of the right questions that really put us to task,
too," says Robert Downey Jr. "He's built a sort of reputation for
himself and it would be a shame to expose him to a vast audience in not
the best possible light. So he really put it to us about how 'Hey, let's
not make this mistake. I think we can be better than this.' We were
like, 'Absolutely. That is how we feel.' He basically lead the charge in
this particular incarnation of Moriarty. It's even better than what we
hoped it would've been."
Though he remains mum on any specific details, Harris says that his
Moriarty will drive the plot forward in a manner that should have
audiences guessing right up until the end.
"The whole story is a plan or plot that he has set in motion quite a
long time before the story starts," Harris explains, "There's a
tremendous sense of motion to the story and Sherlock Holmes is arriving
in the end stages of this plan and he's catching up to it to thwart it."
Harris, like the entire cast, embraced the production's encouragement
for improvisation, though had to walk a fine line in making Moriarty
neither funny nor over-the-top evil.
"One of the things that I was interested in about Moriarty was how he's
so manipulative that he doesn't need to commit violence himself or kill
people," Harris continues. "He can get everyone to do what he needs to
do and sometimes they don't even know that they are being manipulated by
him. They aren't even aware that they are caught in a stratagem that he
has... That's quite chilling, to have someone that understands people
that well. He can have a letter arrive on the wrong day and it's going
to be enough that it will set somebody off or whatever it is."
As mysterious as Moriarty is, however, Rapace's Simza may have him
beat. She's shrouded in secrecy and doesn't seem to appear in any of
Doyle's original writings. On set, Rapace wasn't even willing to give up
her character's name, simply saying that she's a Romani gypsy who first
meets Holmes in London and again later in France.
"It's kind of being the new girl in the class or something," she says
of playing the part, "But you can feel that the whole team has something
really good, so it's like stepping into something where somebody else
has done the hard work so you can just fly."
Joking that Ritchie loves gypsies (he previously featured Brad Pitt as one in 2000's Snatch), Rapace did her fair share of preparation for the part.
"Her character was not fully fleshed out when we brought her on board,"
says Susan Downey, "She was already a gypsy and we knew the way, from a
pure plot standpoint, how she was going to weave in and out of their
story, but once we got Noomi, we decided to build towards her strengths.
She really helped develop the character to the point where, ultimately,
you're going to see her."
"I've done a lot of research on gypsies and their culture," Rapace
adds, "So, for example, I've added in that I actually talk some Romani,
their language. So we've added in some lines based on how they actually
talk. They will probably need to do subtitles in some scenes. I'm
learning to do some dances and stuff like that."
However it is that Simza comes to be traveling in the company of Holmes
and Watson, she's featured in the day's big outdoor shoot. The trio is
seen walking through the streets of Paris when an explosion rings out
from within the Hotel de Triomphe. While the crowd runs in the opposite
direction, the three leads run towards the disaster, shocked at what has
just taken place. Simza, it seems, is no stranger to action.
"I think it's really important to find a way to do things as
realistically and credible as possible," Rapace explains, "She's not a
fighter. She's a street fighter, so she can use a fork or a knife or she
can bite somebody or throw a stone. I think she's a survivor and she's
used to being one. I think most gypsies all over the world are used to
being not very welcome and always on the run, expecting people to not
like them and being critical. I think she is used to taking care of
herself and fighting back. We have many explosive situations."
Rapace also adds that the phrase she's most commonly hearing about Simza is that she fits in as "one of the guys."
"Is that bad?" she laughs. "I think she's quite tough. She's a strong woman."
Though unfortunately not on set that day, Stephen Fry is also set to
make an appearance in "Game of Shadows" and it's one that should have
Doyle fans very pleased. He plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older
"Stephen was the only choice," says Susan Downey. "It was 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 smart than he is but far lazier."
"His character is arguably the most enigmatic of all the characters in
the lexicon, and so what better person?" adds Robert Downey Jr. "It's so
funny, too, that he's literally just hitting this super stride. Just as
we are got here, we went to go see him at Albert Hall and then he is at
a rehearsal with us just basically thinking and phrasing circles around
us. We were just kind of left wondering what happened when he left. He
had to go because he has some other hip thing that he has to do."
Fry lent his talent to a film adaptation of British literature last year with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland as the voice of the Cheshire Cat and is set to do so again next year as the master of Laketown in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. A Doyle fan for life, Fry was, as a boy, the youngest-ever member of the long-running "Sherlock Holmes Society."
As for what Doyle's own thoughts might be on their adaptation, the stars have a few ideas.
"Well, I'm sure he might have had a complaint or two," Robert Downey
Jr. admits. "I can't speak for the strength of transcripts of stage
productions, but we've definitely put the most of his words in our
mouths. If anything, he might be happy that we brought Watson back to
how he was originally described. There is something about it. Last time
around, there was, for some reason or other, that wave of bromance in
the air. I think this time we are attempting to transcend that a little
bit by making these two guys go up against something that is bigger than
both of them."
"I think when you've got source material, whether it's a play or a
book, a great writer often appreciates being adapted and developed,"
adds Law, "It's like when you go see a production of a great play and
they are always different. There is always room for interpretation, and
this is our interpretation. I don't think we drifted as far away from
the source material as people expected, but I equally think that we were
original enough to keep it fresh and our own. So I think he would have
been very appreciative."
Fans of the original books should find it somewhat ominous that
scheduling included a scene shot in the Swiss Alps, but the hope is not
to end the franchise with "Game of Shadows" and, if all goes according
to plan, finish out a trilogy of Sherlock Holmes films.
"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," says
Wigram, "A general direction for them. We've sort of followed that on
the second one, though it was just a tiny concept and, collectively,
we've come up with a much stronger story for it... If we're lucky enough
to make a third, we'll probably go there. But beyond that, we don't
have very specific plans."
Robert Downey Jr., meanwhile, admits that the reception from the first
film was overwhelming and he can only help that the sequel's response
will follow suite.
"Half of my problem - if I do have a problem that I can speak about
half of – I would say is that every time I swing I think it's going out
of the park, he says. "I still try to keep that attitude, but I knew
that we had a real winning combination. I knew that something clicked
with us... It's a tough thing - how do you recreate having caught
lightning in a bottle? I'm not used to it. Well, maybe I am a little bit
more lately than before. But I'm still not used to studios being
ecstatic about what we did and saying, 'Please go do that again!'"
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens in theaters on December 16th.