At press tour, most of the buzz for PBS’ first day surrounded the arrival of Benedict Cumberbatch for the “Sherlock,” which had its third season premiere on Sunday. While Cumberbatch barely made it to the panel on time, fans who waited patiently outside (possibly a TCA first) got a a flurry of apologies, according to the “Star Trek” star. Inside the room with “Sherlock” co-creator Steven Moffat, producer Sue Vertue, star Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan), he was more than happy to talk about his “almost” kiss with Moriarty, working with his parents and more.
Cumberbatch was asked about his parents Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham being on the show, which he initially responded to with a joke. “My parents had a gleam in their eyes around about 1976. I think that”s how that one came about.”
He added, “They”re trained actors with a C.V. and were available. They”ve played my parents in the background of something we did. In “Atonement,” they”re very much in the background, and I was happy about that considering I was marrying a girl I”d supposedly raped in that one. Yeah. It was wonderful. It was the first day on set, so everyone was nervous. They were really nervous, but I did, at certain points, try to manage their nerves as well as mine, and it was a glorious thing, and yeah. The relationship evolves… It evolves in the three that you will see, and oh, it”s a joy. It”s going to be something that hopefully I will be showing my grandchildren. You know what I mean? It”s a really special thing. I”ve got utmost respect for their craft.
Speaking of relationships, the “Moriarity Kiss” was also mentioned, though Cumberbatch was quick to point out “there was no connection there. Can I just point out that we didn”t actually connect?”
Co-creator Steven Moffat discussed the chemistry between Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. “We got the idea from the palpable chemistry between Benedict and Andrew. We can”t control it any longer. We let them at it. But we cut it before contact and, indeed, sex, because that was just wrong. It just looked bad. It was actually Mark Gatiss”s idea, and he wrote that scene, and I remember he told me, ‘I”ve done something slightly cheeky.’ And I thought, I wonder what that could be given his past record, and I just roared with laughter when we got to that. It was brilliant. As to how far the tongue got in, you have to ask Benedict.
“It was like this. Fist bumping. No. Yeah. No. Not in that way, but platonically,” Cumberbatch sputtered.
Co-star Amanda Abbington joked, “Keep digging,” to which Cumberbatch responded by miming shoveling.
The decision to include Abbington as Mary was also asked of Moffat, who said, “First of all, this is what happens in the original stories, so we wanted to do that. The other thing is, it really, really works in the show… The only thing the original stories don”t have is many women. They don”t. There”s not an awful lot of women in the “Sherlock Holmes” stories, and what ones are there are not necessarily the most vivid characters. One of the things that happens best in “Sherlock,” which Mark [Gatiss] and I have discovered, is if you put a female perspective on those two men, it”s very, very funny and very illuminating, because somehow it always happens to all the women in “Sherlock,” they all see through Sherlock so fast. They deconstruct him instantly. John is still bamboozled by Sherlock. He”s still amazed by him. Mary is saying, “No. You looked it up in YouTube.” She gets him. All the women get him instantly, and they know when he”s showboating and when he”s at it a bit.”
So Mary”s sticking around? “Mary”s absolutely here,” Moffat explained. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We don”t just off her. How would that be the start of next series, ‘Where is Mary?’ ‘Dead. Anyway …’ Which is roughly what Doyle does.
The big issue of Sherlock’s death being faked also came up. “We painted ourselves into a corner and made sure there was a bald patch for us to get through, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think I can now say this after all this time, I can now admit, what were you all thinking? John couldn”t see the point of impact. It was dead easy because you could obvious the only way to avoid dying from hitting a sidewalk at speed is not to hit it. That”s it. There has to be something in the way. It was never going to be the TARDIS, so it had to be a big blue cushion of the right color.”
Cumberbatch was asked if he fears he might, like previous Sherlocks Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, get tired of the role. “No,” he said. “I don”t think so. No. You know, I”m younger than any of them were or are at the moment, so yeah. No. I”m fine with it. I”m going to keep going with it, and it”s a schedule providing thing. They probably had a harder volume of it to do at a time, and then Jeremy had his own personal demons to battle with, which sort of became inextricably linked and spliced with his characterization, which is sadly one of the reasons it”s so compelling to watch his work at times.
“I play enough other mad people as well and some sane people to sort of vary the palette of what I”m scrabbling around in my head and soul to bring to the floor as a storyteller, so hopefully not. Who knows? I mean, you keep tossing me back to this thing, you can do a little chart about just that we”re aware of dementia is finally started to creep in. And then maybe, I don”t know. I mean, they”re doing a wonderful story – Ian McKellen”s doing it with Bill Condon about Holmes having dementia and not being able to solve this final puzzle that is haunting him to his last moments.
Maybe I”ll reach the ripe old age and be able to do the same in our format. Who knows? I kind of do already. That”s just my bad memory. “What are we doing? Oh, right. Yes. That bit. Where”s the squash ball?” No. I love it. I find it very invigorating, and I can step away from him.”
The issue of Cumberbatch’s fans being camped outside was also brought up, and the actor was asked how he felt about the fan reaction. “Guilt, first of all, because I was late and I had to run past them saying, ‘I”m on a tight schedule. I”ve got to come back and see you later.’ They have to wait another three odd hours, so forgive me. It”s extraordinary… I think a lot of it comes with who he is, obviously. He”s a very iconic figure… It”s kind of extraordinary and a little bit unnerving.
“I feel – not an onerous sense of responsibility, but I do feel that that has to be acknowledged, and I know that feeds the thing itself, but at the same time, I”m a human being. As much as I”m capable of, I”ve got to acknowledge with gratitude the fact that they are so supportive, loyal, and by in large, intelligent, and some of them normal, and committed to something that I really love doing and a character that I like playing, and other characters as well. So yeah. No. It means a lot to me. It means a hell of a lot to me… One of the biggest thrills I had when the first season launched was to look at the book sales shoot up, and that”s another sort of, yeah. That makes me very, very happy.”
When the panel was asked if they ever “Sherlocked” people or places, Cumberbatch laughed, “There were words flying all over your heads right now.”
“However hard I try, I can”t make those wee words come up. That would be brilliant,” Moffat added.
On a more serious note, Cumberbatch said, “I do. I do every now and again. On the first series when I was going to and from London on the train, I got very interested by smudges on people”s lapels and indents where rings should be and, you know, scuff marks and bits of mud on shoes. I knew fuck all about what that meant, but I thought, “Well, there”s a clue.” You get hypersensitive to detail.”
As far as the possibility of a season four, Moffat said, “If we come up with a good idea, then anything is possible. But we do our best to surprise you with a combination of lies and deceit. So we would never tell you what we were going to do. So you never know. Keep an eagle eye out. That”s what I”d say.”
But we can guess series four is more than likely, given that Cumberbatch is already commissioned for it. “I”m doing it, definitely.
Moffat added, “And Martin. Benedict and Martin [Freeman] both commissioned Series 5. That was brilliant.”
“I was very jet lagged. I didn”t know what I was doing,” Cumberbatch admitted.
“Ben Stephenson, who is the head of drama at BBC, has commissioned it for 50 years, he said, just to settle this question now,” Moffat joked. “Yes, it will continue until Benedict gets too famous and he”ll refuse.”
“Why is it always on me?” Cumberbatch sighed.
When Cumberbatch was asked about the difference between playing Sherlock and his role as Smaug in “The Hobbit,” the actor hedged, “Well, I don”t know where to begin. I mean, they”re so different.”
“Well, Sherlock”s not a dragon,” deadpanned Abbington.
“Yes, there”s that”s a beginning,” Cumberbatch said, laughing. “He”s not a mythical creature who breathes fire and is a serpent… No, but in all seriousness, they”re utterly different in many ways, but at the same time, what”s extraordinary about what Peter [Jackson is he]… gives you enough of a serious acting head to work through a process with and to believe in what you”re doing, that you can be a child on a bit of carpet like this all-in in an all-gray onesie with little silver reflectors on it and believe that you are breathing fire and moving mountains of gold and destroying, you know, a cavernous Kingdom of Erebor underneath the Lonely Mountain and then getting molten gold all over you and spinning off like some mad woman down Rodeo Drive.”
Cumberbatch was also asked if he’s had to change his lifestyle in any way with fame. “First of all, I haven”t really rethought anything much, to be honest. I still take public transport. I do go around on a motorbike quite a lot with a helmet, and that”s quite anonymous. Yeah, I haven”t rethought that. When I go shopping, I don”t sort of send minions out and sit at home at the top of a tall ivory tower with guns pointed at the street.
He added, “I give my audience a lot more credit than most people often do. I don”t there are times when they don”t get it, and then you just say, “I”m so sorry,” and then they immediately get it. It”s just I know what it”s like. I am a fan of Harrison Ford. When he said that to me, like I said, it was back to front. I still get star completely starstruck. I mean, really starstruck. I was talking to some of the cast of ‘Homeland,’ not Damian Lewis, because he”s old hat. You all know Damian. Yawn. No, I love him. I know him. He”s a friend. He”s a friend. He”s a friend. But the others that were there, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I”m such a huge fan,'” adding that he had a kind of “meltdown” when he met the stars of “Breaking Bad” as well.
After the panel had concluded, Cumberbatch took questions from journalists, including whether his parents ever encouraged him to follow in his acting footsteps. “No. I tried very hard not to. I wanted to be a criminal barrister, then realized you had to work as hard, no expectations o employment, don’t know when your next holiday is going to be… [and other people said] go back while you can.”
He was also asked whether he’d ever consider doing an American TV series. “No,” he said. “Because I do an English one, and it’s a time commitment. I want to do theater and film as well as television, so no.”