Meet the women who love Sherlock Holmes – the landlady (Mrs Hudson, Una Stubbs), the dominatrix (Irene Adler, Lara Pulver) and the lab mouse (Molly Hooper, Louise Brealey).
It’s two in the afternoon on a winter day that’s never going to get light. Speedy’s caff on North Gower Street in London – which doubles as the exterior for Sherlock and John’s 221b Baker Street flat next door – is groaning, laughing and loudly smacking its chops with satisfied lunch customers.
Fluorescent builders bang elbows with elderly, Brylcreemed gentlemen in matching navy macs. Crammed in next to the till, two schoolgirls with fake eyelashes share a plate of chips, conjoined twin-style. Everyone politely ignores the actresses having their noses powdered by an alarmingly pregnant woman with a make-up bag the size of a suitcase.
The night before I’d asked on Twitter if any Sherlock fans had questions for #sherlockswomen. Oddly enough, they did…
Are you like your characters? (@RyanMan_2)
Lara Pulver: There are huge elements of our characters that are us. But I don’t go around whipping people. And I’m not a lesbian.
Una Stubbs: I think an awful lot of me is like Mrs Hudson. I love looking after Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch… I still ask my sons for shirts to iron.
Louise Brealey: I’m not like Molly. But I’ve had plenty of Dirty Dancing-style “I carried a watermelon” moments… Actually, I think Molly’s seen Dirty Dancing too many times; she’s longing for Sherlock to stride up and say, “Nobody puts Molly in the corner.”
Does Sherlock actively dislike women and, if so, why do we think he is such a popular romantic figure? (@theheartbreaks)
Lara: I think he has so much going on in his genius brain that he doesn’t even think of women as sexual beings. A beautiful woman could walk past him naked – as I did – and it doesn’t register.
Louise: [laughing] Oh, I think there was a flicker in those ice-blue eyes, Lara…
Una: It’s a syndrome, isn’t it? Being cool and cold-hearted. Underneath you suspect there’s a passion burning.
Louise: And of course he’s unattainable, which, for some people, makes him immediately irresistible… I remember saying to Benedict when we were doing the pilot three years ago, “You do realise you’re not going to be able to walk down the street if this becomes a series?” He couldn’t imagine himself as a sex symbol. He was like, “Well. Maybe among the emo girls.” He just couldn’t see it.
Lara: That’s because he doesn’t conform to a generic formula.
Louise: He’s not “done”, is he, Sherlock? There’s something unconsidered about him. That’s how I like ’em: unconsidered… It’s all about the hair, isn’t it? Una and I were discussing the hair earlier…
Una: When it’s all dyed black…
Louise: And it’s all curly and delightful and…
Una: Wild. Like Heathcliff. I like to ruffle it up.
Lara: As Mrs Hudson or you?
Una: Both. There’s nothing more unattractive than a man who thinks he is attractive. I think the fact that Benedict doesn’t think he’s attractive is so attractive to women. Discerning women.
Does Sherlock actually love anyone? (@jennypib)
Una: I think he loves Mrs Hudson in a certain way.
Una: And John, obviously.
Louise: When we meet him in the first series he is curiously asexual. And then in A Scandal in Belgravia that sort of cracks open…
Lara: In the scene where he touches my hand and coldly tells me that he was taking my pulse, he has a sensuality there…
Louise: Are you sure that’s not just how you feel about Benedict?
What’s Rupert Graves like? (@lestradeoftheyard)
Ah. We love Rupert. He’s another one who’s unassuming about his
appearance. He doesn’t think he’s Mr Gorgeous and that makes him doubly
attractive. And he is a wonderful father as well. He’s the most dear,
Louise: Five kids! I love him, Lara.
Una: It’s always gorgeous when Rupert turns up.
Louise: I actually love him.
Una: Everybody does on the crew.
Louise: He was teaching me a bit of guitar. He’s very patient.
Lara: With five children he would have to be!
Did you expect the show to be such a big hit? What’s the secret? (@cowlamb)
Una: Sherlock Holmes has an enormous following from the books. Before this came out I think a lot of people doubted that it would be a success because it was modern dress. And they were staggered when it worked.
Louise: The first scene I ever filmed was the one where Holmes and Watson meet. Molly is hanging around in the background, gawping lovingly. I was watching on the monitor for the bit when Benedict sticks his head around the door of the lab and says, “The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221b Baker Street.” And I stood there looking at him and I thought, “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
Lara: It’s the combination of [co-creators] Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, [producer] Sue Vertue and [director] Paul McGuigan making cinematic wonder. Crucially, it doesn’t underestimate people’s intelligence.
Una: I was in Chichester, walking to work, just after the first episode went out. And there were masses of people in the street – and all I could hear was, “What’s his name? Benedict what?” He was a star overnight.
Louise: Una, you’ve known him for years haven’t you?
Una: I did films with Wanda Ventham, his mother, and we lived in the same area, in Kensington. So I’d be out with my pram and Wanda and I would be talking and there was poor little Benedict, who I suppose was about four, standing there while we were gossiping in the high street for hours!
Which cast member tells the best jokes? (@kristenmchugh22)
All three: Martin Freeman!
Any funny stories from the set? (@MuvaF)
Una: None clean enough to tell!
Louise: [laughs] Una, how would you describe your relationship with Martin?
Una: We get on so well he feels he can really try and shock me all the time. It never does, but it does embarrass me in front of the crew! They think it’s hysterical. I remember seeing Paul McGuigan doubled over laughing, thinking, “But she’s a granny!” Like I shouldn’t be allowed to hear these things.
Lara: One day we were in the make-up trailer and someone was brushing out Benedict’s stunt double’s wig – and we decided to put Martin in it. We put Sherlock’s coat on him and stood him on top of one of the make-up chairs so he looked tall and took the photo from low down. And when Benedict came in we got the make-up assistant to ask him to autograph a photograph. She handed it over – and this is how Benedict’s mind works – and he went, “I don’t remember wearing my coat with that colour scarf.”
Louise: I remember the first time we filmed in Merthyr Tydfil morgue. It was a favourite location with the cast and crew because it’s a real morgue. In Merthyr Tydfil. Which in the middle of January is quite bleak. I was heading outside, walking past the fridges, and thought I could smell something. Something a bit wrong. And I jokingly said so to one of the crew and he said, “Oh, yeah – they’ve just brought in an old lady who’s been dead a while.”
Lara – what was it like getting naked in front of Benedict and Martin? (@Molly_Hooper)
Lara: They give you a self-adhesive bra that sticks to you and… imagine a sanitary towel made of tan lycra, but with wire through it so it cups the underneath of you. And Louboutin shoes. Paul McGuigan very sweetly said to me, “OK, the choice is we spend hours shooting it to avoid seeing straps or we take all that off and shoot it quickly.” I thought I couldn’t put myself through being there all day, practically naked anyway, so I might as well get completely naked and get it done in a few hours.
Una: So you took it all off?
Louise: Bloody hell. Good for you!
Lara: There’s nothing to hide behind, no mask, and something really empowering takes over.
Una: I hope Martin didn’t say anything!
Lara: Martin said a few things but they were harmless. They were both supportive and by the end of it I wouldn’t move on to the next line until Benedict had stared at my boobs!
Una – how do you feel having a whole new generation of fans who think you’re a goddess? (@SophieCarter93)
Una: Aww! Gosh! I love the people asking these questions; they are so sweet!
Louise: I was talking to Mark and he was laughing, saying you are in every hit series in every generation. He said we should have known it was going to be an enormous hit because Una Stubbs is in it.
What do you make of the Sherlock fandom online? (@JackBro)
I don’t go online. Although I’ve heard about the Cumberbitches. My son
had a look after the first series and found something that said, “Una
Stubbs? Isn’t she dead?” [laughs].
Have you read any fan fiction? (@HelSurprise)
Una: I haven’t read anything.
Lara: Me neither.
After the first series I was curious about what people thought of
Molly. I wanted them to like her so Steven and Mark would bring her
back! So I googled “Molly Sherlock” and up popped this little story. And
I thought, “Oh, how sweet.” And I started reading it and it involved Molly
getting her nipples pierced and straddling Moriarty! Oops.
Are you afraid of getting killed off? (@mattjmueller)
Louise: I always think I’m going to get killed off. I was so excited when I found out I was in the series. Benedict texted me to let me know Molly was safe.
Una: Oooh, the idea hadn’t occurred to me! I would hate it if I was. Martin said we had better get on with the next series because Una will be senile by then!
Louise: He’s such a naughty boy… I was reading the script for The Reichenbach Fall [this week’s story] and one scene begins in the darkened lab with Molly putting on her coat – and as I was reading it, I was like, “Oh s**t. Here we go…”
What advice would you give your characters? (@leaonamatopoeia)
Lara: It’s OK to be vulnerable.
Una: Stop smiling at Sherlock and stand up to him sometimes.
Louise: Ditch the cat.