It’s a shame, but fame is starting to make Benedict Cumberbatch a wary man. The Sherlock star says he is frequently “miscommented” and taken out of context by the press and that he’s learned that making jokes in interviews “doesn’t translate well’.
One of the subjects the actor says he is most consistently misquoted on is his opinion of Elementary, the modern-day US translation of Sherlock Holmes, starring his friend and former Frankenstein co-star Jonny Lee Miller.
Speaking to the assembled ranks of Sherlock – and Cumberbatch – fans at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, the star was keen to make his position clear: “It’s nice to talk to lots of friendly people – 2,000 odd – to set it straight”.
We wanted to give Benedict the chance to share his thoughts on Elementary with an even wider audience, so, in the spirit of accurate communication, here’s the transcript of what he had to say about the show and its stars Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. We may have left out the occasional pause or aside but we’ve made sure not to edit anything that could change the meaning.
Benedict Cumberbatch on Elementary
“Under no circumstances would I want Jonny to have anything but a rip-roaring success because, first and foremost, he is my friend, and we’re both actors and while it’s very gratifying to be told that you are such-and-such a Sherlock Holmes, this is one role, this is one incarnation – and I know it’s why we’re all here tonight – but you can’t take possession of it. He’s the 72nd, I’m the 71st, the 70th was Robert Downey Jr.
“I made a joke, which I shouldn’t have done. I made a joke, which never translates – humour, generally, out of context doesn’t translate well, that’s one of the lessons I’ve learnt this summer whilst doing lots of talking (I did it talking about Parade’s End).
“I have to be careful about mentioning anything which could be vaguely misinterpreted, but that doesn’t take away from the absolute truth of what I’m saying which is that I’ve seen [Elementary] and it’s absolutely fantastic – and the bit where you find out that the killer is, in fact… – it’s really good you should all watch it.
“[Jonny Lee Miller is] phenomenal; he’s completely different; he’s far more contained. He’s stunning to watch as well – he’s just a beautiful specimen, Jonny – and he really knows what he’s doing, he’s completely got under his skin and it’s another Sherlock for he 21st century.
“Was I cynical about them going to him and asking [given that we had worked together on Frankenstein]? Yeah, but I’ve yet to go and talk to them about where their original thoughts came from to cast him, but I know for a fact that they kept on going back to him so he must have knocked it out of the park in the auditions.
“And I know for a fact that he was dubious about doing it because of myself and, of course, Jude [Law, who plays Dr Watson in the current Sherlock Holmes movie franchise], who he’s known since they were kids. So he felt really nervous, he wasn’t sure about it, and he asked if I was alright with it, and I said ‘Of course I am, of course I am,’ and so the thing that always gets quoted now – because people want to sell the programme off two friends who are friends, having a fight that they‘re not having because they’re friends – is that, what I’ve said, which I haven’t said, which is that I didn’t want him to do it – and it’s not true, I didn’t. Even what I’ve just said can now be taken out of context and used against me…
“Just to put a cap on it, I do wish him all the best with it, he’s got a phenomenal job ahead of him because he’s got 12 or 13 episodes and maybe a five-year series.
“And Lucy Liu is wonderful – it’s another great relationship… We should all just suspend our judgement about it until we see it, that’s the thing, isn’t it? There was anther two sheets worth of fish paper in The Times today about it – apparently I’m not happy about it, apparently Steven [Moffat]’s not. I mean, it’s just fine – it’s more than fine, it’s brilliant.”