Benedict Cumberbatch on playing a Victorian Sherlock Holmes

"I was thrilled! I went, 'At last, I can have a haircut!'”

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How did you respond when the Sherlock team said they wanted to do a Victorian Holmes?

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I was thrilled! I went, “At last, I can have a haircut!” (Laughing) I can slick it back and not have that ridiculous mop of curls on my head. And then I went, “You’re mad — what?!” The first pitch was quite light and then the more detailed pitch came and I thought, “OK, this is going to be great fun.”

And it really is. It’s so nice to play him in his era. There’s slightly more heavy lifting in the modern era in that he’s a man clearly out of his time, so this puts him back in the era that he’s written in originally. It’s a joy. It feels easier, to a degree. It’s just things that I tried to impose a little bit on our modern version, things like physicality, stature. A lot of that is done by the body of the clothing and collars and the deerstalker and cape. Yet it doesn’t feel like cliché because they were functional in that era, they were de rigueur items of fashion which have just become iconic for him, but also very useful.

What’s the relationship between him and Watson? Is Watson more in awe of Holmes?

I think it’s respect rather than awe.

Is there still the “bromance”?

You just want to write the word “bromance”.

There can’t be an article without it in there!

There can. You can be the first! Strive for change in the press! (Laughing) It’s definitely a companionship that’s evolved in our version, so we’re not regressing it back to “Wow! Golly, Holmes!” It’s a delicate balancing act. We don’t want to make it into a sketch, but we want to be true to the original. At the same time we’ve got to be true to our version of it.

There’s no danger that modern fans might be alienated by a Victorian Holmes?
I don’t think so, he’s still got a lot of fight in him, he hasn’t become patronisingly nice and charming. He defines things as they are. He’s very straight with people.

He’s still rude?

Yes, he is still rude because he cuts through mediocrity. He’s a meritician, it’s a meritocracy, so it doesn’t matter if you’re Lord and Lady Suchwhat or if you’re driving a hansom cab, it’s just purely about what your worth is and your qualities. He’s rude to idiots or people who are pompous or sexist… He’s quite a crusader in that regard. That’s always enjoyable to be.

Is your Victorian Holmes quite progressive?

I think he always was progressive, he was very charming with women. He gave a lot of people respect that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought in that era he would. He goes for quality rather than the social hierarchy.

And you’re smoking a pipe this time?

It’s a pyrotechnic pipe, so I’m not smoking it, it’s just an effect. But even that is fun, just to have that as another part of him. There might be a magnifying glass that’s slightly bigger than the one I usually use. It might be slightly more familiar…

Do you think doing a Christmas Victorian episode could become a bit of a tradition?

Maybe, I don’t know. We’ll see how this one goes. I think if it becomes impossible to schedule a season every year, year and a half then yeah, absolutely, why not? It’s a great deal of fun, this, but it does advance things. It’s not just on its own.

How determined are you to keep making time for Sherlock?

Pretty determined. I’m still enjoying it. We’ll see how the next series goes, but as I’ve said many times before, I’d love to keep ageing with him. Martin and I started this relatively young compared to a lot of Holmes and Watsons, so why not?

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Sherlock is on New Year’s Day at 9.00pm on BBC1