TCA: Benedict Cumberbatch still finds playing Sherlock “invigorating”

Many members of the so-called “Cumber Collective,” “Cumberbitches” and “Cumberbabes” were out in force today, camped outside the Langham Hotel in Pasadena to await the arrival of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who was on hand during PBS’ first day of the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour.

benedict cumberbatchCumberbatch was here to talk about Sherlock Season 3, which made its U.S. premiere last night on PBS to an average audience of nearly 4 million viewers. PBS was tightly monitoring the room to ensure only credentialed press were allowed into the approximately 25-minute panel, which also included Sherlock executive producers Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, and new costar Amanda Abbington, who plays Mary Morstan, John Watson’s fiancee/wife in Season 3 (and who is partnered with Watson portrayer Martin Freeman in real life).

Abbington looked different from her Sherlock character — not sporting the blond locks Mary Morstan has on the show, but with dark hair. A PBS representative joked that they asked her to wear the blond wig.

Cumberbatch was stylishly dressed in a blue suit with white shirt, and also looked different from his onscreen character — and he certainly was a lot more comfortable and charming than the socially inexperienced Sherlock.

Some highlights from Benedict Cumberbatch and the Sherlock Season 3 TCA panel:

Might Benedict Cumberbatch get burned out on the role of Sherlock, as other portrayers of the great detective have?

Benedict Cumberbatch: “I’m going to keep going with it, and it’s a schedule providing thing. … I love it. I find it very invigorating.”

Steven Moffat: “Ben Stephenson, who is the head of drama at BBC, has commissioned it for 50 years, he said, just to settle this question now. Yes, it will continue until Benedict gets too famous and he’ll refuse.”

sherlock tca

On having Benedict Cumberbatch’s real-life parents play Sherlock’s parents on the series:

Cumberbatch: “They’re trained actors with a C.V. and were available. They’ve played my parents in the background of something we did [Atonement]. … 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 …”

Benedict Cumberbatch on his fans (many were camped outside the hotel prior to the panel, hoping to catch a glimpse of the star, and Cumberbatch stopped by them after the panel to sign some autographs):

Cumberbatch: “[I feel] 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 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. … 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. … I give my audience a lot more credit than most people often do. 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 [complimenting Cumberbatch’s performance], like I said … I still get star completely starstruck. I mean, really starstruck. … I completely get the kind of dry mouth thing and not quite knowing what to say.”

Cumberbatch: “I haven’t really rethought anything much, to be honest [in wake of new fame and fans]. 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.”

Does Cumberbatch ever “Sherlock” people in real life?

Cumberbatch: “There were words flying all over your heads right now. [jokes] 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. You do get sort of tuned into it. But that takes a lifetime of work and a whole lifetime of eschewing other pleasures, such as being a sociable human being, which I’m far too sort of seduced by to eschew.”

Sherlock and women characters, including Mary (Amanda Abbington) and Molly (Louise Brealey):

Cumberbatch: “[Sherlock] has a sex drive, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just that he [subdues] it to do his work.”

Moffat: “One of the things that happens best in Sherlock, which [co-creator] 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.”

Moffat: “Molly [Hooper] started really as a one-shot character, really, in the pilot, doing that first scene just to help introduce Sherlock. And it’s just one of those magical things because Lou Brealey was so brilliant in the part. And it was so automatically funny to see Sherlock with her. But she’s as a character, she’s grown the most of anyone in that series. She’s so totally different now and continues to be that. I have to keep reminding myself you haven’t seen the next two. So there’s a lot to come with that. She’s the first person to make Sherlock apologize. And in extremis, while Sherlock was faking emotion when he was talking to John from the rooftop, just to make sure he was so totally upset he wouldn’t notice that the man was actually alive and had a squash ball in his armpit, when he goes to Molly, he’s being genuinely emotional. So she’s a hugely important character and a surprise to us because we never really intended to add any characters to the original canon. But here we have.”

Amanda Abbington: “Beforehand, there were people saying, ‘How could you bring [Mary] in? She’s such a noncharacter. I hate her already.’ Give it a minute because you haven’t seen what I’m doing. But I think she’s just very confident in her own skin, and she likes Sherlock. She loves John. She wants them to get back together as friends, and she just doesn’t take any nonsense, and I kinda like that. She’s a very strong character, and you see that unfold throughout the series.”

Moffat: “I think there is a danger when you bring a girlfriend or boyfriend in, that people might think they might get in the way of the fun, there might be a drag. They might be saying, ‘Oh, don’t do and have an adventure with Sherlock Holmes. Stay home with me.’ But we knew we didn’t want a Mary like that. The other thing is that [Arthur Conan] Doyle does not write her that way. The original Mary Morstan in the books always liked Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes always likes her. I just think if you get it right, which we did, and if you cast the right person, like we certainly did, then why wouldn’t you like her, another lovely person to have fun with? So long as she must be up for the adventure, and that’s what that’s about.”

benedict cumberbatch amanda abbington

Benedict Cumberbatch on acting chemistry:

Cumberbatch: “Chemistry is sort of it is alchemy, I think, rather than chemistry in the sense that there’s something slightly unpackable about it. You know what I mean? To describe it would kill it. To try and formulate it would kill it. And chemistry is a very precise science. So in a way it’s a very odd phrase. We all know what it means, but it’s not quite accurate. It’s something that just happens. When Martin walked into the room, I raised my game. And he was quite simply throwing out the most interesting challenges and the most interesting questions to answer. And he was the most fun to be around, not just because of his work, but because of who he is. And that’s that kind of is it. For me, I suppose chemistry is about where you feel that you’re learning from the people around you.”

On reported beefs between Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), and a chat with Robert Downey Jr.:

Cumberbatch: “Listen, I sat down on the sofa with Robert Downey Jr., last night, and we had our first conversation and shared notes on playing Sherlock Holmes. We’re up in the high 70s — this is the most dramatized fictional character of all time. So there’s a lot to talk about. There’s a lot of other people to talk about as well. And Jonny is incredibly busy with it. I mean, I’ve seen him on one plane, just by happenstance, since we both started on our separate journeys with it. So we haven’t had a proper sit-down about it. But you know, we adore each other. We’re in contact every now and again, but the last thing we want to do is talk shop. So I see as much of his as I can, and I think he sees all of our three at a time. And we’re all fans of one another, you know. We’re all supportive of it. No matter what bullshit the press has tried to whip up in the past, we’re really good friends. And I can safely say that Robert’s in the same camp now after last night. We had a wonderful chat.”


Photos courtesy of PBS