Sunday, April 29, 2012

Interview: Sherlock: Steven Moffat


We had a chance to sit down with the creator of the new BBC/PBS show Sherlock during SXSW 2012. Here's what he had to say.

So what do you think of Austin (besides the rain)?

Steven Moffat: Well I mean, it’s funny, arriving, it doesn’t look as good in the rain. Then the sun comes up and it just looks right.

What made you want to adapt such an iconic, older piece into modern times?

SM: Mark and I were always huge fans of Sherlock Holmes. We preferred the 1940s movies. So we thought, somebody should do that again, they would have a huge hit. And when someone does that, we would be cross because we’ll feel like we should have done it. We had a competition, loads of time, when working on Doctor Who.
My wife said, you should do it. So we went and pitched it. It happened really, really fast. It was the right time for the idea.

Did you have any trouble with the casting, the process itself?

SM: No, not really. Benedict Cumberbatch was the first and only person who read for that role. We saw him in Atonement. He’s a great performer, very magnetic, sort of weird looking. Although he wasn’t, at that point, really known, everybody thought he was the coming man, everyone thought that he was the next big thing in British telly. So we got him in and he read for the part and there wasn’t a point in carrying on. We could go and look at other people, but that’s it. We were not going to do better than that. There isn’t anybody else who was going to be better on this show. The BBC agreed, so we signed him up.

Then we had to find someone to stand next to him and be Watson. Watson is very important to Sherlock Holmes, some people would argue more important than Sherlock Holmes. We saw a lot of people—a lot of brilliant people—but the critical thing was putting them in the room with Benedict and seeing how that worked. The very, very first person we saw was Matt Smith, who a week later I cast as Doctor Who…he was far too like Sherlock Holmes.

When we put Martin and Benedict together, it was very clear that that was the show. It was an act of genius. It was just very simple. That was the show right there.

Describe how the British television system differs from American one. It seems like you do the writing yourself, is that true?

SM: There’s me and there’s Mark and Steve Thompson to do the other one. Well, we’re only doing three 90-minute shows. I also run Doctor Who and on Doctor Who we have a whole bunch of writers. We have shows that run exactly like the American model of huge teams of writers. We don’t really do the writers rooms but we have team written shows.

Was there a reason you chose the 90-minute format?

SM: Originally, the pilot was 60 minutes. We were going to do runs of six or thirteen. BBC said that the 90 minute shows would cut through more, so we just said yes. We will do the show if you do it as 3 90’s, so naturally, we said yes. It’s worked very well for us.

It seems like the second season brings up the more well known Sherlock Holmes stories, why is that?

SM: We knew it was a big success and that there were three things everyone wants to see. Let’s do them right now.

How long does it take to film and produce each episode?

SM: Production takes three and a half months, something like that. The writing takes several months before that. We’re all doing other things, so it has to fit around that.

You mentioned you work on Doctor Who, is it hard to balance between the two shows?

SM: Yes, but I have to. I don’t have a choice.

How did the transition to PBS take place?

SM: They contributed; they’re a part of it. They put money into it and they have their own version of it.

Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes story?

SM: Probably “The Speckled Back”. You can’t top that.

What is your response to the American reaction?

SM: Well, we have had a phenomenal response everywhere! We have Russian fans for god sakes. 

**** You can catch the new season of Sherlock on Sundays at 9/8c starting May 6th ****

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