It’s No Mystery: Robert Downey, Jr. Loves Playing Sherlock Holmes

Getty Images

The game’s afoot once more for Robert Downey, Jr., as he brings his quirky take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective back to the big screen in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (opening Friday). And as he tells PopcornBiz about his experience making the film, we didn’t need to be a master sleuth to deduce he had a grand time.

On keeping true to the essence of the Holmes character while still finding new places to the performance:

“Well, you just keep Doyle in mind, because I just respect the guy more and more. I think the other thing is oftentimes what’s required – particularly if you’re in any central position – is you just have to let go. You have to let go of the things that are darling to you. You have to take the focus off yourself and put it on the shape of the scene and the intention of what everyone else needs. You have to give people something to actually write music to, so that you’re not just running your mouth all the time.”

On throwing ideas into the pot for the sequel’s storyline:

“After the first one worked out pretty good, we were pretty much doing the press tour talking about things we would like to improve, other directions we could go, blah blah blah. And then there’s the reality of doing it. Anybody who’s ever been involved in making the second part to a first that worked, there should be a whole online support team for this. We happened through it. There’s so much to learn, and again I think the greatest disguise was us disguising ourselves as consummate by-the-numbers professionals, when in fact we’re all kind of incredibly eccentric.”

On how he and Jude Law riff their way through improvised dialogue:

“I think the goal is to make a well-written scene seem like it’s improvised, and/or to come up with things that you find in the room that you couldn’t have known until you get into the real situation, just try to improve things as you go along.”

On testing the patience of ensemble newcomer Jared Harris, who plays Holmes’ nemesis Prof. Moriarty:

“We’d have a scene that he’s shooting in two days and Jared would be like, ‘Is this going to pretty much stay like this?’ I was like ‘Not a word of it.’ ‘Can I have something that I can study the night before?’ I’d say ‘I’m going to venture a “no” on the possibility of “yes.” Everything Jared Harris did in the course of making this movie was essentially thrown at him with very little time to prepare, and also talked about a lot philosophically as opposed to actually getting ready to do it in a professional way. So it was shock and awe. I think what he brought back with him was something that was just so particularly him – the essence of him while still being this character. It honestly is the main reason that the movie works, but it was also an exercise in trial by fire for him. And Jared was really quite nice. Once in a while he would say ‘I really just beg of you: if I could even have a semblance of knowing what I might say, I guarantee you I could do a better job with it, because I wouldn’t be like YOU, Robert, for this long scene that you just wrote wearing an earwig where someone’s telling you what to say in the other room. I would actually know what I was going to say.’ I’d be like ‘Interesting – yeah, everyone has their own process.’ [Director] Guy Richie told him to go home and he wanted him to come back singing a German aria the next day. Nobody learns a German aria overnight, except Jared Harris.”

On his favorite takes on Holmes by other actors:

“I kinda like everybody. Whenever I watch someone doing something, even if it doesn’t turn out so great, I at least admire their intentions and stuff. I know that there’s some kind of quintessential performances that have happened out there. I’ve heard more about the series than I’ve seen, but I’m intrigued by it. I think it’s important that we’re all part of the same collective of honoring this great writer and his stories.”

On reprising Iron Man for next summer’s “The Avengers”:

“I think that it's going to be really entertaining. I think Joss Whedon was the right guy for it. I think the fact that it works at all considering how ambitious it was, was pretty amazing. Some of my wife’s favorite stuff in the trailer, she goes, 'Oh my gosh, that's a good line.' I go, 'Actually, Joss wrote that'.”


"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" opens everywhere Friday

Contact Us