*crosses fingers*

I am pleased to point out that Sherlock is up for ALL THE EMMYS next Sunday. Not kidding -- I think they've hit everything they're qualified for in the Miniseries category. Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Writing, Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound/Mixing, Best Costuming, Best Casting, probably Best Craft Services for all I know, I only check when shows I care about start winning things.

(For non-estadounidenses, the Emmys are basically the Oscars for TV. Foreign actors win things like Emmys and Golden Globes for American television productions fairly often -- Hugh Laurie has a pair of Globes for House, f'r instance, and his first acceptance speech confused an awful lot of people who didn't know he's from the original Cambridge -- but it's not very common for productions outside of North America to sweep nominations like that, much less win anything. The only reason Sherlock qualifies is that it was widely aired on public broadcasting stations in the US, particularly those that get their programming from WGBH Boston.)

One of the nice things about being able to read the subtitles on people these days is that, for all the teeth-grinding, sense-strangling, head-whanging-on-the-desk stuff I see that everyone else is apparently oblivious to, I also get to see flickers of things that make me happy. One of the particularly strange little knacks I've developed is that I can usually tell when the chemistry between two actors goes beyond the merely professional into personal friendship. I don't know that I can articulate how or why all that well, but it's obvious to me when two people get along because they genuinely like each other and genuinely like doing what they're doing on-camera. It just makes me grin stupidly.

Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are two characters with a great deal of tradition behind them, and one of the more charming ones is the tendency for the two actors playing them to become great friends behind the scenes. Nigel Bruce was just about the only thing about the Holmes films that didn't begin to annoy Basil Rathbone as the series (and the typecasting) dragged on and on; the two of them were inseparable golfing buddies whenever they chanced to occupy the same geographical area. When Rathbone was finally convinced to take up the deerstalker cap and pipe again in the early 1950s, he found himself quite depressed to hear the news that his friend, in the late stages of heart failure, was too ill to play alongside him. Bruce passed away in 1953 while the show was still in rehearsals -- it only ran three performances.

Slightly more complicated was the case of Jeremy Brett. Brett is famed largely for his masterful performance in the Granada adaptations, set in the original Victorian era, but an even more important role for him was Man Who Was Not Bipolar, which he held both on and off stage (to somewhat mixed reviews -- he had a tendency to phone people up at 3am to explain his brilliant new ideas! to them) until he was finally officially diagnosed in his mid-50s. David Burke, who played Watson for the first two series, somehow managed to maintain an implacable calm optimism in the face of Brett vaulting over furniture left and right; when Burke decided to take time off to spend with his family, he suggested Edward Hardwicke as his replacement.

The transition is more startling than it has any right to be. While Brett and Burke clearly worked well together professionally and had no trouble with close blocking, there is something much more comfortable and casual in the way Brett interacts with Hardwicke. They hover near each other; Hardwicke's Watson leans on the back of the sofa, reading things over Holmes' shoulder as if he knows full well he's invited there. The change in atmosphere is so prominent to me that I wondered if perhaps Hardwicke was the first (or even the only) person Brett told when his mood swings were starting to get seriously out of control. It's no less prominent when the two of them are out of character. Brett himself is absolutely the opposite of Sherlock Holmes, with a penchant for gliding around in colorful scarves and calling everyone 'Darling' and occasionally bursting into song if he thinks he can get away with it, but the two of them still check with one another and drift together. When Brett was finally diagnosed -- hospitalized for mania, in fact -- it was Edward and Mrs. Hardwicke who signed him out and kept an eye on him until he was ready to work again.

(Particularly sharp-eyed viewers will notice that Brett has got his watch on his right wrist. He was nitpicky and determined enough to note that Holmes is described in the original stories as writing and doing other fine manipulations right-handed, so he did his level best not to be left-handed on film. He only slips a couple of times, most notably in "The Naval Treaty", when he picks things up off the mantelpiece left-handed at the end, despite that being the hand in bandages. Some clever editing in "The Case of the Dancing Men" saved him from botching all the stick figures trying to write them off-sided on the chalkboard.)

More recently, the friendship between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law is documented on a good portion of YouTube. RDJ takes a sort of a full-body contact tackle approach to both comedy and affection, and Jude Law has apparently made his mission in life to encourage him whenever they're in the same postcode. They're sort of perpetually like junior high boys, in that brief gap after they've discovered that body-checking their buddies into furniture is hilarious and considered friend behavior, but before they've gotten to the point where they'd rather eat live bugs than hug someone else in public. This thing was, for quite a while, like every third post on tumblr -- having actually seen that movie, I'm not entirely sure whether that's a "stop it, you doof, someone's filming," or "stop it, you doof, the director already yelled cut."

The production crew on Sherlock is fond of telling the story of how the title role was essentially written with Benedict Cumberbatch in mind, and how Martin Freeman was more or less hired on the spot as soon as the two of them started reading together. What they don't mention is quite why the chemistry works so well on film, which is that the two of them are borrowing bits from each other.

Both Cumberbatch and Freeman are very very smart kids, albeit of different types. Cumberbatch, although he's gotten considerably less reticent after the whole sudden explosion of fame thing sunk in, devotes a fair bit of the charm lobe of his brain to not making people uncomfortable -- given that he vocalizes the "and I should shut up now and let other people talk" several times on the commentary on the s1 DVDs, and that he was once a reasonably middle-class kid in an extremely expensive public school, it's probably part survival mechanism and part just being observant and giving a damn. Freeman, while he is pretty genial most of the time, can get charmingly cantankerous whenever he runs into something he thinks is obstructively stupid or unnecessarily mean. He had, I think, a somewhat more rough-and-tumble childhood, with a good handful of siblings, and I suspect he's the one who has days -- not necessarily often, but sometimes -- where he has to stop himself from grabbing people by the shoulders and just shaking until the stupid comes rattling out.

The two of them together are certainly less alien to one another than Sherlock and John are at times, but they still sit shoulder to shoulder and crack each other up when the crew is setting up shots. Cumberbatch can be rather quietly definite about his personal space -- I've seen him try to surreptitiously kind of try to climb over the sofa arm on chat shows, when strangers don't respect that -- but Freeman is apparently allowed. Beyond that, I certainly couldn't say about Cumberbatch's private life, but in public, Freeman is the only person I've ever heard call him "Ben" -- everyone else sticks to "Benedict", no matter how friendly they think he is.

Comments

  1. Huh. I'm right-handed and I wear my watch on my left wrist, so that I hit it on fewer things. Hadn't thought of period Holmes as having a wristwatch at all, actually. I thought they weren't popular until the First World War.

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    1. Period Holmes doesn't; he does wear a pocket watch on the correct side for a right-handed man, and Brett handles it as such when in character. Brett wears a wristwatch in interviews, however. :) And does things like count points and make grand sweeping gestures with his left.

      If I were modern!Sherlock, though, I'd start developing a paranoid tendency to check this sort of thing. John Watson and James Moriarty are the only two people who have ever even sort of managed to get inside his head, and both are left-handed. I imagine it makes blocking surprisingly easy -- when Sherlock and John are facing each other, nobody blocks the camera with a shoulder while grabbing at props.

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  2. Man, I wish that I could get you to watch interviews or something from some of my favorite shows, just so that I could see how well my bff-off-camera-dar is working.

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    1. There is something stopping you from finding clips on YouTube and posting links? I can't guarantee I'll find other people interesting, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

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    2. Yes, I suffer from a case of recurring laziness and also don't-want-my-fanon-potentially-ruined-itis. :(

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    3. Suit yourself. I'll just keep obsessing over random things, then.

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