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Benedict Cumberbatch Talks Sherlock Series 3
On spoofs, Miss Molly and 'The Bed Trick'...

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Benedict Cumberbatch was just about to wade through the crowds of waiting fans ready to see him shoot outside the BBC's 221B location - 187 North Gower Street, Camden, fact fans - when we carried out this interview. With his head right in the thick of Sherlock, Empire grilled him about keeping secrets, Breaking Bad and Elementary...

Benedict Cumberbatch Talks Sherlock Series 3

Does it feel good to be back?
It feels genuinely very nice to be back. Not comfortable, because it's always... it's hard work to try and better what we did before. It's a family, really, with Martin and [producer] Sue Vertue and Steven and Mark (and t'other Stephen [Thompson, the show's third writer]). It's just a lovely thing to do, because it's so loved and we enjoy doing it. Cardiff was cold at certain points. Very cold.

It's a good pressure to have, the success of the second season looming over us. We've got to give people what they want, answer some of the questions that they'll have, and forge something new and take it in another direction. There's been a gap, and some of our experiences will feed into that, but all three of the writers just write so strongly, and that's where the fit feels comfortable. But the challenges are still all there, and it takes a lot of hard work.

How satisfied do you feel with how things are looking?
I think you are in for a treat. The explanations, the cliffhanger and everything? Yeah, I think you're in for a treat. But, ah, well, who knows? I was too curious not to ask how it all happened beforehand, and I couldn't figure it out myself, so I got into the same obsession the nation did before we did it.

How hard is it to keep the secrets?
I am a secret-filled treasure trove at the moment. I've got so many things I can't talk about, but all will be revealed in due course.
I am a secret-filled treasure trove at the moment. I've got so many things I can't talk about, but all will be revealed in due course. But I am absolutely fine with it, and without meaning to patronise at all, my personal preference is being surprised in the moment of watching something, rather than knowing ahead of time. But I do also understand why everyone's desperate to know.

But it's witty and loving and intelligent enough for people to really enjoy it. There are also the books to go on, so... not that there are clues in there necessarily as to how we get out of our version of the Reichenbach Fall. For example, John's reaction in the books is, "Oh, great. Next case!" This is a little bit more 21st century, I think. Martin's got a little bit more air in those moments of reunification, if we can call it that.

Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between Molly and Sherlock in this season?
It's a beautiful thing! She's an extraordinary actress, Louise Brealey. It's really, really good fun, that strain of it. All of the characters are back, and all of them play a role. From what I hear, I imagine she's another way in for the audience, as well as John. She sort of, ahem, represents a few people out there. I better be careful what I say now... But it's also about what she has, which is independence. She may be quiet, she may be retiring, but she's a strong woman at the same time. Just because she's fallen for a couple of sociopaths doesn't mean we should necessarily rule her out as a sane and courageous strong woman.

Can we expect similar 'stunts' as, for example, the hydraulic bed trick in series 2's 'A Scandal In Belgravia'?
Ah, the bed trick! Yes, I did love that. You know we did that for real, right? But yes, to answer your question... we have three fantastic new directors, who'll be taking things in new directions. We've got Steve Lawes, who was director of photography on the first series, so there's experience behind the camera there, and a fresh eye at the same time as well. Paul McGuigan did establish so much of the visual vernacular, and deserves a lot more credit than he got in all the praise and awards we've had heaped on us for our roles - and I don't mean that in a Margaret Thatcher, Royal we way. He's much missed, as well, as he became a dear friend. But it's circumstance. It's a miracle that all of us who are here are all available to do it again, and thank God we are...

Benedict Cumberbatch Talks Sherlock Series 3

In your mind, is it all because of Sherlock that you're so busy now with work?
In part, yeah. It got quite full before then, but it was definitely a tipping point. In the same year that we did the first series, before we knew it was going to be a success, we thought it might do alright, but we had no real idea how well it did. It was hard on the heels of me doing After The Dance, then War Horse, then Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, then Frankenstein, then the second series, then Parade's End, then Star Trek Into Darkness, and here we are after two other films as well.

But my point is that there was lots of stuff in the can as well as this, before this all became a huge success. And this is not to detract from Sherlock - this is all with a much wider audience than I would have had, if I hadn't done it. Spielberg had heard about me through a good casting director, who'd cast me in other films, and was completely unaware of the series until the first series had aired. He was an ardent fan from the beginning. He was shocked by the filmic quality of it, as well, which is a big compliment.

And back to Paul, and our extraordinary editor, who has won a number of awards for his work, Charlie Philips... the idea of not having cutaways for phones, but having text floating, and also for the deductions as well, splicing one scene with another so that the 'inner ear' of Sherlock imagining the environment of the other caller suddenly comes into play on screen, and you get buses wiping frame behind his head even though he's taken the call in the office... all of that was a surprise to us as much as it was to anybody else.

We saw some ideas, some storyboards, but there was so much on the hoof creatively. And that goes for the bed thing as well. I don't know how late in the day that was, but ask Sue, and she'll say, "No Benedict, that was designed a year before you got the script..." But it was wonderful to pull that off, because it was a bit of old-fashioned trickery. It was a bed, in a field, with a hydraulic, and I had to lie onto it, and just replicate the position. It's fun to have a bit of smoke and mirrors that isn't CGI, it's live action.

With John moving out of 221B, will there still be the same dynamic between the two?
At the Golden Globes this year... I was truly starstruck. Meeting Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, that's amazing. And they've seen our show! And they're very nice about it! It's kind of bizarre.
Well, today we're shooting at Baker Street, and it's somewhere John will continue to come to and enjoy coming to. They're definitely still a team, and they're definitely still sleuthing, and Baker Street is the home of that.

Have you watched Jonny Lee Miller's American version of Sherlock Holmes, Elementary?
I watched it last night. He's a friend of mine and an actor that I really like, playing a part that I really like, and to see him relishing it in similar ways is just fantastic. There are 78 of us Sherlocks, vying for position. I think Elementary has a bigger audience in the U.S., but Sherlock is so far-reaching, it's incredible, the responses we get, and where from.

Are you watching any other TV shows?
I love Breaking Bad, and I love Borgen, and all sorts of Danish and Swedish and Norwegian, everywhere Scandinavian, their cop dramas. And a lot of what comes out of America: Mad Men, for example. Just to be in their company for the Emmys and the Golden Globes this year... I was truly starstruck. Meeting Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, that's amazing. And they've seen our show! And they're very nice about it! It's kind of bizarre.

That is one of the more bizarre things about the reach of this, knowing that David Bowie is a fan. How did I find out he was? Fuck, I can't remember. Maybe I just made it up... Okay, let's say this: I definitely heard that. It was someone who knows him, but I cannot remember what the connection was.

What plans have been made for the fourth series?
Well, apparently I commissioned the fourth series! I just got back from a job and I was in a slight state of culture shock, and was then thrust in front of a microphone with Tom Stoppard to accept an award for Parade's End, and I just spluttered my way through. Probably the worst acceptance speech in the history of acceptance speeches, at the South Bank Awards. I am sure it's on YouTube to be rewatched and derided. Then I got back off stage and thought, "God almighty, that was awful." Brain blanking on people who were massively important.

So I made up for it the next day, when we had another awards ceremony, but my point is that I was surrounded by a forest of dictaphones and didn't really fancy all the attention at that particular moment in my life, and couldn't really come up with the goods. So they said, "Are there going to be more series of Sherlock?" And I said, "Hopefully, yeah!" Then immediately it was in the press that I commissioned it. Everyone rang me up to congratulate me on commissioning it...

The first episode of series 3 of Sherlock is out January 1, 2014. In the meantime, be sure to buy the current issue of Empire for an in-depth interview with Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. And as an iPad bonus, take an interactive tour around the set of 221B, with audio details on certain props.

Interview by Ali Plumb

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