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Steven Moffat And Mark Gatiss Talk Sherlock Series 3
The show creators-cum-writers on cliffhangers and Basil The Great Mouse Detective

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In addition to their photoshoot in this month's issue of Empire - which has bonus iPad features that allow you to look around the 221B set and hear about the props - here's another chat with the superstar Sherlock writers, with the conversation touching on everything from Irene Adler to brains in jars...

Steven Moffat And Mark Gatiss Talk Sherlock Series 3
Photo: Charlie Gray

How guilty do you feel about teasing people so much?
Steven Moffat: Okay, let's say this: we're not teasing them about the fate of a kidnapped relative, are we? It's a television programme! (Laughs)

Mark Gatiss: Doyle threw him off a waterfall! He left him there for 10 years, and only then did Sherlock come back. We left it... two and a half minutes before we said he'd be back.

Moffat: That's really kind of us, now I think about it.

Gatiss: You must also remember the great adage, "The suspense is killing me. I hope it will last."

Did you do anything to throw people off the scent? Like, say, shoot any scenes that weren't going to make it into the show?
Gatiss: We shot quite a lot of stuff at the end, last time. But, right now, we've actually still got to do the rooftop, and there'll be a lot of press interest, but what can you do? We just have to rely on people not telling... Actually, I remember last time there were lots of fans just standing there, watching the monitor, looking at Benedict's bloodied head, and I turned and said, "You're spoiling it for yourselves!" And nobody said a thing, it didn't leak at all. I was really very proud of them. I had them killed, obviously...

What can you tell us about Sebastian Moran as a threat?
Moffat: Who says there's a Sebastian Moran involved?

Gatiss: He's a character in a story by Arthur Conan Doyle! It's called The Empty House, I think.

Can you say anything about... any characters at all?
Moffat: It's too early for that...

Gatiss: Sherlock Holmes! Doctor Watson! They're in it.

Steven Moffat And Mark Gatiss Talk Sherlock Series 3
Lara Pulver as Irene Adler with Benedict Cumberbatch

With the great reaction to Irene Adler, were there plans to bring her back?
Moffat: It's been fantastic for Lara Pulver, the actress who plays her, who became a star because of that one appearance in Sherlock. She was just brilliant. But we're concerned with keeping the universe of Sherlock expanding, and yet constant, so there's always the possibility for return, but there is the necessity of novelty. Sequels are never quite as good as the originals, are they? But let me give you the proper response: I'm not telling you.

Gatiss: It's story-led, isn't it?

Moffat: It's story-led.

Gatiss: If something amazing popped up...

Moffat: In my other job, my Doctor Who job, I am always asked, "Are you going to bring back so-and-so or so-and-so?" And I say, "That's not how you start a story." The movie poster tagline can't be, "And then it all happened... again!" That's not interesting, I don't think.

Gatiss: There's also a risk of things becoming a bit too cosy. We've got a cast of regulars we want to keep seeing, but you'd feel a bit odd if they weren't there. In the second series' second story, we deliberately didn't have Lestrade so we didn't have that problem - but it did feel a bit odd. But you can navigate your way through that without it feeling too claustrophobic. I think the danger is that you have a successful character like Irene Adler, and she makes a massive impact because the story is so perfect for it, so if she just movies in round the corner... it just becomes a bit cosy.

Moffat: If one crazy one-stop moment becomes an on-off relationship with a lunatic... Or between two lunatics! Where do you go with it? So if you've got an answer to that, you've got a story. (Laughs)

Gatiss: Married! And having children!

As huge crime fiction buffs, do you ever think about doing something with the likes of Lord Peter Wimsey or Raffles The Gentleman Thief?
The movie poster tagline can't be, 'And then it all happened... again!' That's not interesting, I don't think.
It's not our gameplan, no. Resurrecting old TV shows or old characters, no. Sherlock is something we have a mutual passion about, and, more importantly, a particular right of what to do about it, which is to bring it into the modern day. It's those two things, together. If you've for the perfect - as it were - fix, the perfect idea for something, and you're passionate about it, and you're sharing that, then that's the reason to do it.

But what are we going to do about Raffles? I have not a clue. I think Raffles is great, but I don't know what to do with it. There are doing the Father Brown stories now, right? I love those, but I have know idea what I would do about it.

Gatiss: You can't fake it or force it. Wimsey, though, I think he is ripe for redoing. He's a wonderful character. The problem - and this is slightly off topic - is the that Dorothy Sayer's work, unlike Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie's work, doesn't have the plots. They're not up to it. The characters... Well, as literary novels, I think they are wonderful. But the stories are just not as good.

Christie and Doyle were just so good. Billy Wilder said, "He characters were perfunctory, but her plots WERE LIKE FUCKING BALLBEARINGS!" Which is absolutely true. That's why it's not an easy thing to do.

And it's important to stress that we live in a world full of resurrections and remakes and reboots, but none of those things would be out there if it weren't for the original ideas. What would be lovely would be to create things people would become nostalgic about because they were brand new at the time. It's just hard to get them made!

How do you decide who writes which episode?
Moffat: We talk about them for a while and one or other of us will get passionate about doing a particular one, one that fits. It was hard last year, because everybody wanted The Hounds, but obviously Mark wanted it more.

Gatiss: Then it was a curse. It was a tough one. And doing episode one, it's intimidating and exciting. There's a difference in writing 'Another Day In Baker Street' and 'This Is The One Where They Meet Again'.

Steven Moffat And Mark Gatiss Talk Sherlock Series 3

Does what you come up with in your brains ever scare you?
Gatiss: They scare me because I keep mine in a jar.

Moffat: It's quite hard to be scared of something you've just thought of. Otherwise you'd be even more of a wimp than I am. For me, it's just relief that it's an idea! Something! Hooray!

What can you say about Molly's character?
Moffat: She's really interesting, Molly, because she was an unseen character for the pilot, but Loo was so fantastic, we went against our first decision - we decided we wouldn't add a regular who wasn't from Doyle - because she was so fascinating. Over time, certainly by the second series, she wins every encounter with Sherlock. And by being honest, and truthful with them. He's so on the back foot now with Molly, it's hilarious. In a way that John could never put him on the back foot, Molly does.

Gatiss: It's fascinating because it's a new idea. We were doing the pilot, and I said, "What if she has a boyfriend, and Sherlock says he's gay?" And that rolled onto the whole thing with Jim, and that's got so much to do with Loo's interpretation, making it so heartwarming, extraordinary yet ordinary.

Moffat: What you don't get a lot of in the original stories is what women think of him. They don't talk much in the original stories. It just doesn't happen much. There's Irene Adler, who he barely meets in the original, and Mrs. Hudson, who just brings tea, so it was just fun to have that perspective on him - what would a modern young woman make of this vulnerable monster?

Gatiss: Interestingly, you can imagine the audience might not like her. Maybe the girls who like Benedict might not like her, but they adore her, because she speaks for them in a way.

How much crazy fan mail do you get?
Gatiss: We get so much from China.

Moffat: Do you still get it sent to your house?

Gatiss: I get it through my agent, but then they come in big piles. So much from China, truly!

Moffat: Over the two shows, there is a lot.

Gatiss: Normally there's a discussion of what's happened, and questions about how we could leave John in such a state, and so on. But it's all fun. People don't write that because they object. I get told on Twitter about 1000 times a day "I HATE YOU" but it's in a caring way. It does have a drip, drip, drip effect on me though...

I got a letter just the other day from Belarus, talking about episode 3 of series one. It was about the first scene, where the man is about to be executed - and it's only there for the grammatical joke. "I'll get hung for this." Sherlock says, "No, no, you'll get hanged." But I chose Belarus because it's the only place in Europe where they still hang people, where they execute people, and this impassioned letter said: "Belarus is beautiful! Why do you victimise Belarus?" I victimise you because you're the only place that still has hanging! That means I'm allowed to victimise, right?

Do you find actors asking you for guest roles?
Moffat: Um... yes. (Laughs)

You can write with an actor in your mind, but often... they're dead. It's fantasy. I write for James Mason.
Funnily enough, that's not the way it works - you don't come up and ask. But no, it does happen sometimes. I mean, it's great, because it means that obviously people are very keen, but it is the opposite way of doing it. It's like being trapped in a room with a mad person and them saying, "If I'm not in this, I will kill you."

Moffat: It always goes with the character first. We can't think of wanting to bring a star in, then writing a part for them. We wouldn't work that way.

Gatiss: You can write with an actor in your mind, but often... they're dead. It's fantasy. I write for James Mason.

Is it harder and harder to organise this, with the people you cast originally getting busier and busier?
Moffat: What about us? We never stop working. (Laughs)

What about a one-off special, instead of a series?
Moffat: At the moment, we're all wildly enthusiastic about this, and that's the truth, and we always want to make every Sherlock film we make a special event. We don't want to provide one that's a filler. And with Benedict and Martin very happy to pop back occasionally - because that's what it is - and interrupt their stellar, extraordinary film careers, in order to do another three Sherlocks, or two Sherlocks... this feels like a good form, and it works for us, but gaps and starvation have become part of the ecology of this. It certainly maintains it as an event.

Gatiss: I never thought we'd get to The Reichenbach Falls by episode 6, but it hasn't harmed us. It doesn't mean that there's nowhere to go after he's back, you just have to think of new directions. And the whole of this third season will have a different feel to it, because it has to.

You talk about expanding to the universe...
Gatiss: the point of natural heat death, yes.

Naturally. But do you think by the fourth or the fifth season that you'd be at the stage of creating stories entirely off your own bat, not inspired by any particular original story?
Moffat: Hmm... we sort of have already. There are episodes that are brand new stories really, but with ingredients or elements from the original. We don't feel any sort of obligation to start from an original, it's just that there are so many unused, untouched ideas in the original that you want to go for them.

Gatiss: There are obviously enshrined moments, but sometimes I sneak things in. For example, I put the harpoon from Black Peter into Baskervilles because it was a cool moment. That story never gets done. There's not much to it, apart from a man speared to a wall, but it's a cool idea. I think there's so much brilliant stuff in Doyle where you actually think, "That tiny passing reference to a luminous cigar box - that might become a whole thing."

Have you seen Elementary?
Moffat: The truth is, I haven't seen it. The only thing we can do is maintain absolute separation. There's not just one version of Sherlock out there, there are many other versions of Sherlock out there. There are the Robert Downey Jr. films, Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett are repeated on TV most days, if you look hard enough...

Basil The Great Mouse Detective...
Gatiss: I was watching Basil The Great Mouse Detective on Sunday! Have you never seen it? I have, it's a wonderful film. Voice of Vincent Price. You've got to watch it.

Can we expect a another cliffhanger at the end of this series?
Moffat: Well, you'll have to wait and see.

Gatiss: I promise you one thing: whatever it is, we wont have to go back, two years later, and try and make sense of it. (Laughs)

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.

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