WIth over over $500 million in worldwide box office receipts and favorable critical response, Sherlock Holmes (2009) was begging for a sequel. Guy Ritchie and the team reassembled and cranked out Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in time for the Christmas movie rush of 2011. Robert Downey, Jr. is back as everyone's favorite iconic sleuth. He, director Guy Ritchie, and new co-star Nooni Rapace sat down with Buzzine to discuss the joy of making a romp.
Emmauel Itier: Can you talk about the challenge to recreate Holmes and take it to a different level, especially with all the different disguies?
Robert Downey, Jr.: 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. And we have been through it. I think we were just thinking about this over lunch too -- 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, and Warner Brothers has given us the opportunity to try to do something that's complicated and needs to tick a bunch of boxes and all that. And the great thing we had this time is we had Noomi (Rapace) and Jared (Harris).
EI: Talk a little about your transformation into the lovely woman you became in the movie and what was involved. Your transformation was amazing...
RDJ: You're right. I put on some makeup.
EI: Are you excited about being a new dad?
RDJ: Yes. Can't wait. Very excited. More questions for me, please. This is how I was hoping the last press conference would go.
EI: Guy, why did you want to work with them again and come back?
Guy Ritchie: Because we enjoyed it so much the first time. And I waited, with some anticipation, the box office results for very different reasons than everyone else. Because it was such a kind of cathartic experience the first time around. And an enjoyable one. But we just wanted to do it again.
EI: Noomi, as a necomer to this franchise, what was it like getting adjusted to Guy's style of directing? Was it easy for you?
Noomi Rapace: Yeah. From most movies I had done before, I've done a lot of preparation, and I've known about them long before and I've prepped and I've changed my body, and I've done research and all the things you can imagine before. But on this one, I met Robert and Susan (Downey) maybe six or seven weeks before we started to shoot. It was a good, quick meeting in LA. And we didn't really talk about Sherlock Holmes, but we talked about movies and dreams, and I remember Robert asking me, "How do you want to work?" and, "What movies do you want to make?" It was really super intense. And I walked out of that meeting and called my manager and was like, "Wow. Those two are amazing. I would love to work with them." And then Warner Brothers wanted to send me over to London to meet Guy Ritchie. I was there for an hour and we talked, and it was also very intense. I came out of that meeting and was like, "Whoa, I would love to work with those people." But I didn't expect anything. And then...I think it was like a week or two weeks later, they wanted me to do this role. And then we started to shoot like three weeks later. So I just kind of jumped into it, and it was super intense and so much fun. And I was really nervous before. It was my first English-speaking movie, and I didn't speak English three years ago, so I didn't really know how to deal with it and how it would be for me. But the way Guy works, he's very...you feel very...it feels like you're... Are you laughing at me? Okay. It feels...
RDJ: [Interrupting] British people drink. They drink at lunchtime.
NR: No, honestly, they were all very open. And it was very playful and easy and creative. So it felt like you embraced my ideas. And it felt like we created this character together, in a way. And I was surprised at the way they just opened their family for me, and I became one of their boys, pretty much. And the way Guy works, I don't remember a single situation when I came out on set and Guy said, "Okay, this is what I want you to do exactly." He always asked me, "How do you want to do this, Noomi?" Or, "How do you see this?" And, "What do you think Sim would have done?" And that's pretty much the way I love to work. In a very searching, creative, open way. So you always need to use...in what shape are we today? And what do we feel? What's the energy today? And we use the energy today and go from there, in a way. So it was fantastic.
EI: I'm wondering if you could talk about the score for the film and what the collaborative process of working with Hans Zimmer is like.
GR: Hans and I like the same music, and we're influenced by the same...origins, I suppose, of music. So we're both big fans of Gypsy music. In fact, we tried to get some Gypsy music in the first one, but organically, it pops out in the second one. But music, in no small way, plays an enormous part in these films. Hans and I spent many a drunken evening talking about these things.
EI: Noomi, this is a great start to your Hollywood career. You're also in Ridely Scott's Prometheus. How has your experience been in Hollywood movies? Is it a dream come true?
NR: I think I'm really spoiled now. This was the first American or English-spoken movie I did. I didn't know what to expect before. But the way those people worked and the way we worked together was just amazing. We were in London all the time. I kind of forgot that because it felt like we were in different places. But it felt like we went through things together. And it felt like you and me and Jude (Law) came closer and closer in this group. It was really fantastic. I've heard that you're waiting around and you sit in your trailer and wait, and then you go in and do something and then you go back to your trailer and wait. I don't remember waiting at all. So I was extremely happy. And then I went, amazingly enough, straight into Ridley's... I started to prep Prometheus straight after. And I was in that movie for five, six months. So it was a really intense year. And now I'm here. And I'm really grateful for you. For those people that believed in me and gave me the chance, and invited me to this journey. I'm extremely grateful and proud.
EI: Guy, what was it about Noomi that you knew she'd perfect for the role?
GR: I think we all saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo about the same time, and there was an unconscious, collective agreement by the time we got on the phone about Noomi. And after a very short meeting with Noomi, our desires were confirmed and we pretty much wanted Noomi. She ticked all the boxes. And she took it pretty seriously. Needless to say, all the actors take it very seriously. No one was late. So she had all the prerequisites, and it wasn't a tricky decision.
EI: What was your biggest logistical challenge?
GR: We made a movie that takes place in Europe in three or four countries, so you could say that was the biggest logistical challenge. The thing is that we...thanks to the magic of visual effects. It made life much easier to do that. It was really complicated.
EI: Did you and Jude do a lot of adlibbing on set that Guy ended up using? And there seemed to be a lot more action. Did you have to do a lot more physical training?
RDJ: 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. Jude, by the way, would have been here, but his son had a soccer game.
EI: Did you guys do anything to reduce, reuse, and recycle -- just be more green-aware?
RDJ: I just remember that every animal that was harmed was promptly taxidermied and sent as a gift to one of the many ecological companies that have these sorts of huge concerns that I validate. And as far as me being in shape, I think you and I should probably talk about that for half an hour, as it is my favorite topic.
EI: What was the most diffcult scene you had to do, emotionally or physically?
NR: I like doing fight scenes and those more physical scenes. I always enjoy that, and I try to do as much as they allow me to do of the stunt stuff and the more complicated things. So I think that's always quite easy. You just have to crack on and do it. And, of course, you're bruised and your body is aching and you hurt yourself a lot sometimes. But that's a part of it. And I've done fight scenes and stuff like that before, and I always find it quite amusing. In the end, when I lose a person that I really love and that I feel guilty for letting down, that was quite complicated because you need to really get into that situation. And it was a lot of people around me. It was a room full of people, and everybody was watching. And you feel like, in a way, you just want to hide and do it really private, but of course you need to do what's real in the situation. So I think it's always the emotional situations that are more tricky to nail and to get into, because I don't like to pretend. I try to use things in me and translate them into the situation and the character. So it always needs to run through my own veins, in a way. So it was emotional scenes that were more difficult, because I'm really self-critical as well. So I don't want to pretend.
EI: But it was so much fun. I mean, it was just a romp. Guy, is that what you go for? Did you aim for that?
GR: Yeah, they are fun to make. They're also very hard work. But I don't want the hard work to take away from the fun factor. I enjoy going to work, and everyone else here does. They are tremendous fun to make. And they're pretty spontaneous. I love the film. It's spontaneous.
EI: What do you mean by "spontaneous"?
GR: In terms of the levity of the humor, the spontaneity of the humor -- a lot of that is organic. We've got something on the page, and what we're trying to do is trump it. And sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. But just a game of trumping it is, yeah. Keeps everyone stimulated.
EI: Are there some key elements that you have to hit when you play Holmes, like certain things you've just got to get straight in your head? And is one of those taking him up to that line that blurs between madness and genius?
RDJ: Sure. I think we did get that.
EI: This movie, at its core, is about a friendship between Holmes and Watson. Have you ever had that kind of a guy/guy friendship or a bro-mance or whatever the term you want to use?
RDJ: Jude and I are pretty close. But Guy and I are practically brothers, which makes things really interesting. There have been times when I've wanted to lop off his head with a machete, but it's just because I love you so much. There's no one you love more really, is there? Think about it.
EI: Hans Zimmer says the first time he saw you two together in front of each other, you were doing this sort of flinching game with each other where they were taking little kicks at each other -- very martial arts traning -- at each other's nuts. You lost if you moved.
GR: Karate version of Russian roulette.
EI: Guy, I wanted to ask you about working on this particular series. HIgh budget, high stakes involved. How did it change how you approached your job? And did it get any different, or did it change the second time around?
GR: I started making music videos for 250 pounds and incrementally worked my way up the ladder. So by the time I got here, zeroes weren't as intimidating. The most intimidating thing I ever made was a music video for 250 pounds. So much so, I shared the blame with another director. But after it you get over the initial shock, zeroes become zeroes and it all becomes ambiguous after that. I've made films where I've struggled against almost everyone, and I didn't have that issue and haven't had that issue with these two films. I sort of had the reverse process that most independent filmmakers are supposed to have, which is you wait until you work for the man and then the man beats you down. I had exactly the opposite of that. I've had nothing but the man beating me up. So it's a bigger sandbox with more friends. So from my perspective, it's the direction in which I've enjoyed going in. I'm not sure if the pressure's there any more than it was really on my 250-pound music video. You set out to do something, and you set out to do the best that you can do, and you try to cross those bridges as elegantly and as creatively as you can. And that's the only thing that occupies my time on a daily basis.
EI: Robert, you had a great rapport with Jared. I was wondering what it was like doing the first scene together as Moriarty and Holmes. Was it just there from the beginning, or did it grow as the film went on and you filmed more and more scenes together? Jared Harris said a bad idea is a good idea because any idea when you're looking for an idea is welcome, and sometimes it might be some s*** idea that you came up with, and then three weeks later, a little kernel of that is used somewhere, and so you feel part of a group.
RDJ: All right, now let me tell you the other half. He would come in and we'd have a scene that he's shooting in two days. And he'd 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 was like, "I'm going to venture a no on the possibility of yes." It would be like that. And the stakes were so high in every scene. And then there's complicated camera shots and stuff like this, so it's pretty terrifying. But what really happened, as we know with Jared, is he kept pushing toward. It wasn't personal. It wasn't like, "I don't want to be embarrassed and I want to do a good job, and I want to come off great and I want great dialogue." It was more like it kept going back to this archetype that you were trying to represent. Then there would be stuff where we were all in a group with the fight team, and he'd come in and it would be like, "Okay, we're going to do this." And Guy was introducing something that the stunt team had found by accident -- a way of shooting something super, super, super slow as opposed to the phantom stuff we had done before. The next thing you know, he's doing a rehearsal scene with the fight guys. Everything Jared Harris did in the course of making this movie was essentially thrown at him with very little time to prepare. And he 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 it was something that was so particularly him and 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 he 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. And 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. But I would actually know what I was going to say." And I'd be like, "Interesting. Yeah, everyone has their own process." Guy 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.
EI: Along the lines of the philosophy behind performance, you took a risk to try to take on a classic character and color outside the lines in the first film, and I think you were both successful with the mainstream audience and with the kind of die-hard sherlockians. So what are the sorts of things you keep in mind as you try to stick to the basics of Sherlock, but also blow it up a little differently?
RDJ: You just keep Doyle in mind, because I just respect the guy more and more. And I think the other thing is that 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 whatever everyone else needs. You have to give people something to actually write music to so you're not just running your mouth all the time.
NR: But it was also quite incredible how Susan and Lionel (Wigram) always kept an eye over everything when we flew away and wanted to do things and all those great ideas. And it was always like they kind of navigated us back...
RDJ: They hovered.
NR: No, but it felt like you had the whole story inside them, and you knew the books and everything, and it felt like amazing teamwork.
RDJ: Yeah, it was a democracy in the truest and most frustrating and most rewarding sense of the word. Anybody could come in and say, "You know, I'm just not cool with that." It would be like, "Who's that?" "Oh, I'm just cleaning the trailer, sir." It was nuts.
EI: Having done two of these now, do you feel a sense of ownership toward Sherlock? And do you have an interest in the other portrayals, maybe like Basil Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch?
RDJ: I just 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. And 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, and I think it's important that we're all part of the same collective of honoring this great writer and his stories.
EI: Lionel said it was Noomi's ideal to do those camouflage things.
RDJ: I'm pretty sure that everything was my idea.
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' is playing everywhere December 16, 2011.