IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producers Joel Silver and Susan Downey talk 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

Wednesday, 14 December 2011 13:27 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producers Joel Silver and Susan Downey talk 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows'

Joel Silver is without a doubt one of the most successful Hollywood producers of all-time. His career goes back over thirty-years and he is responsible for some of the most popular movies ever including 48 Hrs., Predator, Die Hard, the Lethal Weapon series, and The Matrix franchise.

Producer Susan Downey first worked with Silver on the 2002 film Ghost Ship, and their collaboration continued on such films as Cradle 2 the Grave, and House of Wax. But it was the movie Gothika that probably had the biggest impact on Susan Downey personally, as that is where she met her now husband, two-time Oscar-nominated actor Robert Downey Jr.

Silver had first worked with Downey Jr. in the early ‘80s on Weird Science, and was no stranger to the actor’s brilliant, yet unusual body of work. Silver and the Downeys would eventually go on to make the 2005 cult classic comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang together, but after the actor’s inexplicable success in a series of films based on a certain Marvel Comics superhero (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and next summer’s The Avengers), Silver and the married couple wanted to create their own movie franchise at Warner Bros. They began with ‘2009s smash hit action-mystery Sherlock Holmes, and now hope to continue that success with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which opens in theaters on December 16th.


In the new film, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, respectively, as the duo try to outwit and capture their most devious adversary, Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris (TV’s Mad Men). When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence points to suicide. But Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of a murder, which is only one piece of a larger puzzle designed by the villainous Moriarty. Holmes and Watson soon meet a Gypsy fortuneteller named Sim (Noomi Rapace), who knows more than she is telling about the prince’s murder and the killer’s next target. With the help of Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), the three travel from England to France, Germany, and finally Switzerland to stop Moriarty before he can complete his evil plans. Also returning from the first film are Kelly Reilly as Watson’s new bride Mary, Eddie Marsan as the incompetent Inspector Lestrade, and actress Rachel McAdams, who briefly appears reprising her role as Sherlock’s lover Irene Adler.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with producers Joel Silver, and Susan Downey about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. They discussed the new film, the genesis of the franchise, Downey’s on-set relationship with her husband, Moriarty casting rumors, why Rachel McAdams has a limited role in the sequel, Holmes and Watson’s unique relationship, a possible third film, who the villain would be in future installments, and Silver even gives us an update on the status of his highly-anticipated Logan’s Run remake.


Here is what the two producers had to say:

IAR: To begin with, in October I had the pleasure of attending the American Cinematheque’s tribute to Robert Downey Jr. Joel, you told a story that night about how Robert was hanging around your office right after Iron Man was released and said, “Hey, when are you, Susan, and I going to do our own franchise together?” Is that true and was that how the first Sherlock Holmes movie came together?

Joel Silver: I mean it really happened. He was at my office one day while Susan and I were sitting there. I was kind of at a low end because we had basically just done Speed Racer, which hadn't kind of been what I had hoped. Robert had just done Iron Man and he said, “Where's our franchise here at Warner Brothers?” Because we had done a lot of movies together with Warner Brothers and he said, “You know, something you, me and Susan can do together. Where's the picture we can all do together?” I said, well we have to find it. A few weeks later, as these things are, I got a phone call from Jeff Robinov (President of Warner Brothers Motion Picture Division). He said, “We have this project that came in called Sherlock Holmes.” We had kind of helped them hire Guy Ritchie who had done a picture for us called RocknRolla. Guy had met Robert when we were all together and there had been a discussion about maybe Robert doing this. Guy thought maybe Sherlock should be older at one point and swiftly after that happened, we all got together with the studio and said, "Let's just make this movie together," and we did. That's how it happened. It really, really happened that way.


Susan Downey: I think he actually thought Sherlock should be younger. Robert was too old. That's the rub.

Was Ritchie looking for a British actor to play Sherlock or was he fine with casting an American in the role?

Silver: It never got to that place because it was just the beginning. The movie wasn't real yet, but he had spoken to Robert. The fact is that Robert wanted to do this, so he knew Robert as an incredibly canny guy. He knew this could be good for him and for us, and he knew it could be really special. It just all came together.

Susan, as a producer, can you talk about your working relationship with your husband Robert on the set?

Downey: Personally it's fun because I get to hang out with him. If we weren't doing it together, and I was producing a movie that he wasn't on, it would just take so many hours away from each other. He's kind of my favorite person to hang out with so I get that. But from a professional standpoint, what it does is it closes a gap that sometimes exists, even with great relationships. I know Joel's had really strong relationships with talent in the past, but there is still this sort of (hierarchy) between actors and then the people behind the scenes, when you're actually in production. This closes that gap and it creates a short hand in general between the director, the producers, and the actors. It gets everybody more collaborative because (Robert) has a direct line to a certain degree. He doesn't have to know all the ins and outs of what we're dealing with from a production stand point. I don't want him to have to, A) worry about it or, B) there's just things he doesn't need to know about. But he does have better insight into why we're doing things that actors may otherwise be in the dark about or be frustrated about. Instead he understands the reason, and in the same respect, I probably get a quicker insight into what's going on with the actors. Whether it's purely about the mechanics of a day, or if there is something that's bothering one of them with their trailer, or their personal life, or something like that. I might have a little bit of a quicker insight into that, not that he's telling me stuff, but just because we're all in each other's faces so much more. Everybody communicates better and I think that really helps. Then from a character standpoint it helps because then they can talk a little bit freer about what they like to see have happen. I think it's really valuable in that regard because we talk a lot, and maybe other movies do, but it's not bullshit. There is this very familial environment. We'll have lunch together every day with whoever's on the call sheet and that's very unusual. I think that does come from the connection of having a producer and an actor together like that. It brings everybody else together tighter.


Joel, is it helpful to have a producing partner who is married to the star of your franchise?

Silver: Well you know it just worked out. Susan and I worked together for many years and they met on Gothica, the picture we did together in Canada. It's a great familial experience. It is a big family. I go back to 1985 with Robert, so I mean we've worked on many things together and it's just nice that we can finally all have this big successful thing we're working on. With Robert, unfortunately for him, or actually fortunately for him, he has a lot of other franchise opportunities. He has Iron Man, he has Avengers, I mean there's a lot of franchise opportunities and he embraces this one because he thinks that this has become the family business.

The character of Moriarty was obviously hinted at in the first film, and after it was announced that you were going to make a sequel, a rumor began on the Internet that Brad Pitt was being considered for the role. Was he ever really up for the part, and can you talk about deciding instead to cast Jared Harris as the famous villain?

Downey: I think anytime you're doing a movie, especially at the level of a big Warner Brother Sherlock movie, and you talk casting, whether it's Moriarty or a character no one's heard of like Sim, a ton of names are put out there. Whether you're actively going forward on them or not is a whole other story. We didn't really actively go forward on any of the big names that ended up, some of which we did discuss in a room and some of which were just created online. So what we decided in those conversations, and yes tossing around big names and sort of lesser-known people, was that Moriarty in and of itself is the big name. So we didn't necessarily want to get someone who was going to compete with that on screen. Who you're going to have to get past who they really are to in order to believe them as Moriarty. We'd rather go the other way and have them believe its Moriarty and then wonder whom that really is. We met Jared together early on in that process and really just felt like he had that perfect combination that he needed for Moriarty. Between the intellect, and then the bad guy that you need him to become, and he could play both parts very convincingly. It seemed like such an easy thing after that because he is so talented and really made it his own. Again I hope people come away saying, “Wait, I think I remember seeing him in something. Who is that guy?” I hope they really get to know who he is.


Can you talk about the decision to bring Rachel McAdams back for the sequel in a limited role? Why was that choice made, and was it difficult to get the actress to agree to play such a small part in the film?

Silver: We always felt that Bond was definitely a pattern for us, and the notion of every Bond movie having a new Bond girl or girls. Even Lethal Weapon was the same kind of thing but we ended up in the last one having Rene Russo came back. The family was getting bigger and bigger and it was getting harder and harder. It was more unruly. But we always wanted to just have essentially Sherlock, Watson and a few other peripheral characters like Mrs. Hudson; the woman in the house, or the cop; Inspector Lestrade. But we always intended to have a different kind of girl for each movie. We just thought it was nice to kind of close the chapter on Irene Adler because she was actually in the books. She was in one story and Holmes did think about her a lot. It was complicated getting (Rachel) to come back on board. She liked the experience (of the first film), she loved being with us, but she hoped to have a bigger role. I think at the end of the day it worked out fine. I think of the opening scene of the movie like it's Sherlock 1A before Sherlock 2, just that little scene feels like it came out between the two movies. Then when the logo comes on, we're starting the next picture, and I think it worked out for us. I think she did a great job for us.


One of my favorite elements of the first film, and it is expanded on beautifully in the sequel, is the “bromance” between Holmes and Watson, which Downey and Law play wonderfully. Was that chemistry between Robert and Jude instantaneous when they first met?

Downey: It actually was. Getting to the idea of Jude wasn't as instantaneous because you're so scared to get that wrong. We knew how important that dynamic was. It was very obvious to us that you could hire Robert and he'd be a great Sherlock; he's got the intellect, he's got the physicality, he's got all the things that we set out to do. Watson was a little tougher because on some level he needs to be, although Victorian, an everyman and our eyes into it. Once we did decide to meet with Jude, after a lot of other names had been discussed and all that, we did it at this hotel in London. Jude came down the hall and, Robert loves to tell how, all the women on his team, the assistants and all that suddenly needed to be in the hallway for some reason. It was really interesting. I did actually witness their first few minutes together before we gave them some time. Then we all convened about an hour later and it was instantaneous. I think that they have such a love for the craft, they're so professional and they had a reverence for the material. There are just a lot of things on a personal level where they connected. I've said this before and I wish we could take full credit for just having that ingenious idea, but we can take credit for pushing them into a room together. Everything else is just sort of the alchemy that came from them.


I understand that there are already tentative plans for a third film, did you always intend for this series to be a trilogy, and can you see yourself making more films after the initial three?

Silver: I mean yeah, we're talking about it now, but again we don't really get focused until we know we have a chance to do it. After the first movie we were dreaming of the idea of continuing on and I think we feel the same way now. But we have to just hope this movie does perform, and people want to see it, because it'll be nice to have a franchise out of this. However, it wouldn't be a trilogy series of movies. It's a series where it can go on as long as we want. It's not like you're dealing with three Lord of the Rings books. Sometimes I think Lethal Weapon outstayed it's welcome. I think Lethal Weapon 4 was the least successful as a movie, but I mean it made a lot of money. I think that the thing about Sherlock is that these two characters can go on forever as much as they want. I know that both Jude and Robert are really excited about the idea of continuing on with it, and of course Susan and I are as well, and we'd like to keep going as long as we can.

Do you think Moriarty would continue to be the main villain or would you introduce a new villain to the franchise?

Downey: Let me just say yes to both of those things. As Joel said, we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Since its inception, from Arthur Conan Doyle writing his short stories into the novels, and all the incarnations, it's always been serialized. There are always been multiple stories because these characters are so great. We're very competent that we can continue that, but figuring out the villains and plotting all that stuff … you know we like to learn from the movie. We like to learn from what the audience is responding to, and from that we start to build what we would like to do with the new one. As Joel said, we have some key ideas … but specifics on how we would deal with Moriarty, and what we would we do instead for a villain, to not play games, we're just not there yet. Maybe everybody has their own ideas, but as a collective group to commit to something, we just haven't figured that out yet. We thought after the first one that we were going to bring Dredger (Robert Maillet) back. He was that kind of giant guy. We loved him so much and he was such a win with the audience. But he didn't make it in the second one so we just we put it in our back pocket, and want to revisit it if it fits in the (next) story. You don't want to just wedge it in to have it, so we'll see as it comes.


Finally, Joel how is the Logan's Run remake coming along?   

Silver: It's coming along. It's looking very good and we're hoping that we can maybe get to do that this coming year. We have a good opportunity with Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and it's very exciting. 


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows begins its investigation in theaters on December 16th. 

To watch our exclusive interview with writers Kieran and Michele Mulroney about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, please click here




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