Cast: John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, Hugh Laurie, Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Noah Jupe, Kelly Macdonald
Director: Etan Cohen
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Synopsis: The Step Brothers are reunited - this time playing the world's greatest consulting detective and his loyal biographer - as Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star as Holmes & Watson.
Holmes and Watson
Release Date: December 26th, 2018
It's taken the best part of ten years to reunite Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly on the big screen but finally contemporary comedy's dream team is back in business with the eagerly awaited Holmes and Watson.
Written and directed by Etan Coen as an hilarious homage to the enduring, ever popular characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Will plays the brilliant sleuth Sherlock Holmes and John is ever loyal assistant Dr. Watson.
It is, says Will, great to be working with his creative soul mate once again. "If someone handed me a contract and said 'from here on you're just going to do a movie with John every two years and you won't get to work on any other projects' I would just sign immediately. We just have a unique, shared chemistry that we have always had from the first time we met each other."
His partner agrees: "To be honest I think Will and I have a connection with each other that precedes us meeting each other," says John. "As soon as we met we immediately looked at each other like 'oh' and there was a connection there, like a brotherly feeling. It just felt very familiar, like family."
That was back in 2006 for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and two years later the much-loved Step Brothers arrived. And although they have appeared on screen briefly together since then – John had a cameo in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues alongside Will reprising his staring role as legendary TV frontman Ron Burgundy – Holmes and Watson reunites them, centre stage, in a period comedy playing two of literature's iconic characters.
And they're supported by an all-star cast including Ralph Fiennes as the arch villain Moriarty, Kelly Macdonald as housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, Rebecca Hall as the glamorous Dr. Grace Hart and Rob Brydon as Inspector Lestrade, the head of Scotland Yard.
There had, of course, been plenty of attempts to get them back on screen together down the years but until Holmes and Watson, nothing felt quite right. This, they agree, was perfect. "It's been a while but we're friends and we stayed in touch," says John.
"I feel like the work we did felt so special and we didn't want to do just anything, it had to be something that was going to live up to Step Brothers and Tallagada Nights. And this one feels special."
For Etan Coen, who directed Will in Get Hard, finally filming Holmes and Watson on the streets of old London town was the final, deeply satisfying leg of a journey that started eight years ago when he came up with the idea.
"It's so great to have Will and John together again and you know, it's true to the Sherlock Holmes' canon because if you know the books, the buddy relationship in the stories is only one notch less comedic than the one you will see on screen," he says. "The way Holmes treats Watson – you might say 'abuses' Watson – in the books is very much the stuff of a buddy comedy."
The director is a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and Holmes and Watson is a labour of love. "Oh yeah, absolutely," he says. "I read the books and I know people aren't going to believe this but we are trying to make a movie that's really true to the Sherlock canon in its counter intuitive way because we are trying to stay honest about the way he looks at clues, the way he looks at logic.
"No one is going to expect that from what they might think is Step Brothers 2 but that's really what we are doing."
Holmes and Watson, he explains, is not an adaptation of an existing story, rather it's inspired by Conan Doyle and the wonderful late Victorian/early Edwardian world of Sherlock Holmes and will feature the detective's famous Baker Street home – where Mrs. Hudson is his landlady – and several characters that fans will know, including the villainous Moriarty.
"I've stolen from all of them," laughs Etan. "But not any specific story in terms of the clues but in general the way Sherlock thinks. And it's a lot about the relationship between the two guys, the way Sherlock uses Watson as an instrument to solve his cases."
And there's a lot of comedy to be mined there, says Will. "We're making Holmes and Watson after Sherlock has been done so many times but we're doing it in a comedic way and that gives us licence to go in any direction that would be unexpected.
"We're true to the period and true to what you would expect from the two of them solving a mystery but at the same time everything is a little bit heightened.
"And you know our movie is really told through the lens of Watson. We are always so focused on Sherlock. And in the stories Sherlock is very arrogant – he doesn't mean to be but he's a genius and Watson is always being handed things and then sent away for months while Sherlock solves a crime.
"So we thought 'let's explore the Watson side of things. What is Watson feeling?' Watson is always kind of put upon and yet Watson is a superhero. He defends Sherlock physically, mentally, verbally at any time and he's always ready and he's so loyal to him because he realises he's in the presence of genius."
Eight years ago Holmes and Watson was virtually set to roll when Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr. starring, went into production. Since then, there have been more TV versions too, notably the BBC's Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
"We started before the first Robert Downey Jr. film and we were on our way and they kind of beat us to the starting line and we said 'well, we don't want to look like we're copying them' so we pulled back for a couple of years and then we said 'well now maybe it's been long enough' and they started their sequel and now, finally, it's been enough time, a little gap since their two movies, and we got our opportunity to go," says Etan.
And, as producer Clayton Townsend stresses, Holmes and Watson is very different from what we've seen before. "It's a subject that's been covered in many ways but I've yet to see it in the comedic genre so it's very different. I've been involved with many comedies in my past but this is quite unique in its elaborate, thoughtful set up and execution. And believe me, it's great fun.
"When I read a script for the first time I don't think 'how are we going to make this?' I read like an audience member. And I've not read anything like this before.
"I really do think that this is a great combination – a film that will make you laugh and also one that has a great Sherlock Holmes story, with all the clues and twists and turns that you would want. There are some great surprises, too, but I don't want to speak about them because we don't want to spoil the surprise for the audience. So when I read it I laughed out loud and I was also riveted – that's a great combination."
Like Etan, John C. Reilly has long been a fan of Conan Doyle's books and indeed, the BBC series starring the late Jeremy Brett as Holmes, which ran in the 1980s and early 1990s.
"I knew the books and when I was younger I really got obsessed with the Jeremy Brett version on the BBC. I've seen every single one of those (episodes) and I loved his performance."
As John points out, the Holmes and Watson friendship is a very deep one – it's just Sherlock doesn't really appreciate how much he relies on his lieutenant. "I think there's a very strong loving relationship between these two characters and that's apparent, you know they live together, and through most of the stories they talk about their romantic interests, but they are usually these distant women that they fantasise about.
"So in our film, we have this case that we're trying to crack and on a parallel track it's the story of the relationship between these two men and that's given almost equal weight.
"We're trying to solve the case, figure things out, but we are always dealing with our feelings for each other and perceived slights and loyalty and devotion and betrayal and so it's this hilarious melodrama about these two guys."
There are action sequences, too, John is delighted to report. "This is a much more macho version of Watson than I've ever seen before. He's tended to be seen as this intellectual character – a posh doctor and a very thoughtful man who is observing what's going on. But in our version he does all of those things but he's also very much the former soldier who served in Afghanistan.
"Sherlock utilises his military background and his ferociousness and his courage to get him out of all kinds of situation because, as Will is playing the character, Sherlock doesn't like to deal with the messy details. It's 'go on Watson, get in there!'
"So I'm sort of the belaboured manservant for some of the story and then there's this wonderful catharsis that happens later in the film where Sherlock is like 'wait, we're equals! I value you.'"
For Will, a comparison with another iconic socially awkward figure from contemporary culture helped him build Sherlock. "I would say towards the beginning Sherlock is almost a little bit like Spock from Star Trek. One might walk into a room and go 'God, Spock's an asshole.' No he's not. He's logical and to him he just talks about the facts and some people don't like hearing that.
"And Sherlock is not trying to be mean he is just telling the truth so that can be construed as 'is he a jerk?' and Watson is a sweetheart. But in the end, both of them go through a transformation. Sherlock, more importantly, realising how important his partner has been, not only as a friend and confidante, but as an essential element to helping him solve crimes and basically live his life. He would be completely lost without him."
Both actors are, of course, playing Holmes and Watson with English accents. "We get a little licence because it's a comedy," says Will. "And it's an American film but at the same time we need the backbone of this to feel very real in terms of the time period, the costumes, and that's why we are shooting here in London and everywhere you point the camera it's amazing and it's a real credit to Sony to allow us to do that.
"We want it to look as if you are stepping into an Edwardian time period movie. So we're doing accents for sure and working hard to at least have them in the ballpark. "
Holmes and Watson was filmed over ten weeks mostly on location in and around London, including Tower Bridge and in the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court Palace, which dates back to the 16th century, where our heroes visit an Anglo/ American exhibition.
"Exhibitions like that used to happen a lot back in the 1890s and 1900s," says production designer James Hambridge. "There was a famous one at White City where people like Buffalo Bill came over and we've drawn on that.
"It's kind of like a trade exhibition where the UK and US exchange ideas. So we had a massive tent in the gardens of Hampton Court and inside we have stalls for things like 'foods of the future' – hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza – and we've got a 'gymnasium' full of machines that look like old sewing machines. We have 200 extras for those scenes and it's a key scene.
"We were thrilled to be able to film at Hampton Court. Obviously we were filming in the gardens of a royal palace and it's tricky to film in a place like that so we had to be very sensitive and work to their rules and regulations – and we had to be very fast - but I must say, they were incredibly helpful and it was a very positive experience."
Both Pinewood and Shepperton Studios were utilised to create the interiors of Baker Street and a scene on board the doomed ocean liner, The Titanic. James and his team also faced the challenge of transforming modern streets into the way they would have looked back at the turn of the 1900s.
For instance, for the exterior of Baker Street – actually another street close by but not Baker Street itself – they had to temporarily remove contemporary street lamps.
"We cast our own Victorian lampposts – I think we had about 12 – with little filaments on the top that glowed just like the old gas lamps. And then we took the heads off of the modern lampposts and got a crane and dropped ours over the top of the existing ones.
"And then you have to cover up the ash-felt and put down fake cobblestones and by the time you have horses and carriages on the street it looked amazing," says James. "And of course, we put it all back to the way it was once we finished filming."
The filmmakers are, understandably, keen to keep the exact details of the plot under wraps. But what we do know is that Sherlock's nemesis, Moriarty, is back and inspector Lestrade has once again called on the super-sleuth for help.
"I'm beyond thrilled that Ralph agreed to do it," says Will. "I'm still a little bit in shock, to get someone of his calibre who wants to play along with us is just great.
"We've had an embarrassment of riches with the casting – Rebecca (Hall) and Rob (Brydon), Kelly (Macdonald) are wonderful. Yesterday we did a scene with Hugh Laurie as Mycroft, Sherlock's brother. But yes, to have Ralph do Moriarty is such a coup, it's incredible."
For Brydon, the British comedy actor who has starred in The Trip with Steve Coogan (who plays Stan Laurel opposite John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy in the forthcoming Stan and Ollie) it was a pleasure to work with two of his comedy heroes.
"We had a few days rehearsal before filming and I looked at Will and John and it was 'ah, yes, they're wonderful as Holmes and Watson," he says. "Because they have a dynamic that they bring to this film and it works so well with the Holmes and Watson dynamic.
"When you work with a big actor that you admire initially there's some trepidation 'how is this going to go?' But Will and John couldn't be nicer and Etan is all for improvisation and he encourages us to invent and with them you are inventing with two of the best.
"I've watched them in the movies they've done together, and separately, and I was a fan. So this has been great fun for me."
And what can we expect from Holmes and Watson? " Sherlock Holmes is socially awkward but in a Will Ferrell way," says Rob. "And John as Watson is fiercely loyal to him to the point of stupidity - he is absolutely adoring of him, he puts Sherlock on the huge pedestal and would do anything for him to his own detriment but in a comedic way. It's very funny."
Will and John clearly love the opportunity to improvise. "Will grew up doing improvisation and he's very used to the give and take that involves and so the way we work together is very much in that way, 'oh you're giving me an idea, I'm going to run with it.'
"And on this one we even pitch each other ideas in the middle of working on it. 'Why don't you say such and such?' 'oh yeah, that's funny, I'll do that..' So it's sort of like a comedy democracy and whoever makes us laugh is the way we should go. It is magic but I don't know why it happens. If I knew how it was actually done I would do it with everybody but I can only do it with Will for some reason."
And that's what the Ferrell/ O'Reilly dream team is all about. As Sherlock might say, it's elementary my dear Watson….
Holmes and Watson
Release Date: December 26th, 2018
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