(générique de la série) Liane Hansen: This is Weekend Edition, I’m Liane Hansen. (générique de la série)
Liane Hansen: When Granada Television first asked Jeremy Brett to play Sherlock Holmes, the British actor was not particularly enthused.
Jeremy Brett: I remember I drove away from the dinner... when I was asked, and I ... I went with my son, David. And he said, ‘Dad, you don’t want to do it, do you?’ and I said ‘No, I don’t, I really don’t want to do it. I think it’s been done. I think it’s been done so many times I just think it’s an old chestnut. I don’t know – I can’t see any point in trying to do it anymore.’
Liane Hansen: Jeremy Brett did not think he had the stuff to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective. At the time he was a romantic lead in Shakespeare and wooed Audrey Hepburn as Freddie in the film My Fair Lady. Besides, Sherlock Holmes had been portrayed by some of the finest actors of the century; William Gillette, Eille Norwood, Arthur Wontner, and, of course, Basil Rathbone. Intimidating competition. But Jeremy Brett eventually changed his mind, and is now doing his sixth series as Holmes. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes premiered this week on PBS stations across the country as part of the Mystery! series. What prompted the change was Brett’s rereading of the entire canon. The fifty-four short stories and four novels written by Doyle about Sherlock Holmes.
Jeremy Brett: And I discovered all sorts of things that I could do if I had had the opportunity to do it. So I said ‘yes!’, with enormous temerity, and a certain amount of fear, and an element of excitement. We approached the scripts. I said, ‘But you’ve asked me to do Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes ... these aren’t Sherlock Holmes – Doyle’s stories’ . . . I mean, the adapters had gone so far away. And the script editor said, ‘Jeremy, you’re here to act; just get on with it’. And I tipped the table over and my Dover sole landed in his lap.
Liane Hansen laughs.
Jeremy Brett: And that was the beginning of the tousle. I used to take the whole canon with me to every – the beginning of each film, and fight for Doyle. After about a year and a half I said, ‘Listen, if you don’t start taking care of me I may lose interest’, because it was such a tousle. But than Granada Studios stepped in and were so remarkable and wonderful and gave me two weeks rehearsal instead of the one. So the first week I could fight for Doyle and the second week I could work with my fellow actors. And that’s basically how it’s been ever since.
Liane Hansen: One of the things that you seem to do that other actors that have portrayed the role have not, is play up the less than pleasant aspects of his character. Even with Basil Rathbone you had the feeling that there was –
Jeremy Brett: Well, Basil Rathbone, first and foremost, is my Sherlock Holmes.
Liane Hansen: He is?
Jeremy Brett: Yes. Because he was the person I first saw, and I can’t see me of course, so he is my Sherlock Holmes.
Liane Hansen: But do you try to do what he does or to avoid what he does in order to make it your own? You do want to make it your own.
Jeremy Brett: Well, we are, a few of us in England, we are what we call ‘becomers’. In other words, you become the person you're playing. Rather like Stanislavski. Not - the method, because the method’s slightly different, but you become the creature, the person you’re playing. In other words, if I'm a sponge; you squeeze the liquid of yourself out and draw in the liquid of the creature or the person you're playing. And so I had to try and give birth to him. I made terrible mistakes. I’m so miscast, I’m a romantic-heroic actor. So I was terribly aware that I had to hide an awful lot of me, and in so doing I think I look quite often brusque, or maybe sometimes even slightly rude. In fact Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Doyle’s daughter, who’s a great personal friend of mine, did once say to me, ‘I don’t think my father meant You-Know-Who to be quite so rude’, and I said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, Dame Jean, I’m just trying to hide me’. She did say a lovely thing to me when I did the play, in 1988, which was really to celebrate You-Know-Who’s birthday – he’s a hundred, ha-ha . . . For a man who never existed it’s extraordinary to celebrate a birthday.
Liane Hansen laughs.
Jeremy Brett: And, umm, she did come to the play and she did write me a sweet letter in which she said, ‘You are the Holmes of my childhood’. And that, for me, is the ultimate accolade.
(An excerpt from The Creeping Man)
Liane Hansen: He is described as an emotionally cold character, but I think one of the hallmarks of your performance is that you bring a passion to the role. It’s not an overt passion, but it’s a passion that comes, for example, when you gloat or You-Know-Who gloats when he’s defeated an opponent or a temper that flares when people are not listening to you or don’t understand what it is that you’re saying. There’s this passion underneath this brusqueness and this rudeness which is what I think makes him real, which is why your portrayal has been so –
Jeremy Brett: Well, I – What I had to do, I mean, we’re talking about – I was talking about becoming. What I mean by that is an inner life. Watson describes You-Know-Who as a mind without a heart; that’s hard to play - hard to become. So what I did was to invent an inner life. I mean, I know what his nanny looked like, for example; she was covered in starch. She probably scrubbed him, but never kissed him. I don't think he probably saw his mother until he was about eight. Maybe caught a touch of the fragrance of her scent and the rustle of her dress. I guess collage days were fairly complicated because he was quite isolated. He probably saw a girl – across the quadrangle – and fell in love, but she never looked at him . . . so he closed that door. And he became a brilliant fencer, of course, as we know, and a master at boxing . . . brilliant athlete . . . and many more little ti-tiny little details which I have to kind of make up to fill this kind of well of . . . that Doyle so brilliantly left out, because he built this extraordinary edifice, and you – of you’re going to try – I mean you – Cour-course, it’s much better read, and that’s the truth; Doyle’s works are better read. If you’re going to be rash enough to try and bring him into life by the visual arts . . . he’s even better on a radio! I’d rather listen to him, than see him. Seeing is limiting, you know.
Liane Hansen: You do develop a body language for him, though, I mean whenever he thinks he makes a pyramid with his fingers and he puts them up in front of his face and h-he has eccentric rather gestures of the hand.
Jeremy Brett: It’s all Doyle.
Liane Hansen: It’s all Doyle.
Jeremy Brett: All Doyle. You see, I couldn’t believe it; it’s all there. He says - there’s one moment which really threw me . . . it says, he says, ‘Holmes wriggles in his seat and roars with laughter’ . . . You see, I’d never even thought of Holmes laughing.
Liane Hansen: Hmm.
Jeremy Brett: So I had to go on an extraordinary journey of discovery and it’s all there! In Doyle. And what is so extraordinary to me is that no one’s done Doyle before, and I find that bewildering!
(An excerpt from The Creeping Man)
Liane Hansen: In the course of producing these series and acting in these series, was it difficult for you to change Watsons midstream?
Jeremy Brett: Well, it was devastating. My darling David Burke came to me and said, ‘I – please, I must go home, my son, Tom, is two and I must be with him growing up.’ And I said, ‘Of course! I absolutely understand.’ And, emm, so he went back to Anna, his sweet wife, and little Tom. And I stood and waved goodbye at the station in Manchester, which is where the studios are located in England, and thought, ‘Now what do I do? I’ve lost a Watson. My bestest friend.’ And, emm, I mean me, one of my best friends; David Burke. And, uh, it was Anna, his wife, who said, ‘There’s a man with a cast of mind rather like yours David.’ And Edward arrived, of course who I’d worked with at the National Theatre. He’s Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s son, by the bye.
Liane Hansen: But for you playing with, umm, Edward Hardwicke; did you have to develop a new relationship or did he just – was he able to then take on the cloak of Watson enough so that Sherlock –
Jeremy Brett: Well, Edward’s a very, very remarkable man. One – probably the nicest – one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. And . . . he wanted to fit in. So he watched the previous thirteen films . . . Decided to try and look a little like David Burke, as much as he could, bless him. So he put on a rug, I mean a toupee, and, umm - and put lifts in his heels. And the first film we shot together was The Abbey Grange. And we were running across a field, (chuckles) and he (laughs as he continues) he, course he – these heels were too high so he was slipping and sliding. And I said, ‘Oh, Edward, take them out! I’ll bend my knees for the rest of the film!’
Liane Hansen laughs.
Jeremy Brett: So that’s how we adapted and healed it in.
Liane Hansen: Oh . . . You had a personal tragedy, between seasons; your wife died.
Jeremy Brett: Joanie.
Liane Hansen: Joanie. If I’m not mis-
Jeremy Brett: Yes, well, Joanie, umm . . . Well, the reason I did Aren’t We All? was to be with her. (stutters) I knew at the end of The Final Problem in ’84 that she had cancer, and the lights really went out in my life. And, umm . . . I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t see any point, and . . . We were going to do all the treatment in England and then we decided to do it in Boston because sh-she works for W-W – worked for WGBH. You know she created Mystery!.
Liane Hansen: I didn’t know that!
Jeremy Brett: Yes! She created Classic Theatre. And, umm, anyway . . . I lost her on July the 4th 1985. And I went back to England when the play finished, it didn’t finish until the 23rd, I don’t know how I did those performances . . . and, umm, said goodbye to the children. And I was contracted to start again on September the 3rd of that year. And they said, ‘Well, Jeremy, it may help if you get back on the bike.’ Is that an expression you use? In other words, if you get back on the bike –
Liane Hansen: Back on the horse.
Jeremy Brett: Yeah, that’s right.
Liane Hansen: Same phrase.
Jeremy Brett: And, umm, I did the next five films with the most appalling ill grace I’m afraid. I mean, I just didn’t want to do them. And then I had a b-b – what is now known, umm, because the TV Guide published it over here – I had, emm, an almighty breakdown. And when I came through that, thanks entirely to my darling son, David, who was a valiant friend to me through that . . . umm, I got back on the bike again! (chuckles) And I - I remember saying, ‘If I can get to Manchester, I’ll be all right.’ And then I made The Sign of Four and I began to feel better and then I began to feel better with Holmes, and I wasn’t quite so cr- – I’ve said him – I wasn’t quite so cross with him. Umm, ‘cause I blamed him a little.
Liane Hansen: You blamed him?
Jeremy Brett: Well, he – I was working, you see, so far away from Joan, and it had taken up s-so much of our last w-what we – I discovered to be our last few years. And, emm, I begin – You know, time is the great healer. And, uh, and now . . . Actually, Caleb, my eldest, umm, my legacy from Joan, says that I’m looking much better than he’s seen me in years. I saw at – three weeks ago in California. So, slowly, slowly, slowly. You never get over a loss like that. You get used to it but you never get over it.
Liane Hansen: You’ve done thirty-four hours of Doyle stories?
Jeremy Brett: I’ve done thirty-four films. I can’t remember, there’s two . . . there’s three two-hour films, I’ve just finished, three weeks ago, a two-hour film, and two others; The Sign of Four and the Study in S– not the Study in Scarlet – Hound of the Baskervilles. And the rest are one-hour films.
Liane Hansen: Mm-hmm. How many stories are there left? I mean –
Jeremy Brett: Well, I’m going to complete the canon. Thanks to Peter Speiner and Granada Studios.
Liane Hansen: Completing the canon! And then, what? I mean, then you will be able to leave him behind.
Jeremy Brett: Well, I don’t mind, now, I mean . . . Uh, there was a time when people would say, ‘How do you enjoy playing Holmes?’ and I would say, ‘I wouldn’t cross the street to meet him’. I then discovered that, of course, I meant that he wouldn’t cross the street to meet me. Then when I was doing the play, which taught me a very great deal because I was in touch with people, ‘cause filming is quite isolated, and I realized how many children were seeing him and how - what a hero he was, to them. I thought, ‘Oh, my, didn’t know that’, so I thought, ‘My goodness, I have that joy’, umm, of doing it for children. And I think I know why the children love him and that’s because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle endowed Holmes with all the sensibilities of a child – up to the age of eight. Then, at the age of eight, of course you’re told not to look out of the window, umm, get on with your Latin syntax, and they begin to diminish those extra senses. Holmes has them.
Liane Hansen: Do you think you’ve learned anything about the powers of observation that he had that you need for your own art to become these, uh, characters that you play?
LIEN VERSION FRANCAISE Interview de Jeremy Brett par Liane Hansen (Novembre 1991) National Public RadioJeremy Brett: No.
Liane Hansen: No.
Jeremy Brett: No. Somebody asked me the other day - do I dream about him. And, mercifully, no.
Liane Hansen: Don’t want to take your work home with you.
Jeremy Brett: No. Isn’t that a miracle? No. My dreams are – I still have my little dog in my dreams; Mr. Binks. My companion. I call him my hound of heaven, actually.
Liane Hansen: Aw.
Jeremy Brett: He died 16 years ago. So, anyone comes too close, like You-Know-Who – woof! Woof! (laughs) - No, he never comes in. Mercifully. And, heavens to Betsy, the day’s enough!
Liane Hansen: Jeremy Brett. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes can be seen for the next five weeks on the PBS series, Mystery!.

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