Official ‘Sherlock Holmes Actor’ Martin Thompson Shares About Portraying The Iconic Detective
by Hollywood's Panda
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step into the shoes of one of the most famous fictional sleuths of all time?
Well, celebrated actor Martin Thompson did exactly that when he portrayed Sherlock Holmes once again in the recent Los Angeles premiere of the stage production of “Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily.”
In fact, Martin has stepped into Sherlock’s shoes so many times he is listed as an official ‘Sherlock Holmes Actor’ with the Diogenes Club U.K., the International Sherlock Holmes Society. This veteran actor has also appeared in hundreds of non-Sherlock stage and screen roles, including alongside Kevin Costner in “The New Daughter,” Paul Rudd in “Wanderlust,” Colin Firth in “Main Street,” and Dean Jones and Hayley Mills in the “Mandie” franchise.
Martin Thompson took time to answer a few question about his latest role as Sherlock Holmes.
How many times have you portrayed Sherlock Holmes?
MT: You know, I’ve actually lost count! I’ve played Holmes many times over the years, as well as playing Holmes-like characters, so I can’t really recall the exact number. I’ve even played Holmes-within-Holmes when I played William Gillette, the first actor to portray Sherlock Holmes, in the play “Postmortem” by Ken Ludwig. In that show, Gillette becomes Holmes and solves a real-life mystery. I have to admit, that was a little confusing. There were times where I wasn’t sure if I was Gillette or Holmes! But, it was my performance in Atlanta in Steven Dietz’s wonderful play “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” which garnered me the most recognition as Holmes, and actually landed me on the official “Sherlock Holmes Performers” list at the Diogenes Club U.K, the International Sherlock Holmes Society.
Why did you want to revisit him again for “Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily”?
MT: Holmes is always such a fun character to play! His thinking process and ability to draw conclusions – which most of us would miss – is what’s so interesting for an actor to explore. In this production, I really wanted to find his foibles and weaknesses, too. It’s so easy to play Holmes as a god-like machine. And I didn’t want to do that this time. I really wanted to explore the moments where he doesn’t know the answer. Or where his first guess is wrong! I wanted to make this Holmes truly human and perhaps even flawed at times. I hoped to remove that omniscient sheen from him, and really explore the inner workings of his mind.
What was your impression of Sherlock Holmes the first time you stepped into his world?
MT: Well, you know I was introduced to Holmes as many of us were through the wonderful films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. And as a teenager, I began to read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, which I loved! My initial impression of Holmes was that he was very much a man of his times, a very Victorian gentleman, whose unique crime-solving ability set him apart. The stories seemed quaint, as from a simpler time, and the picture we get of Holmes is through the eyes and memories of his friend Dr. John Watson. We only get an outsider’s perspective of the man. So, Holmes seemed to be almost mythical and certainly mysterious.
Have you changed your approach to Sherlock from when you first portrayed him?
MT: Yes! As I’ve gotten older and somewhat wiser in real life, I’ve begun to play Holmes as older and wiser, too! He now has a better understanding of his own foibles and weaknesses. His genius now becomes as much a burden as a blessing at times, causing him to slip between depression and anxiety. And, he can often be socially inept, blurting out the truth when a polite response would be more appropriate. But, I’ve also discovered his sense of fun, and certainly his sense of humor. Which makes him so much more interesting to play!
I also have to mention his British accent. For an American actor to play Sherlock Holmes, the accent has to be spot on! So, I’ve experimented with his accent over the years to arrive at what I think works for Holmes. He was a man of his times in late 19th Century London, when accents truly divided the classes. We know that he was well educated, so he probably could speak with a polished, upper class accent. But, we also know that he was able to mix easily with the common working man, something he could not do if he maintained that same upper class accent. So, I’ve allowed Holmes to slip between accents, and change his speech depending on where he is, and with whom he’s speaking. For instance, when he is speaking with his upper class clients, he maintains his Eaton/Oxford way of speaking. But, when he is relaxing at home with Watson, I allow his accent to slip into a more natural upper middle class London accent, with somewhat more elongated “A’s” and without all the tapped “R’s.” This feels more authentic to me – even though it drove our dialect coach crazy! But, my British friends tell me that I sound, indeed, like a real Londoner. So I’ll take that as a compliment!
What elements in this script, direction or cast do you rely on to help you relive this character and situation for each performance?
MT: In any live performance, an actor always relies on the other actors to keep the performance fresh and alive each night. So, I completely rely on my fellow actors to connect with me. And I strive to partner with them to keep what we are doing real in each moment, and new every night. Fortunately, in this production I am blessed with brilliant cast mates John Wallace Combs, Alison Blanchard, Melissa Collins, David Buzatta, Shawn Savage, Scott Facher, and Anibal Silverya, plus our understudy Ryan Moriarty who make that job easy! And, since I am exploring Sherlock’s thought process, I must truly listen to what is being said! I must have real thoughts about what I am hearing. As Sherlock, I must arrive at my conclusions based on what I actually see and hear each night. Hopefully, audiences will see a Holmes who is filled with real thoughts and watch his actual deductions taking place, rather than just watching an actor pretending to know everything!
Have you ever had the same Watson?
MT: No, I never have! But, my current Watson, played brilliantly by John Combs, is a wonderful friend in real life – and we have worked together in many times in other shows – so we know each other well, and know each other’s rhythms and timing well enough that we can relax with each other and just play! It’s almost like the real Holmes and Watson!
Why do you think Sherlock Holmes has proven such an audience favorite around the world?
MT: Everybody loves a good mystery! Partly because we love solving puzzles, but we especially love it when the puzzle is solved for us! And the Sherlock Holmes stories are some of the best of the genre. In fact they spawned a whole generation of crime solving mysteries, lead by smarter-than-us detectives such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. And it’s always fun to discover what we missed, clues which passed us by – or as Holmes says, “Things we see, but do not observe.”
Do you have a favorite among your Sherlock Holmes outings?
MT: Well, I have to say that this current production of “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of The Jersey Lily” by Katie Forgette at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills has to rank right up there with one of the most fun productions I’ve done! However, the most memorable production is one in which we were having a fight call before the show to rehearse the struggle over a gun, so no one would get hurt – and I broke my finger! I had to do the show with my finger taped up, then go to the emergency room after the curtain call. Not fun! But, certainly memorable!
What has Sherlock Holmes taught you?
MT: We all have genius inside us! We all have the power to solve the obstacles and problems which face us in real life, if we simply allow our instincts and intellect to guide us. And, as an actor, he has taught me to really listen, to really think, and to actually live in each moment. As Sherlock Holmes, an actor cannot pretend, cannot fake it. We must truly inhabit his world, his mind, and his life each night on stage in order for the mystery and the puzzle to become real. Indeed, I’ve learned so much about acting from playing Sherlock Holmes. He’s a wonderful and very challenging exercise. And, it has always been an exhilarating ride!
More info: MartinThompson.net