Over the years, hordes of actors have played the role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictitious, detective super sleuth Sherlock Holmes. However, it’s fair to say that Benedict Cumberbatch has made quite the impression over the last three seasons of the BBC smash television series Sherlock. Premiering in July 2010 in the United Kingdom, the direction of the series was left in the very capable hands of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat – renowned for the writing talents on Doctor Who. Considering the immense success Sherlock has achieved, and the overwhelmingly positive critical reception generated, it may come as a surprise to fans of the franchise that Cumberbatch almost rejected the role.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Cumberbatch recently explained that he was initially rather reticent when co-creators Gatiss and Moffat offered him the role of the iconic, London detective. At the time, Cumberbatch was, somewhat, of an unknown entity to both U.K. and American audiences.
Previously, he had obtained a number of significant roles in various classic plays and worked with the illustrious director Danny Boyle on a few theatrical pieces, including The Children’s Monologues and Frankenstein. In terms of television roles, the Star Trek Into Darkness star had made guest appearances in a number of renowned British television series, including Heartbeat, Spooks and Silent Witness. It wasn’t until Cumberbatch appeared in Sherlock, however, that he really shot to notoriety.
Cumberbatch’s meteoric rise to fame, experienced in the wake of his Sherlock performance, is part of the reason the actor was considering rejecting the life-changing part. Having not attracted any significant public attention, pre-Sherlock, Cumberbatch was concerned by the change in perception that he would face:
“My reservation was ‘Well, this is a very iconic character, there will be a lot of attention on it… This was before I had had any significant success [but] I knew there would still be a lot of focus on it. And while I had done work, it wasn’t stepping into the populist limelight like playing a character like Holmes. So I did have a pause for thought.”
The 37-year-old then went on to discuss his reasons for signing up to play the role. He indicates that it was the passion and dedication his coworkers demonstrated that fuelled his desire to join the Sherlock team. Realizing that his success had to spring from somewhere, Cumberbatch opted to work alongside Gatiss and Moffat. Praising the team’s ability to get the job done, Cumberbatch stated that he trusted them entirely, before going on to explain that it was if he was “… being asked to join the family and have some fun.”
Recently, season three finished in the United Kingdom, raking in 8.8 million viewers; this equates to an unprecedented audience share of 32.1 percent. An astonished Moffat expressed his surprise at the series’ ratings success:
“This show, which we all thought would be our vanity project destined for 3 million in the ratings and possibly an award from an obscure European festival, has become a barnstorming international phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, the third season of Sherlock will return to the United States this Sunday, premiering on PBS.
By James Fenner