Guy Ritchie on Sherlock Holmes 2, Powerful Friends, Madonna, and His RocknRolla Sequel
The stakes are higher and the villains far more treacherous (Moriarty!), but everything in Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows is of a piece with the 2009 predecessor that introduced Robert Downey Jr.'s turn as the titular OCD turn of the century sleuth. For director Guy Ritchie it's felt like one long evolution from the days of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; now, at the helm of his biggest film to date -- which features some of the most innovative action sequences of the season -- Ritchie is firmly in his wheelhouse. As he told Movieline recently in Los Angeles, "I enjoy playing in a bigger sandbox... and I enjoy having powerful friends to help me manifest a vision."
Said sandbox feels considerably roomier this go-round with Holmes, who finds himself obsessing over his newly discovered nemesis Moriarty (played splendidly by Jared Harris), the evil mastermind behind a plot that could bring all of Europe to the brink of war. Recapturing the jaunty tone that made Sherlock Holmes a commercial and critical hit, Ritchie ups the ante with a new female foil (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), kinetic new action techniques dreamed up for the film, and an even more overt man-love between Holmes and his loyal right hand man, Dr. Watson (Jude Law).
Movieline caught up with Ritchie to discuss how the Sherlock sequel came together, the benefits of the aforementioned "powerful friends," his recent comments about his marriage to Madonna, and when that long-awaited RocknRolla sequel will happen.
When it came time to decide where to go with the sequel, did you feel there were a lot of potential different story directions to go in?
Not really. It was very early on that the decision was made that it was going to be about war, and then that evolved from there. That was a completely ongoing creative process until really we finished filming.
The plot here taps into a revisionist fantasy; what if Sherlock Holmes could have stopped World War I?
I thought an important aspect of the philosophy behind the film, if you will, is that maybe Moriarty isn't the problem. Maybe the problem lies in the human condition. I like that because it stops pointing the finger at anyone in particular and it points more at the human condition than it does at an individual. In a traditional sense we've got a villain that we can blame, but then he points the finger at everyone else and I think that's a plausible accusation that he makes. Hence, well, there was a war wasn't there? And the quote is, "Hidden in the unconscious is an insatiable desire for conflict." I like the idea that Moriarty had somehow capitalized on that. He knew eventually, however big the gun got would be how big the conflict would become. History has illustrated that point most eloquently.
Do you think or hope that your audience reads deeper elements into Sherlock Holmes? Noomi Rapace's Sim has a line, for example, where she talks about not having papers.
That's because she's a gypsy! But listen, I don't care if you take any philosophy away from it or you don't, it's up to the individual, but I like the idea that we thought about those things, and I like the idea that it has that dimension to it. But I'm afraid not having papers doesn't mean anything to me as an Englishman, right, so it's wasted on me. But I like the idea that we thought about it.
This is a sequel that builds on its predecessor, like all great sequels do, which allows you to comment on not only what happened previously but also address the critical and audience reaction to the first film. And one area in which Game of Shadows seems to embrace even more this time around is the love between Sherlock and Holmes - it's almost post-bromantic, so beyond subtext that it's overt.
Yeah, and that to a small degree was what I gleaned from Conan Doyle's Holmes and Watson. Partly, they needed to be camp to balance the macho aspect of their characters. Plus, no one else was doing that thing. So that worked. But also, to me this doesn't feel so much as a sequel as it does the ongoing narrative of Holmes and Watson; it lends itself to a very long story of Holmes and Watson, it was designed as such. So it just feels like an ongoing saga to me.
Your Sherlock-O-Vision, in which Holmes predicts a sequence of events in his mind before they happen, was a great idea in the first film. Here you build on that with a great twist, which I won't spoil. But you also here have a forest action sequence playing with speeds and camera rigs to great effect. Do you conceive of these visual techniques beforehand -- are these tricks that you're itching to try?
Yeah, usually, and then you come up with a theme that you think will work. And then on the day you find out if it really works. Like the forest sequence, I had the idea of two cameras on a speed rail -- that meant that everything about that camera was moving ultra-fast, the frame speed and the physical projection of the camera itself. So there was a lot in there and I hoped that it was going to produce an interesting aesthetic -- and I wasn't really sure until I got on with it. I extended a couple of days when I saw it was working.
Most directors seem to try out new techniques like that on smaller projects or shorts before doing it full on in a film.
I usually do, I usually shoot a commercial a year and try to stick whatever it is I'm interested in into the commercial. But you do it on movies too; you try an idea in the first movie and you can fully exploit it in the second.
Which visual trick were you most proud to pull off?
I think I probably like the forest sequence most. I've seen the forest sequence hundreds of times and I still like watching it, so that's probably my favorite sort of "fuck-dust" scene, if you will.
Fuck-dust, yeah. [Laughs] In terms of being through a lot of tinsel, which I enjoy. It's enough to keep me stimulated in all sorts of ways.
Lovely! Going back to your beginnings, Lock, Stock is so much a part of your story but you've come so far in terms of the kinds of films you're making and the budgets you're working with. What is the biggest difference in terms of how you make films?
I'm not sure, I've sort of forgotten about the experience. Well, I haven't forgotten it but I don't sort of look back on them, really. You know, filmmaking is pretty much after a while about confidence and zeroes, and the zeroes are less intimidating than you might think. But there has been an evolution; the first job I did was for 250 pounds, the next one was for 1,000 pounds, the next was for 5,000 pounds. Then 25,000, then 50,000, and then a million. Then a million to five, and ten, and fifteen to whatever the last one was. So it's evolved, and now the zeroes I don't find as intimidating as I would've. And I enjoy playing in a bigger sandbox. I enjoy the tools. And I enjoy having powerful friends to help me manifest a vision, essentially. Filmmaking's great fun but it's even more fun if you've got friends with deep pockets that are also deeply invested in the process.
And by powerful friends you mean your producers?
Yeah, producers at a studio which have been nothing but helpful for me.
Do you find you have to fight frequently over projects?
Occasionally you fight, but I think a studio wants you to fight. People fight with me and often I want them to fight with me just to test a theory. Sometimes a theory needs to be tested and sometimes you need to stick a flag in the ground to find out whether the theory is valid. People put forward valid arguments or they don't. I suppose it's like a court of law in that sense; things and theories need to be tested, and often that means people get excited and arguments are involved, but that's all part of the creative process. Giving birth is painful.
By a coincidence of timing, Madonna's film W.E. is coming out around the same time as Sherlock Holmes 2; you recently described your marriage to Madonna as a soap opera, but do you think the filmmaking impulse in any way influenced her during your time together?
I don't know, she's always been interested in film. Actually, I sort of encouraged her to be interested in film and she used quite a lot of my crew on her film. I haven't seen her film and I haven't read her script so it's hard for me to comment, but I wish her the best with it. And I think most people's marriages are like soap operas so I don't know if I'm unique in that sense, to a degree, but I suppose it was exceptionally operatic. [Smiles] But then as I say I suppose everyone's is at some point or another.
And finally, is there any movement on that RocknRolla sequel you've been wanting to make?
You know, I've spent a lot of time thinking about it! I've written a script, I think it's a great script, and Joel [Silver] wants to pay for me to do it. But up until now we haven't had the time to do it. It's sitting there and we'd all like to do it, it's just a question of when we're going to fit it in. So we'll wait and see.
Wait until after Sherlock Holmes 2 opens?
[Nods] Everything changes once a film's released. I just have to wait until this film is released before I can even predict what's going to happen next.
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