The BBC’s Sherlock has become one of the hottest shows on TV in any country. It has turned its two stars into high-demand actors who make major blockbuster films when they aren’t playing Holmes and Watson. It’s difficult to imagine anybody else in those roles, but Martin Freeman was not locked into the part at first. His initial audition went to hell because he was in a bad mood.
Freeman spoke at the Edinburgh International Television Festival today and The Hollywood Reporter has the news that he was almost passed over by producers because they didn’t think he really wanted the role. He said:
Ben is, of course, what Benedict Cumberbatch’s friends call him. Apparently he doesn’t make them all call him Benedict, which he totally should do. It just goes to show how little things can throw off an audition, even if it’s a part you really want. While Freeman was a relative unknown in the U.S. prior to Sherlock (because nobody remembers the excellent Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, which should be a criminal offense), he would have walked in to the audition at the BBC with a much higher profile after his role in the original British version of The Office. Perhaps his mood gave the impression he didn’t think the show was good enough. Luckily the issue was resolved and he got the chance to set things right.
To be fair to Martin Freeman, he had a perfectly good reason for being cross that day. As co-creator Mark Gatiss has previously said, apparently Freeman had his wallet stolen earlier in the day, and that was the reason he didn't bring his A game to the audition.
There is another interesting point to be considered here, though. While Freeman talks about auditioning again, he speaks about reading with Cumberbatch as if it only happened on the second go round. If that’s the case then it may be that the inherent chemistry that the two actors share, a large part of why the show is a hit, was the reason the second opportunity went so much better. When the people you’re reading with aren’t as good, it has an effect on you. Just ask Samuel L. Jackson.
Whatever the ultimate reason for Freeman’s success, we can’t imagine anybody else playing the part of a modern John H. Watson. We’re also looking forward to seeing him play the traditional Victorian Watson when Sherlock returns for a one-off special sometime this winter. Sherlock will return for Season 4 sometime in 2016, which is not nearly soon enough.
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