This month on VERTIGO VOICES, we talk with Braden Griffiths and Curt McKinstry, two of our actors in SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE AMERICAN PROBLEM. Griffiths and McKinstry tackle the world's most famous detective duo as Holmes and Watson respectively, and we chatted with them about stepping into the shoes of these colourful characters.
You're both familiar to Vertigo's audiences, having acted in several roles at the theatre over the years. What do you feel is different about taking on this famous duo? What feels similar?
Braden: To a certain degree, there’s nothing really different about the process of bringing this production to the stage, regardless of the notable source material. The job is always to inhabit a character and hope that you can illuminate something of the truth of what it means to be a human being. Now, I say that, but, the truth of the matter is, Sherlock is an EXTREMELY important character to many, many people. People have “their” Sherlock: whether it’s Rathbone, Brett, or Cumberbatch. I have no intention of doing an impression of any of those performances, but I think understanding the different flavours of Sherlock is important when you are playing a cultural touchstone. I can only ever play my version of this character, based on my own opinions of what I’ve researched and, based on this specific script, but, hopefully, all of the prep, has led me to a version that honours at least some of what people are hoping for.
Curt: In previous productions I’ve been involved with at Vertigo, the audience wasn’t necessarily familiar with the characters, and the plot is typically new to them. With Holmes and Watson there is an immediate relationship that is understood and expected. The Vertigo audiences knows these characters just as well as we do, if not better at times. So ultimately, the stakes are raised somewhat from other productions. That being said, from an acting perspective, I can’t say that I approached the character any differently than I would in any other production. The fundamentals are the same, there is just more of an awareness of what people expect.
How familiar are each of you with the original stories by Conan Doyle? How do you feel about how this new production presents your characters?
Braden: There has also been a lot of Sherlock reading. I can’t claim to have read every Sherlock story but, it was important to me to understand where this timeless character was born and for me to understand something of what Arthur Conan was originally trying to do with his brilliant character invention. I’ve spent a lot of spare time in the last year with this character, which is not something I can say for most plays I perform in. The nice thing about this script is that R. Hamilton Wright was obviously EXTREMELY familiar with the entirety of the canon. He has stayed beautifully true to the literary character of Holmes but, he has also allowed for the different flavours (that have been offered by Cumberbatch; Brett and Rathbone) to colour this scripted version of Holmes. It’s also a wonderful thing that we have Mark Bellamy directing. It would be hard to argue that there is any director in North America (perhaps the world) who knows more about the mystery genre than Mark. Having that kind of expertise to guide the proceedings is absolutely incredible.
Curt: As part of my research into Watson I read the majority of the Conan Doyle canon. As a rule of thumb, I try to stay away from film and television adaptations that may have previously been done, but with these characters it was difficult. I felt that NOT watching the Benedict Cumberbatch and the Jeremy Brett versions of the series would be doing myself a disservice. In all honesty (don’t tell the playwright), I kind of feel that Watson is a little underestimated in this production. He comes across as being a little slow to the punch, and isn’t very sharp. In the novels, Watson is quite astute and often provides Holmes with an unforeseen perspective on things. That being said, I still love Watson in this version and we still see all the lovely dynamics that are shared between Holmes and himself.
A frequent trope of Sherlock Holmes stories is the inclusion of historical figures, and this play is no exception. Who would be some Sherlock contemporaries - or even some anachronistic ones - that you would love to see on stage, and why?
Braden: It would be fun to see Holmes and Watson bump heads with Erwin Schrödinger: maybe they could figure out whether the cat in the box is in fact dead. Maybe they could find Shoeless Joe Jackson’s shoes. As far as more anachronistic figures are concerned, watching Holmes discover the true identity of D.B. Cooper might be exciting. Also, I’m morbidly obsessed with serial killers and the psychology that would lead someone to a mental state in which they are capable of such atrocities, and so watching Holmes solve the Zodiac murders is like a dream case for me.
Curt: I’d have to say I’d love to see Mary Shelley appear on stage. We’re all familiar with her famous novel Frankenstein, but few people are familiar with her extraordinary personal life. I think the Vertigo audiences would find her quite an intriguing character.
What is another dream casting you might like to see for Holmes and Watson (big screen, small screen, sky's the limit)?
Braden: Ralph Fiennes would be an UNBELIEVABLE Holmes and, I’m a ridiculously big Mark Ruffalo fan, and his Watson might match Fiennes’s Holmes nicely (though I can’t attest to Ruffalo’s British accent, maybe it’s terrible). Or if you’d like a lady Holmes and Watson, I would love to see Cate Blanchett in the role of Holmes with an Emma Thompson Watson. Or, come on, Tilda Swinton as Holmes - gimme-a-break - Tilda Swinton as Holmes and David Oyelowo as Watson. That one. That’s the pairing I choose.
Curt: He has since passed, but I would have loved to have seen Alan Rickman try his hand at Sherlock Holmes, and maybe Derek Jacobi as Watson. I don’t know though, it’s hard to say. Actors are pretty good at surprising us.
This Interview has been edited for clarity and length.