©1991, The Goody Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted without permission.
The following interview was published in Anglofile issue #20 in 1991. Anglofile is a newsletter for fans of things British. Anglofile is published monthly by The Goody Press, P.O. Box 33515, Decatur, GA 30033. Yearly subscription rates are $12 in the US, $15 in Canada and Mexico, and $18 everywhere else.
Jeremy Brett [part II]
Talking Heroes & Villains With TV's Sherlock Holmes
Last issue, Jeremy Brett talked about coming to terms with his television alter ego, Sherlock Holmes. In this concluding half of his ANGLOFILE interview with Chris Liaguno, conducted last fall in Atlanta, Brett discusses some of his other work and his likes and dislikes when it comes to acting...
What are your plans to bring your stage play, "The Secret of Sherlock Holmes," to the U.S.?
That I planned when I was in New York two weeks ago. I'm going to bring it on Jan. 12, 1993. We had a bad start in England. We ran a year, but we had a very greedy producer who billed it as a thriller, and it's not. I think people were slightly upset. There was no case; it's just Watson and Holmes--Edward Hardwicke and myself. It's a play about them and their adventure, their relationship. If you mislead people and say it's a thriller--The Case of Whatever...there is no case. It's about two men sharing. If we can get that right, and we don't get a greedy producer over here that does the same thing--otherwise I won't do it--then that's the idea.
I hope we'll tour. I'd like to do a tour before and after New York.
Any non-Holmes projects that you've done recently or have in the works like the film with Harrison Ford? Could you tell us about that?
Yes, it's a Patrick Page. I'm playing an Irishman. I told them not to give it to me till I get on the plane to go back to London from Chicago, because I've got quite enough on my plate already. I'm sure it will be lovely and I'm grateful it is...so glad. Then, I've written a play.
Tell us about that.
It's a two-hander. It's nothing to do with Holmes and Watson at all. It's about someone who's a psychiatrist, who lives in Iceland, and a man comes to him who is very distrubed. At the end of the play, the man who was mentally disturbed walks away completely perfect, and the psychiatrist has a breakdown...that's basically the story.
Is that coming out any time soon?
Well, no. I've got to think it through. The first draft is done. It's just a bit long.
Do you find at all that Holmes has typecast you, or are you still offered a variety of roles?
I've just been offered Hector in "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw, starting rehearsals next week in London. I've just been offered, starting this week, "HenceForward," which is an Alan Aykborn play. I don't really mind actually [the Holmes typecasting]. I must be very gratful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because we are in the deepest recession in England, and only five percent of my profession are at work. I'm one of them at work, so I'm not knocking it.
Is the Alan Aykborn a comedy?
Yes, but it's a roboty one. I don't like it. I've also been asked to run a preview on the stage, which I did for "Masterpiece Theater," but my darling, Penelope Keith, doesn't want to come into London because she's had a rough time with the critics. So, I'm not doing that. I've got to start work in January. I might just have a chance to go skiing and that's about it.
You mentioned some of the roles you liked earlier. Do you have any specific ones you would like to play in the future?
Well, I've played Prospero in "The Tempest" in Canada in 1982. I played him without a beard, and angry, and nutbrown. After all, he is a Bermudian, and it's quite hot in Bermuda. And I had a Miranda and my two sides of Prospero's spirit--Ariel and Calaban--are played by the same actor. And I like to do that. I've been asked by the National to pick what I want to do.
Do you ever want to play the villain at any point?
No, I'm playing one now. The villain is not for me. I mean, Holmes is a lovely man, I'm sure, on Tuesdays [laughs]. Villains are very, very boring to do. They're so much easier than heroes. I've just been watching, again because it's the only thing I can get, "Robin Hood--Prince of Thieves." I think the greatest star in American at the moment is Kevin Costner. I think "Dances With Wolves" is probably the greatest film I've ever seen--one of them. It's about a love inside of America that I adore. About courage and strength and pioneer's clarity. And he's brilliant as Robin Hood, and I'm afraid Alan Rickman, who plays the Sheriff, is appalling. I said to him, "Now, I know you're playing a villain, love, I know you're trying to register, I know you're trying to get a better part for the next one, but if you're overacting, it's disgraceful."
Americans love him [Rickman]. When he underplayed in "Die Hard," nobody noticed him. A lot of people were saying the villain overshadowed Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood."
I think he's a disgrace. He's a very good actor, too, and that makes it worse. He was brilliant onstage in "Liaisons Dangereuses." Why he's done this--it must be desperation or something. But Kevin, he is my new hero. My old hero, of course, is Robert DeNiro.
So DeNiro is your ideal?
Oh, I wish I could find a part [in a film with DeNiro]. I thought maybe I could catch a ball in "Awakenings." But I don't fit into "The Deerhunter." I don't fit into "Raging Bull." I would give my eye teeth to work for him, with him, whatever. Oh, I think he's wonderful. What invention, what courage.
What sort of hobbies do you have outside of acting?
Archery. Riding. That's why I was so impressed with Kevin [Costner]. He bothered to learn. He really took his time; he really learned it.
Piano. [long pause]. My incense.
My smoking [chuckles].
Ah, a smoking meditation.
Yes, I meditate and do yoga. I sit cross-legged and try not to levitate too much. Most of the time, I'm off the ground in any case, so I try to get grounded [laughs]. Holmes took yoga from time to time. I was into meditation with the Maharishi, but it was Holmes who took yoga. There are lots of good things about him. I must be careful what I say.
Yes. He's an upholder of the law. He's also a law unto himself. In other words, he releases people and Scotland Yard says "How could you do that?" He also loves children because I've wondered where his love is channeled. Because no one can be that [unemotional]. But I think there is an intimation from the Baker Street Irregulars, the street urchins, and I think he pays them...you see, I'm into fantasy again.
But it seems as if it really helps in your portrayal.
Yes. So whenever I can, I have the Irregulars around. I think Holmes loves children.
Is that what you admire the most about him?
I think it is his power of deduction which is--you see, children have it until the age of 8, and then they lose it because they're told not to look out the window and to concentrate on their Latin. Holmes has been endowed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with the antennae of a child. Also, something else--feminine intuition, which I didn't realize until I played him for awhile. He makes these little leaps. You know how a woman can get an answer that a man has to work his way towards, get all the facts?
Did you grow into that?
I got that while I was playing [Holmes] over the last nine years. I think he's also probably a role model demanding to be wished, in one or two respects. One is the fact that to be self-sufficient is really quite strong, and he is. I mean he only asks Watson in to help pay the rent. He doesn't really need Watson. I mean, Doyle needs Watson because he needs another person there to tell the story.
You don't think Holmes needs Watson?
Not really. I don't think Doyle meant him to. I do, but I don't think Doyle meant him to. I think he's meant to be a marble statue. And I used to say that I would try to put a crack in the marble, just so I have a place as an actor to go in.
You mentioned what you like about Holmes. What do you dislike? The fact that he seems so solitary, so isolated?
Well, what I don't like is the fact that he's so bloody difficult to play [laughs]. That's what I don't like; the rest is fine. I think that I've made a mistake in being born in this time when we're shooting in color. I think Basil [Rathbone] had it better off in black and white. I think it's more dramatic, for one. Also, makeup-wise, because it takes a lot to put my makeup on. I have eyes that are rather large which I can't make up and with a white makeup, my eyes look red and my lips inside are red, so I look quite ill. If that was in black and white, it wouldn't show.
How would you like to see the Holmes character develop?
Well, I'm nervous now, because in the last film, I'm beginning... I hope not, but I felt when we had finished, I said to them, "Gosh, let's be careful. I'm beginning to peep through."
You mean the real you?
Because in "Milverton," I get my first kiss [cheers]. And it's like Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler [laughs]. It's set up like that. He's walking, trying to get into this house, taking disguise, he's Ralph, and she says, "Kiss me," and he says, "I don't know how," which, of course, Holmes doesn't. The next scene, she jumps on him from a tree, knocks him over, and falls on top of him. That's when they come closer and closer and closer. And there's this great smacking, wonderful kiss. And I'll give you two guesses what Holmes does.
Bursts into floods of tears.
So how long will we have to wait for that one?
I guess it will be coming out in England as a Christmas special, and I guess it will be here next Christmas or something like that. But I better be careful. I mean, it was such fun, because I'm 55 and I look like an old crocodile and I went to rehearsal--I took my toothbrush [laughs]. And I used to go back to the bar for the evening and we all sit around and bitch and say, "Ah, this recession is terrible." And I say, "Isn't it ghastly? I've been working so hard today. I've been kissed five times by a 22-year-old girl." And they went, "I beg your pardon. What?" [laughs]. I said, "I've been kissed by a 22-year-old girl and I'm getting paid for it!" It was wonderful [laughs].
Do you have anyone special in your life now?
Yes, I do. I have a wonderful girlfriend and three beautiful children-- Caleb, Rebekah and David. And they're all incredible. [Pulls out photos to show.]
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I've got this card with me--now don't ask me why I've got it because I can't tell you. When I was in the National Theatre in Britain, for four years, I played in "Love's Labour's Lost" by William Shakespeare which [Laurence Olivier] directed. And this was his first night note to me.
That was actually a note that he gave you?
That's right. It was laminated by some little Johnny in England when I was in Dallas because this was being passed around. I'm really grateful, except I'll never touch it again [laughs]. It says: "Darling (Jeremy) These are the do's and don'ts of acting: Do's: Think. Keep your neck back. Think. Be frank. Think. Perceive. Think. Listen. Think. Be in love with Joan. (That's his wife, who was in the play.) Blaze. (That means to be on fire. So easy to do) [chuckles].
"The Don'ts: (Don't be) Ingratiating. Soft. Adorable. Glamorous. Earnest. Polite. Decorated. Gablesome."
[turns card over].
"Love wishes. Love gratitude. Love admiration. Love from Larry."
Isn't that a lovely thing to have?
Back to Part 1...