Why audiences have always been fascinated by Sherlock Holmes via the 75 different actors who have portrayed him. In BobLee’s opinion, Cumberbatch’s Holmes is among the very best portrayals.
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It’s no mystery why we still love Sherlock
Sir Ian McKellen portrays an aging Sherlock Holmes attempting to solve one last mystery in the new film ‘Mr. Holmes.’ Jason Allen
No offense, Hercule Poirot, but there’s no other sleuth in literary history who has so mesmerized and perplexed readers and viewers as Sherlock Holmes.
More than 75 actors have played Holmes, making him the most-portrayed human literary creation in films and television (surpassed only by the non-human Dracula), according to Guinness World Records.
The brainchild of Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes is cold and abrasive, analytical and logical, a master of disguise and deductive reasoning, a lover of pipes and forensics.
And he’s played, in his latest incarnation, by Sir Ian McKellen as an aging, retired Mr. Holmes (opens Friday on 300 screens).
“His continuing popularity is not because of the books, but because of the spinoffs and the very good actors who have played him,” says McKellen.
See what Sherlock Holmes might have been like in his golden years in ‘Mr. Holmes.’ VPC
Basil Rathbone portrayed the detective in 14 films released between 1939 and 1946. Robert Downey Jr. played him as martial arts pro with a drug problem in 2009 and 2011 movies directed by Guy Ritchie. On TV, there’s the BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the acerbic, anti-social detective, and CBS’ modern Sherlockian series Elementary, with Jonny Lee Miller as the private eye.
All these new iterations are “a means to quench an audience appetite for exciting new stories,” says Elementary‘s Lucy Liu, who plays Sherlock sidekick Watson. In her show’s case, “Watson starts as a partner to Holmes but what becomes more intriguing to watch unfold is the friendship which develops as they explore new cases.”
To those who play Holmes, his appeal isn’t puzzling.
“It must be this idea that this man could solve anything and the rest of us are running behind him, trying to catch up,” says McKellen. “He’s not a very comfortable person. You wouldn’t want to spend an evening with him.”
Holmes appeared in four novels and 56 short stories, the most famous of which is arguably 1902’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game), who wrote the 2010 novel The Sherlockian, about the hunt for Doyle’s missing diary, attributes Holmes’ enduring allure to the fact that he continues to be reinvented for new audiences.
Sir Ian McKellen is playing Sherlock Holmes in ‘Mr. Holmes,’ famously accompanied by his sidekick Dr. Watson. We asked him about who his real-life sidekick would be for stage and screen. Jason Allen
“Sherlock Holmes presented the most successful example of procedural storytelling that would come to dominate film and television and novels in our time. He was the first character who was at the center of these loosely interconnected stories,” Moore says.
Plus, he says, “There’s a romance to being an irascible genius. You excuse Sherlock’s jerkiness because he’s so brilliant and because at the end of the day, he has the right motivations. But the jerkiness allows him to be really funny. The stories aren’t dark. Doyle has fun with Holmes’ meanness and rudeness. You laugh at it.”
Adds Rachel McAdams, who starred in both of Downey’s Holmes movies and now plays an investigator on HBO’s True Detective: “Someone asked me if I modeled my character on any female detectives on TV and I didn’t, but if I had to say someone, it would be Sherlock Holmes.”
How so? Because McAdams’ Antigone Bezzerides, like Holmes, has “senses that are all going at once and she can smell a rat. He originated that. He’s using his whole being to sniff something out rather than being cerebral. He’s the ultimate pioneer of detectives.”Robert Downey Jr. is a brawling, tough private eye in ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ (Photo: Alex Bailey, Warner Bros. Pictures)