Holmes in America - elementary

By Guy Davis

Aidan Quinn, who plays Sherlock's liaison with the NYPD, gives his rundown on the popular series.

Jonny Lee Miller (left) as Sherlock Holmes and Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson. Photo / AP
Jonny Lee Miller (left) as Sherlock Holmes and Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson. Photo / AP

Contrary to popular belief, one can never have too much Sherlock Holmes. Sure, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary fictional sleuth may seem to be everywhere at the moment - Robert Downey Jr has portrayed him in two films and there's Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC telemovies - but there's always room for another variation.

Especially when that variation transplants the amazingly observant and intuitive detective to New York City, which is the case in new US series Elementary starting on Prime tonight at 8.30pm. Set in the present day, it follows Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller, Trainspotting) - brilliant at deduction, not so great with tact and overcoming a drug addiction - who's been enlisted by the NYPD as a consultant on its toughest cases.

He's aided by Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels, Ally McBeal), a former surgeon who has been recruited as the "sober companion" who will ensure Sherlock sticks to the straight and narrow.

The pair's liaison to the police department is Captain Toby Gregson, played by Aidan Quinn.

A veteran of stage and screen (perhaps best remembered as Brad Pitt's brother in Legends of the Fall or playing Dez alongside Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan), Quinn plays the character shrewdly and is quietly chuffed to have an investigative ace like Sherlock up his sleeve.

But rest assured, says Quinn, the two will butt heads once in a while when Sherlock inevitably goes one step too far.

Q: What made you want to join the cast of Elementary?

It was very smartly written. I wasn't sure initially if I wanted to commit to a series but I got in touch with the producers and the show's creator, Rob Doherty, and they explained what they were going to do with it, how they were going to do it and how they were going to enrich my character in a really interesting way as the show went along. So there's that, and a phenomenal cast and good writing and I was able to work at home here in New York. As you get into the higher reaches of age, those are all good things.

Q: The fact Gregson isn't as flustered by Holmes as other authority figures have been in other stories is great. It strikes me that any police department would want to make use of someone this smart?

Right, exactly. He's just hoping he can keep Sherlock's lack of social graces from getting him or the police department in too much trouble. Sherlock does get the job done, and that's really all my character cares about. I think underneath there's some unspoken thing between Gregson and Holmes - I think Gregson finds him funny, has a certain kind of affection for him and wants to help him in his recovery. But you'll also see episodes where we really go at it. He really gets under my skin. So, yeah, it's an interesting relationship.

Q: Can you tell us about their background together?

They first crossed paths after September 11 and that's where Gregson first saw how brilliant and wacky he was but primarily he saw how effective he was. And I think the younger Gregson might have enjoyed Sherlock showing up some of the older guys. We don't really know too much yet because the writers may have the idea to go back and explore that one day. But that's kind of the gist. Some of those things will always remain unspoken, some you just leave alone and allow the audience to maybe get what they want out of it. You can't be too specific because you may get a script the following week and it's the opposite of what you came up with.

Q: What do you think is the appeal of the Sherlock Holmes stories and Holmes as a character? Both have shown such staying power.

The original novels - the first of which I first read when we started filming - are really well-written. They're great stories. As for their appeal, I think maybe intuitively we know we only use a tiny proportion of our brains and if we ever could use a bit more we'd be a lot more effective. There are the quirks of the character as well, and with what our creator Rob has done with his sardonic and very bright wit, it's fun to be around that when it's unleashed.

Q: You have a long stage and screen career spanning 30 years or so. What does the ongoing nature of series television allow you to do that other disciplines don't?

Well, honestly, I don't know. This is the first time I've got past 13 episodes with a series. We did 13 episodes of Prime Suspect, I was the lead in another series [The Book of Daniel] that got cancelled after six episodes. The other work I've done on series has been arcs of three or four episodes. Rob has delivered on his promise of expanding my character. But we have 14 million people a week watching us, we've been picked up for a whole season and I'm having great fun working with Jonny Lee and Lucy. So far I'm very happy but we'll see where the journey goes.

TV preview

What: Elementary, the new American version of Sherlock Holmes
Who: Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson
When: Wednesday, 8.30pm, Prime.

- AAP

- NZ Herald

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