Elementary has spent most of the past three seasons sticking pretty close to well-adapted canon when it comes to central characters in the Sherlock Holmes universe. That will change with the season 4 premiere on November 5, though, when veteran actor John Noble joins the cast as Morland Holmes, father to Jonny Lee Miller‘s Sherlock.
We chatted with both John Noble and Executive Producer Robert Doherty at New York Comic Con tto talk about bringing this new, and almost certainly disruptive, character into the close knit family unit Miller’s Holmes has created with his partner, Lucy Liu‘s Joan Watson. It was also a great opportunity to talk about how hard the team has worked to portray addiction in the show, and overall look and feel that New York City allows. Here’s what they had to say.
Spoiler Alert: This is not a spoiler-free post (Sleepy Hollow is also discussed).
Nerdist: What’s it like to bring in someone so pivotal to the story? Joining cast in the fourth season, playing his father, who’s been brought up since day one as this very mysterious and not necessarily very loving character: you’re going to come in and affect everything.
John Noble: To come into the company, it’s a real gift because the show is so good, so successful, seriously, and the company of actors is astonishing, you know. I do my work with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, and they’re both such wonderful actors. So it’s this gift of walking in—sorry to keep raving—it was like going home. I love it. Everything was so smooth. The writer’s are very, very smart.
Rob Doherty: I confess, it’s scary in that there’s no canonical basis for the character. We’ve had, over the last few seasons, characters we have pulled from the canon, and we’ve been very careful to put our own spins on them. We’ve had Mycroft; Kitty Winter was a very important part of season 3, but Sherlock’s father was a creation of the show. Someone that we alluded to going all the way back to the pilot. I would always liken—I’m old enough now where no one gets this reference but I’m going to use it anyway—I would always liken him to Robin Masters on Magnum PI. Kind of this interesting shadowy person that you never meet. But this felt like the time. I think possibly I waited for as long as I did because it’s intimidating. It’s so pivotal. It’s so important. You want to have not just the right character in your head, but the greatest actor you can find to pair with Jonny and Lucy. It’s intimidating. But we’re almost midpoint in the season and it’s been such a jolt for the show. John is so phenomenal. Watching him and Jonny, in particular, take apart this relationship and expose it to the audience is really fascinating to watch. We couldn’t be happier.
N: The show tells such a wonderful—as weird as that adjective is—story of addiction. You show the anonymous meeting lifestyle in such a true and wonderful way. What was it was like to adapt the drug abuse aspect of the Sherlock Holmes stories to the modern era? Can you tell me a bit about the research you did as a team to make sure that it came to life in such a true way?
RD: I feel like it’s the kernel of the idea that I started from, so it’s always been a part of the show. When we first started, … we were talking about it and wondering what would we have to bring to another Sherlock Holmes franchise because they’re always out there whether it’s books or comics or TV or movies—and you want to have your own take. And for having dug back into the canon and revisited stories I hadn’t read in twenty years, what really jumped out was the drug use. I was drawn to this idea of having Sherlock Holmes in repair. Someone who was the guy who was always twenty steps ahead of the police. Someone who walked into the room and saw twenty things. That’s the Holmes we’ve all known and grown up with. What excited me was the idea of delivering a Holmes to that place. Can we pull someone out of this terrible problem and watch him rebuild himself? And I so appreciate not only that you have noticed the care we take to get things right where which means we can. It’s been really wonderful to interact with fans or people who don’t even necessarily watch the show for Sherlock Holmes, they watch because they can relate to what he’s going through. And I promise I’ll shut up in just a second.
JN: No, please continue. I find it fascinating.
RD: I’d say the other part of it, just going back to the pilot again, it’s relatable. It’s sad that it’s relatable but people understand what he’s going through. Sherlock Holmes is probably one of the most fascinating yet least relatable characters in the history of popular culture. But people understand this. Even if they don’t have a problem with addiction, they see someone who has recognized that something is broken inside of them and they’re trying to fix it….while we have a lot of fun crafting the mysteries and watching a very unique mind at work, we love that we can really ground him and present something very real to the people who watch the show.
JN: It’s interesting. All of the very great actors that I have watched over the years, truly great actors, show vulnerability. They’re not sort of men like this instead of full and vulnerable. What this forces is that you have a vulnerable man, a broken man, and I love that too. I know for a fact that’s what people identify with. They don’t want to see the perfect character. They want to see someone coming from where they are coming from going “I can do this! I can fight this back!” That’s why Sherlock is so successful. That’s why Walter Bishop was so successful. He was broken, but he kept fighting to come back. That’s the genius of what you’ve done by the way.
N: You’ve played so many father figures in recent years. How do you bring something different to each of these roles and how have you prepared to join this set little family on Elementary?
JN: We all come from families. We all know that the link between children and parents sometimes can feel like it’s disasterous, but at the end of the day it’s the most strong link we have int he world. You will always be drawn back, no matter what you’ve been through, to get there. Playing the part of the father, I know the feelings. I know the conflicts. I have a son. So in a sense, I play off my own truth about this father, playing the troubled father, playing either the open father or the closed father. I’ve actually seen through it…the addiction theme you mentioned…All I really have to do is be really truthful to that observation and these characters come out of it with a level of truth I think so.
N: Do you enjoy the mystery aspect of the shows you’ve done recently?
JN: Oh my goodness, it’s so wonderful. To be able to play the secret… It’s like a game you play. As an actor, you still play your own truth but you don’t necessarily show it. You have that internal thing. And most of us don’t show what we’re thinking. We don’t show what we’re feeling. I mean perhaps 5% of the time. So it’s kind of an interesting game to play. Subtext is always there. It’s a wonderful acting exercise to do the stuff. It was very interesting the first season of Sleepy Hollow, Tom Mison kind of knew that I was this strange character, but as we were getting on so well, he actually forgot. He actually forgot until the finale, and then said, “Oh god I forgot this!” And it was wonderful. And then we went back and said, “But look at all the clues he’s left!”
RD: I promise Morland is not Sherlock’s son.
JN: Thank god for that. It was so hard having this gorgeous woman—Katia Winter—and this gorgeous man as my parents? They’re beautiful people.
Tell us how exactly you think Sherlock’s father is going to mix things up at the brownstone in season 4 of Elementary in the comments below!
Image Credit: Jeff Neira/CBS