Stately Holmes

Ian McKellen and Laura Linney host the NYC premiere of Mr. Holmes.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Mr. Holmes himself, Ian McKellen, Star Trek star George Takei and, in the rear, John Buffalo Mailer
Mr. Holmes himself, Ian McKellen, Star Trek star George Takei and, in the rear, John Buffalo Mailer Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Miramax and Roadside Attractions celebrated Bill Condon's Mr. Holmes with a premiere screening at the Museum of Modern Art, hosted by Ian McKellen and Laura Linney with Hiroyuki Sanada, executives Howard Cohn, Zanne Devine, Steve Schoch, Eric D'Arbloff and producer Anne Carey.

Laura Linney channeling Gene Tierney in Otto Preminger's Laura with Ian McKellen
Laura Linney channeling Gene Tierney in Otto Preminger's Laura with Ian McKellen Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
The last time I spoke to Ian McKellen was at David Hockney's symposium on Vermeer's use of Optics when he was starring on Broadway with Helen Mirren and David Strathairn in August Strindberg's Dance of Death. Condon directed McKellen's Oscar-nominated performance in Gods and Monsters as Frankenstein director, James Whale.

Guests included The Wolf Of Wall Street screenwriter, Terence Winter, who expressed his awe of Sherlock Holmes. Actors Bob Balaban, Swoosie Kurtz, Alex Sharp, Montego Glover, Christian Slater, Toni Trucks, Max Minghella, Ben Shenkman and Zach Grenier also attended, along with stand-up comic Robert Klein, fashion designer Carolina Herrera, writer/producer David Chase, singer/songwriter Peter Cincotti, costume designer William Ivey Long, producer Rachel Winter and journalist Chuck Scarborough.

The year is 1947 and a retired Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) is living quietly in the English countryside with a widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Linney), and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Beekeeping is one of his major activities these days. McKellen's fantastic face is the battleground where Holmes gets ready for a final lurking enemy - the master of deduction's own fading memory.

Mr. Holmes has to have names up his sleeve, written on his shirt cuffs, to remember who he is conversing with. He hopes for the healing powers of Royal Jelly and particularly those of Prickly Ash, harvested in the charred forests of Hiroshima, on a trip to Japan where he met with Tamiki Umezaki (Sanada) to unearth his treasured herb.

Unlike Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer's Still Alice, Mr. Holmes, in this incarnation, based on the novel (A Slight Trick Of The Mind) by Mitch Cullin, is not still the same despite the struggle with Alzheimer's. This Mr. Holmes we never really knew in the first place. He tells everyone who wants to know that 221B Baker Street in London was a decoy address to distract the curious, that he never wore a deerstalker and never really liked smoking a pipe. Sneaky Dr. Watson, who remains without a face and voiceless here, made it all up. Condon lets us linger on images of wistful yearning.

Ian McKellen and Laura Linney as Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Munro in the film.
Ian McKellen and Laura Linney as Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Munro in the film. Photo: Roadside Attractions/Miramax
A young melancholy wife (Hattie Morahan as Ann Kelmot), with rich berry-stained lips, has a profound effect. A diary is speckled with dots, one for each forgotten name. Coloured paper flashcards on the wall of a nursery tell of an absent child. An excursion to the cliffs by the sea links the old man with the young boy Roger, both carrying the same striped beach towel and a basket full of ideas.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Do you remember when you first discovered Sherlock Holmes?

Hiroyuki Sanada: Oh, when I was a kid in Japan. Sherlock Holmes is so popular in Japan, too. I read the novel for children. There was a show for children with animation of him with the deerstalker and a pipe. Then I watched a lot of movies on TV and read another novel.

AKT: Did you ever dream of being so close to Sherlock Holmes?

HS: I could never have imagined. I hoped but thought there was no chance. When I read the script, there was a great Japanese role there. And they called me and I was so happy.

AKT: There is quite a development in your character. We don't expect the turn of events. Can you talk a bit about the man you play, Tamiki Umezaki?

HS: My role, Umezaki, invited Mr. Holmes to Japan to help him find a kind of herb, called Prickly Ash, that helps his brain for the Alzheimer's. I invite him but I have an ulterior motive. I wanted to ask him about my father who disappeared when I was ten years old. So, little by little, Mr. Holmes realises why I invited him.

Hiroyuki Sanada with Laura Linney and Ian McKellen: 'Luckily, all of my scenes are with him, so I've had a great time'
Hiroyuki Sanada with Laura Linney and Ian McKellen: 'Luckily, all of my scenes are with him, so I've had a great time' Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Uh oh, tricky guy! We get along, you know, finding Prickly Ash together, little by little getting closer and then in the end we sort of felt father-son feelings, I and Mr. Holmes. So it's very sad to say goodbye at the end.

AKT: Did you develop any father-son feelings with Ian McKellen?

HS: Kind of, yeah. Acting father. Yeah. He helped me a lot and gave me a lot of advice. Luckily, all of my scenes are with him, so I've had a great time. And Bill Condon is a great director. He gave us a lot of suggestions.

AKT: Where did you film the scenes representing Japan?

HS: All in London. The old building was built in the 1940s, we filmed in the real old buildings. That means, no air conditioning. We wore woollen three-piece suits, Ian and I. It was so hot! July and August in London, that's a good memory for me.

AKT: Do you see character traits that Sherlock Holmes has that you don't have but would like to have?

Laura Linney: Well, he is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And he has a great sense of style. He has a clinical way of doing things and he can act quickly and is decisive.

AKT: Does that go for the classic Holmes and for this one, the retired Mr. Holmes?

LL: Oh yes, I think so.

AKT: You don't like peeling carrots, do you?

Mr. Holmes US posters on the red carpet at MoMA
Mr. Holmes US posters on the red carpet at MoMA Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
LL: I don't mind peeling carrots. My character doesn't like to peel carrots. My character is a war widow and like a lot of women in that circumstance, they found themselves in occupations and jobs that they didn't particularly want to do and weren't prepared for. So I don't think she was a cook or a good cleaner or any of those things.

AKT: When was the first time you discovered Sherlock Holmes?

LL: I was very young. My father gave me the book of the stories and I inhaled them and I've been a rabid fan ever since.

On the red carpet, McKellen told us that he is working on his memoir and will be starring with Patrick Stewart in Harold Pinter's No Man's Land next year in London.

AKT: Is there a character trait that Sherlock Holmes has that you don't have but that you would love to have?

Ian McKellen: I would like his sense of application. His ability to sit down and DO something, SOLVE the problem. I'm more likely to call someone up and say, "Help!". Or put it to one side until tomorrow, you know what I mean. So I admire that in Holmes.

AKT: How did you discover Sherlock Holmes, do you remember?

George Takei: I was a teenager in Los Angeles.

AKT: Did you read the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or see the movies? Did you like Sherlock Holmes?

GT: Yes, he was fascinating. I read them. I'm a reader!

AKT: What is your relationship with Sherlock Holmes?

Terence Winter: 'And when I found out Sir Ian McKellen was playing the part, there's no way I was going to miss this'
Terence Winter: 'And when I found out Sir Ian McKellen was playing the part, there's no way I was going to miss this' Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Terence Winter: Unfortunately, I don't have a real relationship. I've just been a fan since I was a little kid. I fell in love first, actually, with the movies with Basil Rathbone. They used to re-run on TV and then when I was a little older I started reading the stories. I've just always been a fan of anything related to Sherlock Holmes. I even loved The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [directed by Herbert Ross], which was based on Sherlock Holmes.

I'm sort of a junkie for any Sherlock Holmes-related stuff. When I heard about this [Mr. Holmes], I thought, 'Oh my God, this is a version of Sherlock Holmes that I've never seen before, in his old age'. And when I found out Sir Ian McKellen was playing the part, there's no way I was going to miss this.

AKT: You are actually the first one tonight to say that he saw the movies first. Everybody else "pretended" that they read the books first.

TW: No, they couldn't get me away from a television as a kid!

AKT: What character trait of Sherlock Holmes' would you like to have yourself?

TW: God, I mean, just that incredible deductive reasoning. I think I probably couldn't deduce myself out of a paper bag. But if I had a guy like that around, that would be certainly helpful.

Sir Ian McKellen talks Mr Hulot, Holmes and Noel Coward in Deauville

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