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Allocine.fr Interviews Sherlock Producer Sue Vertue * 07 April 2012

Sue French Interview

This is an interview conducted during the French press screening of Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia in mid February 2012, recently published by Allocine.fr. Since this is a translation a margin of error can be expected, and so some parts have been edited or removed entirely in an attempt to avoid misquotation. You can read the full original piece in French by Thomas Destouches HERE.

Interview: Sue Vertue out of the shadows of "Sherlock" 

AlloCine: Sometimes there's an image, a caricature, of the producer pulling on his cigar, after his money …
Sue Vertue : … and [he needs it] to eat (laughs)!
 
AlloCine:  Yes! But of course it's not that … For you, in your role as producer, what is the most rewarding "moment?"
Sue Vertue : When I deliver what I sold to the broadcaster. For example when I watch the BBC and I tell them: Here is the series I want to do, I need to ensure that this is the series they will be able to broadcast. For Sherlock , we had to build the look of the character, find the appropriate director, the feel of the series, bringing together a cast and money to achieve our vision.
 
AlloCine:  For "Sherlock", you made two first episodes, something did not work so…
Sue Vertue : In reality it was a single pilot.
 
AlloCine:  A pilot that remained un-broadcast. You have followed with the first episode of season one, right?
Sue Vertue : Absolutely.
 
AlloCine:  What was the "problem" with the pilot?
Sue Vertue : It's not really a matter of problem or not.
 
AlloCine:  This pilot [note: visible on the English DVD edition of Season One] is good but it differs from the first episode, not least in terms of duration. We go from 52 to 90 minutes.
Sue Vertue : I think it is a very good pilot. Originally the first season was to consist of six episodes of 52 minutes, not 3 of 90. Reflecting with the BBC, we concluded that we wanted to make Sherlock even more striking, and went through the options including the 90 minutes format. Wallander, which was also on the BBC, had chosen this option and it worked fine. So we all logically concluded that we wanted, among other things, to create an event of this magnitude. This format allows you to add a little more flesh and consistency. We made tests on the pilot. I'm not necessarily a fan of this step, but it allowed us to reveal other points of disagreement. In the end it proved very useful. This has allowed us to check the chemistry between the two main players [note: Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Sherlock and Martin Freeman , aka Watson] and correct the tone of the scenes involving the police, who the public had found generally stupid at the first viewing. Yes, they were stupid, including Lestrade, whereas this was not supposed to be the case. He is not a bad cop, Sherlock is simply brilliant. This step enabled Steven and Mark Gatiss to tackle this problem and fix it. Between the pilot and the first episode, there were also some technical changes, especially with the camera used.
 
AlloCine:  Scenes were also slightly changed as the first meeting between Sherlock and Watson. The setting is the same but the look is different, as the pace of dialogue…
Sue Vertue : Yes, absolutely. It has also changed its director, [Paul McGuigan] who filmed the third episode [note: "The Great Game"] before tackling the first, which Steven was then still rewriting. Shooting in this order also enriched the first episode. For example, the exchange of text messages that are displayed on the screen dynamically [were conceived by Paul].
 
AlloCine:  And this method also works well…
Sue Vertue : Extremely well. So that when Steven saw the result on screen, he incorporated this idea to the script of the first episode.
 
AlloCine:  You produce the series of Steven Moffat…
Sue Vertue : Not all of them! And I'm married to him, as you know…
 
AlloCine:  Yes, of course! So you produce "some" series. What kind of writer is he? Is it difficult to work with the show-runner Moffat?
Sue Vertue : It is especially difficult if he works on weekends! (laughs)  In these situations I am faced with two questions: "You'll work all weekend?" and "where is the script that I asked you for?"  And if I start to read what he gives me, I must make sure not to be next to him, or rather to ensure that he is not by my side, otherwise he is there watching me and I get asked all the time "why did you not laugh at this page?" (Laughs)  If you do not live with a writer, you cannot imagine what it is really like. In the past I remember I was on the phone with writers telling me "I'm nearly done" and I could not help but have a doubt or take it lightly … I know when it is really done. And I know the causes and implications. But when a script by Steven Moffat  arrives on your desk, it is ready to film. Usually the writers first make a draft, which needs to be refined and reworked, with pages and pages of notes. The version that Steven gives me is generally ready for filming.
 
AlloCine:  What series are you looking at when you were younger? We generally learn much of an artist with his youthful influences…
Sue Vertue : Telling you what I was looking at will give you a hint about my age! (laughs) I instantly think of Bewitched and Fawlty Towers . I never followed soaps in my youth. And today I would not have time. I watched more comedies but somehow I do not really remember which. In fact I lived in the countryside, so I spent more time on the horse! (laughs) 
 
AlloCine:  What did you see in Benedict Cumberbatch that made you think that was your "Sherlock"?
Sue Vertue : While I did not really read what Steven was preparing, I asked him what kind of actor that he sought for the role. He first mentioned the physical tall, angular face, a long nose … and Benedict Cumberbatch doesn't really have a big nose! (laughs)  He gave me a description that is precise but vague, and then we met Benedict! He is handsome and at the same time there is something strange, unusual. There is the oddity in his eyes. From our meeting, we knew it was him.
 
AlloCine:  The two main actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, have great success today and keep making movies. "Sherlock" has contributed greatly to this success. You should feel proud. But it also complicates your task…
Sue Vertue : Yes they are very busy! But as busy as people can be, if they want to participate in a project, they always find time. And our job is to ensure that it can be done. I remember at the time of Coupling [note: series created by Steven Moffat and produced by Sue Vertue ], we had six lead actors! Bring them all together was complicated … but we managed to do it because everyone wanted it to be done. Especially in England, the contract system is very different from that in place in the U.S. where we have an actor under contract for X years.
 
AlloCine:  Speaking of "Coupling", there was an American remake. Were you actively working with the producers of this remake? Did you participate in its development?
Sue Vertue : No. We tried to stay involved but … (silence)
 
AlloCine:  You know the series 'Episodes"? It's about how English writers flew to Hollywood to oversee the adaptation of their series. This looks like a similar experience?
Sue Vertue : I like this series! (laughs)  And yes, it is similar. Steven and I find this a particularly funny comedy and we find here and there little things we have known from the time of adapting Coupling … Finally, one could say that this was not a very happy experience.

AlloCine:  What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think "Coupling"?
Sue Vertue : It's very strange that, through this series we hired actors to play our own lives in a certain way! (laughs) And of course we did our best to select young and particularly attractive actors! I keep a fond memory of it. It tells a part of our lives, even the birth of our first son is addressed…
 
AlloCine:  You put a lot of yourself in "Coupling", you are married to the writer that you produce … Is it not sometimes a bit strange to have your personal life be related to your professional life? 
Sue Vertue : It is true that our social life is partly occupied by our professional lives. But you can see it differently: when a husband comes home by saying he had a bad day, the other spouse has no idea what it what this means. I am thinking of examples of friends who may not understand exactly, or rather in detail, what their husbands do every day. Yet these details are important. Personally, I know exactly where Steven is having a bad day, why, and what that means! (laughs)  But the advantage of our marriage is that we each deeply love what we do and we respect the other's work.
 
AlloCine:  You were the first to offer Steven Moffat the opportunity to work on "Doctor Who". This was the special episode for "Comic Relief" [editor's note: an English Telethon], titled "Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death". At that time, the series was no longer on the air and the new version was still developing. It could have been his first AND last episode of "Doctor Who!" 
Sue Vertue : It was strange because Doctor Who had been absent from the airwaves for 10 years when we made this episode. For the record, my mother was the agent of Terry Nation [note: writer for the first series Doctor Who, he created the "Daleks"] and when we developed the episode, it was just very complicated to obtain the Daleks and permission to use them. So I turned to someone I knew well, my mother, to tell [Terry] of my problems! (laughs) It was both difficult and fun to do this episode. At that time Doctor Who was not yet back in fashion and I know everyone was not really convinced that Steven could do a good job with the character.
 
AlloCine:  The episode is a declaration of love to the character and a parody. An episode in its own right and a comic interlude…
Sue Vertue : That's nice. Thank you. For me, it's been years since I have seen it! (laughs)
 
Interview by Thomas Destouches February 15, 2012 in Paris.

 
 
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