Amanda Abbington joined the cast of "Sherlock" for the third season of the hit PBS series, playing Dr. John Watson's (Martin Freeman) fiancée Mary Morstan, and for those who don't know, Abbington is married to Freeman in real-life. The two met on another project in the makeup room years ago.
"I know it's quite sickly, but I do love him, and I love him as an actor," Abbington said in this exclusive interview. "I think he's a brilliant actor. I think he's one of our best, so getting to do some really nice, big scenes with him was just a joy."
This Sunday "Sherlock" returns with "The Sign of Three" episode, in which Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) faces his biggest challenge of all -- delivering a best man's speech on John's wedding day. But all isn't quite as it seems. Mortal danger stalks the reception -- and someone might not make it to the happy couple's first dance.
"Sherlock is sort of the wedding planner, so he's trying to get everything organized," Abbington says. "He's also the best man, so with that comes the pitfalls of being a sociopath, the pitfalls of not being able to be a people person, and not being able to give a very good best-man speech, but he does. He pulls it out, and while he's doing his best-man speech, he finds a case. Somebody's been murdered in the wedding party, and he has to find out who, when, and why, so it gets very exciting. It becomes like a caper."
In this interview, Abbington also shares her thoughts on working with Cumberbatch, filming Season 2 of "Mr. Selfridge," on which she plays Miss Mardle, and "Sherlock" at the same time, the fourth season of "Sherlock," and more.
Benedict Cumberbatch is all the rage now.
He is. Yeah.
Can you talk about what it was like working with him?
Yeah. Ben's lovely. Ben's a friend. I've known Ben since they started filming the first series, so he's a lovely, dear friend, and he's also fantastic in "Sherlock." The two of them are just brilliant, and so coming into it was slightly daunting because Ben and Martin have this supreme chemistry. When you're in a read-through with them and you watch them bounce off each other, it really is something kind of special. It's really lovely to watch, so coming into that as Mary was slightly daunting because I didn't want her to be divisive. I didn't want her to look like she was breaking them up or in any way getting in between them, but both Martin and Ben were very accommodating and it worked really well, I think, in the end. By Episode 2, we're all old friends. It's quite nice.
What it was like working with Martin?
It was lovely. I love him.
He said you were fantastic. That was the word he used.
Oh, he used that? He's fantastic, as well. I mean, The thing is, what Martin is very good at is that he learns his lines brilliantly, and then that frees him up to play around and change the dynamic of the scene, so we both came prepared with our lines learned, which meant we could do different takes and do different things with it, so it was a lot of fun because that frees you up to have a bit of fun.
Do you take it home at night, though?
Sometimes. Yeah, sometimes. If we had a particularly tough day or if there had been a lot of scenes in the day, we'd go home and dissect it. Yeah, we do, but we don't do it too much. We'd have a glass of wine, talk about it, and then watch a film, so yeah, it was nice.
I didn't realize you filmed both projects at the same time, so can you talk a little bit about what that was like?
I started "Mr. Selfridge" in April, and then "Sherlock" started in May, so it was a question of juggling really. I'd be a couple of days in North London filming "Mr. Selfridge" with corsets and wigs and stuff and then, after that, get on a train up to Cardiff in Wales to film a bit of "Sherlock." That happened for about two months, and then it was August that was quite brutal because, in the end, I had a time table. I'd written out each day, where I was going to be, and I had it up in the kitchen, so I was literally one day in North London, another day in Cardiff, then back down. It was like a military operation, but it was a lot of fun. It kept me on my toes.
Is it true, though, that that your part in "Mr. Selfridge" was shortened so that you could do "Sherlock"?
Yes, they wrote me out of episode two. They were very accommodating. "Mr. Selfridge" was great. Because it's such a huge, ensemble cast, they could juggle a bit more than "Sherlock," so they were very sweet about it, but they had to write me out of Episode 2.
One of the things that I thought was interesting about Mary was she didn't always think that John was right. She sometimes sided with Sherlock, or was she being like Switzerland?
She's quite diplomatic, I think. She's diplomatic, and, I think, she knows deep down that John still really loves Sherlock as a friend. He's desperately hurt, but when you've been hurt and you're angry, you're kind of blind to what's really going on, so you sometimes say things you regret. So I think she was just easing him gently away from doing something he'd regre,t and just saying, "Look, I like him. Are you going to go and see him again? Are you going to talk to him? You should. You should sort of just try and sort this out and resolve it." I think she was quite a good mediator between the two, and she just really liked Sherlock. She just thinks he's hilarious and funny and charming, in his way.
In bouncing between the two projects, you went from modern to World War I. Can you talk about the changes you had to make because you had to go blonde, or could you wear a wig?
I went blonde for Mary Morstan because in the original canon, she's described as very fair, fair-haired and sort of quite slight, and so I wanted her to be bolder. I wanted her to make an impression, so I wanted her hair to be quite bright. But then I wear a wig in "Mr. Selfridge," so they covered up my hair with this wonderful wig and a corset, so it was quite easy to go between the two.
One of the things that you let slip in one of your interviews was that there's definitely a fourth season, possibly a fifth of "Sherlock." Can you confirm that?
Well, I can confirm that they're talking about it, and I can confirm that Steven [Moffat] and Mark [Gatiss] are doing storyboarding and story arcs and stuff, so basically, it's getting Benedict and Martin in the same room because they're both busy with doing other stuff, so it's firming down dates for this year. Hopefully, something this year. I think we're all aiming to do something fairly soon, sooner rather than later.
Any other projects coming up, or are you going to wait and see what happens with these two?
A few things. Hopefully, at the end of next year. I'm hoping to do a bit of theater, so I'm just in the process of talking to a lovely director in England with a view to doing something very exciting next year. I can't say what it is, but hopefully, if it happens, it will be lovely. And more "Mr. Selfridge" and "Sherlock," hopefully.
The second of the three Season 3 episodes of Sherlock airs as part of Masterpiece on Sunday, January 26 at 9:58 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.