I recently got the chance to talk to Alexander Devrient about his role in ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’. Here, Alexander talks about what it was like working with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Alexander. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
It is an unsettling time for European citizens. Bombings and assassinations have created a mood of fear and tension between people and countries. Sherlock Holmes is only too aware of this danger and understands that these worrying events need to stop. His sharp-thinking detective mind suspects a well-respected Cambridge professor to be the mastermind behind these criminal activities. His name: Professor James Moriarty.
His close friend Dr. John Watson, who is finally getting married to his fiancée Mary and is about to embark on a honeymoon to Brighton, gets taken in by Holmes to help with the investigation. Together they will attempt to uncover the truth before Europe descends into total chaos.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
In the original script, my character went by the scary description of ‘Ferocious Gypsy’. His actual name is Ferrag. He is one of the two gypsies that lead Holmes and Watson into the gypsy camp. He is a fearless character, witty, with an eye for valuable items that he might steal and sell. He is respected amongst his fellow gypsies and has a good relationship with Tamas. Like many others in the camp he relishes the sight of Simza but unfortunately for him, he was born with slight facial asymmetry. That makes her unapproachable for him, she barely acknowledges his presence when he is around.
He makes up for his unusual facial features by honing his pick-pocketing and stealing skills. They bring short-lived, minor wealth to the camp and earn him the respect he needs to stay firmly rooted in the gypsy power structure.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Initially, fellow actor and good friend of mine Jean-Baptiste Fillon mentioned that they were casting for ‘Sherlock Holmes’. I hadn’t heard of anything and had just secured the lead role in a French play that was due to tour around Europe. My agent and I were sorting formalities for the tour when another ‘Sherlock’ casting call for French-speaking actors came out. We went for it.
Some days later, I was sitting in a Seafood restaurant in my dad’s hometown Hamburg, enjoying some succulent pike perch fish (still remember the taste to this day) when I found out I had been called in for an audition. With German and French as my mother tongues, these sorts of roles in major productions are always particularly attractive and I had a good feeling about this one.
At the audition I instantly clicked with casting director Reg Poerscout-Edgerton. In the room next door, they were casting for some sort of musical comedy and many proud mothers with their children were waiting outside. We could hear the kids practicing while their mums were giving them their last pep-talk before the audition. That made both of us laugh and the rest of the audition had a light and humorous undertone.
A couple of weeks down the line I was told I had bagged the role and the adventure could commence.
Have you ever read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work? What do you think it is about Holmes, (historically/visually), that makes him a good detective?
I have read a couple of Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories. The one that particularly stood out for me was the one that appeared in the Strand Magazine as part of ‘The Return Of Sherlock Holmes’ in 1904. It is called ‘The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons’. It starts off with plaster bust casts of Napoleon seemingly being vandalized randomly. It turns out that one of these busts is the holder of the expensive Borgia pearl. That pearl was in turn the reason for a savage murder that occurred a while ago.
Throughout the story, Holmes meets a variety of European London dwellers that send him to all four corners of the city. It is a fascinating race against time to avoid another tragic murder and find the bust that holds the pearl. It combined all the elements that make up a perfect Holmes case.
In regards to his undisputed abilities as a detective, he combines a variety of factors that, even for today’s audience, make him so fascinating.
What stands out the most for me are his razor-sharp perceptive skills of human beings which are second to none. It is quite unsettling to imagine such a character in front of you. One glance at one part of your body or clothing is enough to open an entire file on you, your life, your habits and your persona.
I would love to have this ability, it would make life in my industry a lot easier. Imagine walking into an audition, seeing the casting director and understanding exactly how they tick, what they are about and what they are looking for. If you play your cards right and you have prepared well, the outcome could almost always be very positive.
Visually, Doyle has managed to marry a classic British look incorporating the pipe and what we would consider period clothing with an erratic and yet precise character. His body language and gestures cover a wide spectrum of emotions and his drug-fuelled lifestyle only accentuates the various extreme mental states he puts himself into. Even though this unhealthy way of living would be criticised today, it represents his boredom with routine and gives him the intense focus and undivided attention to detail that leads him to solve most cases in an extraordinarily precise manner.
Doyle famously made Holmes say that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever was left, however improbable, must be the truth. Genius isn’t it?
The film stars Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Jared Harris and Stephen Fry – with Guy Ritchie onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
It was quite the experience. Guy Ritchie is what I’d call a true and yet sophisticated English ‘geezer’. Outspoken, witty and always up for a joke. He made us feel very welcomed on the first day and facilitated the introduction with Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.
It was fascinating to see those three huge names of cinema working together. Before every new bit of the scene they would discuss and share ideas which made the process fresh and innovative.
Jude Law is a real gentleman and played Watson with such ease that it was a pleasure to act alongside him.
I had the most fun with Robert Downey Jr. as my character got quite close and personal with Holmes on the way into the camp (not what you are thinking). It was all about attempting to lure him in whilst diverting his attention and stealing his bag. He fully went along with it and I was surprised at the trust and openness that he exhibited. His Sherlock Holmes had a type of energy that was extremely interesting to observe.
The crew was working as a well gelled unit and second AD Matthew Baker made his voice heard when needed. Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot added his beautiful vision to the eclectic mix.
Let’s talk a bit about you Alexander. What made you want to get into the world of film in the first place?
Before the civil war in Beirut started, my grandfather did a lot of theatre. He has always been a passionate actor and he gave me the inspiration to get involved. In those early days I used to watch a lot of American films with German and French dubbing voices and I remember thinking that it just didn’t seem real and was lacking in-depth.
When I had finally acquired decent English language skills a whole new world opened up and I was fascinated by what I saw. Actors with real voices and true emotions, what a treat! I wanted to achieve the same beauty that I was seeing, ideally in German, French and English.
I finished high school in Brussels and I went on to study Economics and International Relations at the University of Birmingham. Whilst writing my dissertation I was constantly thinking about drama school. I knew I had to focus on my strengths and what I was truly passionate about. It was too late to become a professional football player (not that I was ever good enough to become one) and acting was the only other profession I could really see myself doing. It was definitely the right choice!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Work hard, be pro-active, always set yourself goals and have a clear vision on where you want to go before you start. Most importantly though, believe in your abilities but always remember that as an actor, your learning curve never stops. Oh and if possible, take on a summer job as a door-to-door salesman to get some training in how to deal with rejection.
If you could invite three guests to dinner – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
German actor Klaus Kinski to experience his madness and his genius.
Assassinated Lebanese president René Moawad for his vision of peace and unity amongst people.
Lastly, I would invite the beautiful lady Rita Hayworth. She had such an incredibly mesmerizing presence on-screen that it would be superb to meet her in person.
If you were stranded on a desert island – what three things could you not live without?
- Salad – I love my salad and I would make sure to have salad green seeds with me to plant while I’m out there.
- A huge hammock that I’d set up between two palm trees.
- Henry Darger’s ‘The Story Of The Vivian Girls’. Apparently it’s the longest novel “in the English language”.
What is currently on your I-Pod right now?
Bit of a mixture that ranges from German hip-hop artists Samy Deluxe and Azad to French rapper Oxmo Puccino. Some drum and bass with Andy C, Nicky Blackmarket and Marcus Intalex. Talib Kweli, Reggae group Godwana, Papa Wemba and some Jack Johnson for the quieter moments. Keeping it international.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I am currently finishing the newest run of ‘Secret Cinema’ and developing a major film project with talented actress/writer Joyce Greenaway. For anything else, do check out www.alexanderdevrient.com.
Thanks for the interview!