Culture

Mark Gatiss: "Benedict Cumberbatch has made Sherlock Holmes sexy"

From Sherlock to Doctor Who to Wolf Hall, writer/actor/director Mark Gatiss is 'Mr Television' at the moment...

Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss has his fingerprints all over the biggest and best shows on television. As an actor, writer, producer, showrunner and director, he has become one of the most influential people in popular culture, with Wolf Hall and Coalition the most recent branches of a mind-boggling family tree that has its roots in the founding of The League of Gentlemen in 1995.

Gatiss has crafted for himself a specialism in off-kilter comedies, period pieces, sci-fi and fantasy, describing the triumvirate of Sherlock, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones “the Venn Diagram of my retirement”.

So we have to ask: are we all now living in a Mark Gatiss world?

In the ’80s and ’90s there was a drought of fantasy on television

“In a way, yes, we are all living in a Mark Gatiss world. Because I am representative of a generation who wanted superhero films to be the biggest in the world, who wanted Doctor Who to be the most popular show on TV and who wanted Sherlock Holmes to be everybody’s hero. It has happened, but I can only take a small part of the credit because that is what we all wanted.

“In the ’80s and ’90s there was a drought of fantasy on television. There is now almost too much. I get fed up with all the zombies and vampires – I can’t keep up. I find that ironic and quite remarkable at the same time,” he says.

Mark Gatiss has been in a purple patch for so long now that it has moved beyond a patch into a purple age. A purple reign, perhaps. Here is how his empire was built.

SHERLOCK (co-creator, writer, plays Mycroft Holmes)

Sherlock

“We have just filmed the Special, which as you may know, is set in 1885. I swear to God I couldn’t answer this for laughing for fully five minutes, but Steven and I were asked: ‘How can Sherlock Holmes exist in an era without iPhones?’ He just said: ‘There is some history of that.’ We are answering all the same questions we were asked five years ago, but upside down. Our version has so fundamentally become Sherlock Holmes that people have trouble thinking it could be Victorian.”

THE CUMBERBATCH PHENOMENON 

“We all are extremely proud of Benedict Cumberbatch. Sherlock turned him from a respected actor into a star. That happens very rarely, and he is keen to keep playing the part because he knows how much it has done for him, how much people love him playing it, and he loves it as well. It is quite a journey, isn’t it? There is something very Mr Darcy-esque about his Sherlock. He is unattainable. He explicitly claims no interest in either sex, therefore he becomes very desirable. But the way Ben plays him and the way he looks is quite Byronic. He has made Sherlock Holmes sexy.”

DOCTOR WHO (written the show for TV, radio and novels, appeared in The Wedding of River Song episode)

“It is a dream come true to be involved in Doctor Who. I never thought it would happen, yet now the new series is 10 years old. I can’t believe how fast it has gone. It turns my heart proud that my favourite old show has been totally reinvented and is a worldwide success with a new generation of kids and families watching.

“When you are writing for a new Doctor, you write for the Doctor you know the best. My script for Robot of Sherwood was pure Tom Baker era. Peter Capaldi has this wild-eyed eccentricity. You don’t ever want to stop watching him, you can’t look away.

He is not just a scientist, he is a man of all things

“Peter is an endlessly fascinating person. He said to me that it interested him how the division between science and art is relatively recent. People had no problem with Michelangelo and Da Vinci being scientists as well as great artists. He wanted to bring that to the Doctor – he is not just a scientist, he is a man of all things.”

GAME OF THRONES (plays Tycho Nestoris)

“It is delightful simply because I am just popping in. I grew up reading interviews with guest actors in Doctor Who saying: ‘I didn’t understand what was going on but I had such a good time!’ This is the closest I can get to that feeling. I can just enjoy myself. I love the show, but I don’t know the intricacies of it. People ask detailed questions about the House Baratheon and I just nod wisely.”

WOLF HALL (played Stephen Gardiner)

“I said to the director: ‘Have you noticed all my scenes are essentially the same? I come out of a large building, bitch at Cromwell, he bitches at me and then we leave!’ But I didn’t mind – I was taking my cue from Christopher Leewith my cloak-acting. It was such fun. I was brought up on The Six Wives of Henry VIII, so I always wanted to be part of such a prestigious BBC period drama. I am thrilled it has done so well and scored a blow for a different type of storytelling. It is very measured, low-key, lo-fi, dark and menacing. People made a fuss about how much Mark Rylance conveys with his eyes. They seem to be surprised, but he is one of the finest actors we have ever had. Five people I thought I knew quite well asked whether I was wearing a false nose. I’m afraid it’s the same fucking nose I have always had.”

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (co-creator who played butcher Hilary Briss among other characters)

The League of Gentlemen

“Stephen Moffat and I have known each other for 20 years. We used to meet at parties and he would ask about The League of Gentlemen and I would ask him about Coupling.  We would always get drunk and plot about how we were going to bring back Doctor Who.”

COALITION (played Peter Mandelson)

“I’ve played Malcolm McLaren, Bamber Gascoigne and now Peter Mandelson – I’m the poor man’s Michael Sheen. Mandelson is such a fascinating creature, and an explicit influence on how I play Mycroft Holmes, so to finally play him was a joy. The idea that Gordon Brown would bring him into government after all they had been through goes right back to Wolf Hallwith Cromwell and Gardiner. When politicians have been on the stage long enough, battering seven bells out of each other, the ones still standing are left with a grudging respect, even if they hate each other’s guts. In Coalition, you see Mandy, Gordon and Harriet Harman who have been there for so long that they’re pouring with blood and wounds, but still standing.”

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (plays Dettwiler)

“It is my first horror film, which is ridiculous, isn’t it? There was a bit in the laboratory towards the end on this wonderful set. Freddie Fox, James McAvoy and me were so cold. But I had to go up in this amazing lift and pull the lever. I said to Freddie, ‘this isn’t like being in Frankenstein, this is like being Frankenstein!’ Another dream come true.”

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