Benedict Cumberbatch: Jonny Lee Miller Took 'Elementary' Role for the 'Paycheck'
Benedict Cumberbatch asked Jonny Lee Miller not to sign on as the lead in CBS' new fall drama Elementary -- yet another modern-day spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective character.
Talking to Shortlist.com, Cumberbatch, the star of hit BBC series Sherlock, says he feels "a bit cynical" about why producers chose to cast Miller, a fellow Englishman of a similar age, as Holmes. (Cumberbatch is 36, while Miller is 39.)
The two men have a friendly working relationship -- they starred together last year in director Danny Boyle's National Theatre production of Frankenstein -- and Miller tried to earn Cumberbatch's blessing before signing on to Elementary.
"Jonny asked me if I was all right with him doing it," Cumberbatch recalls. "I said, 'What are the similarities?' And he went, 'Well it’s modern...' I went, 'Oh.' Then he said, 'Lucy Liu’s going to play Joan Watson...' And I went, 'Oh.'"
Cumberbatch replied that he hoped Miller would pass on the project -- but says he understands why he wound up taking the gig.
"I did say [to Jonny], 'Well, I’d prefer you didn’t do it but you’ve got a kid to feed, a nice house in LA and a wife to keep in good clothes.' When you get used to a certain standard of living and they waft a paycheck at you, what are you going to do?" Cumberbatch says.
All that said, however, Cumberbatch still wishes Miller "the best of luck" in the role.
Elementary brings Sherlock Holmes stateside after an alcohol induced break down. After checking out of rehab in New York, he starts a new life in Brooklyn under the watchful eye of his sober companion Dr. Watson, played by Liu.
The series premieres Sept. 27 on CBS.
UPDATED: Cumberbatch has reached out to The Hollywood Reporter to clarify what he characterizes as a "misquote."
"I am both bemused and upset at this misquote. I never said that Johnny took the job for the paycheck nor did I ask him not to do it. What I said is I would have preferred not to be in the situation where we will again be compared because we are friends. I know for a fact his motivations were to do with the quality of the script and the challenges of this exceptional role.
"It is baffling because I have only been supportive of an incredibly talented actor who I am proud to call a friend taking a job I know he is going to enjoy immensely and be wonderful in.
"Over 70 actors have played this exceptional character before us. To say that there can be only one Holmes would be ludicrous. We're both thrilled to get the opportunity to play him in a modern context. The world of Sherlock Holmes and the world that we live in now is big enough to take more than one interpretation. As a genuine Sherlock Holmes fan I am greatly looking forward to his series."