'Sherlock': Amanda Abbington on John and Mary's Wedding and a Dark Shift (Q&A)

In Danger

John Watson's fiancee, Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington), and Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) don't like what they see in a new still from season three.


John Watson is about to become a married man.

British drama Sherlock airs the much anticipated John/Mary wedding episode on Sunday, during which Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) debuts his sure-to-be-awkward best man speech. "It's so unusual, and [co-creator] Mark [Gatiss] and I were very thrilled by that. I don't think there's a mystery at all for the first half hour," co-creator Steven Moffat told The Hollywood Reporter of the episode.

In fact, the second 90-minute installment of the season shows the intelligent detective in an unfamiliar place, "as a fish out of water, trying to cope with a massive social situation that he's not really accomplished at," Moffat said.

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Actress Amanda Abbington, whose long-term partner is Martin Freeman (John), talks to THR about playing the very "sassy" Mary, a big twist and whether Mary can help Sherlock find love.

How did you get involved in Sherlock? Was your relationship with Martin a major piece of the puzzle?

I've worked with Mark and Steven before on different projects. I had done a radio play with Mark and I did an episode of something Steven had written a long time before. I had always been very close to Sherlock because of Martin, and Steven and Mark always said they would always write me a part for the show. They wrote me Mary Morstan, Watson's wife, because I think they knew Martin and I would have good chemistry and we'd work well together. That was their thinking. They wrote the part for me, which was very flattering.

You and Martin do have great chemistry onscreen. What was it like playing an iconic couple?

I think he's one of our finest actors and I think he's just a joy to work with, as is Ben[edict Cumberbatch]. Their chemistry is fantastic, so coming into that was slightly daunting because they work each off each other so beautifully. I've worked with Martin on other projects. They were all very small parts, but this was the first part of any substance and depth.

How did you approach this version of Mary?

I didn't read any of the canon or the [Sir Arthur] Conan Doyle books. I had an idea of what she was like and her personality and her demeanor. I didn't want to make her a foil for Sherlock and John. I wanted her to be a strong and independent character, and Steven and Mark had written that. She wasn't by Sherlock or their relationship. It was playing her very strong and very sassy and sarcastic and standing her ground. They were brought to life in the scripts, really.

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In the premiere, there's a running joke about John's mustache and we find out that Mary actually isn't a fan of it like John had thought. What were the most memorable moments for you?

I loved all the confrontation scenes that we played. They were so much fun. Watching the boys work and watching her think, "What are you doing? Why are you behaving like that?" And the wedding scenes were just fantastic -- the whole scene when Ben's giving his best man speech. We were in this beautiful place in Bristol in a lovely marquee and it was like being on holiday. I have very fond memories of filming.

Mary admits that she likes Sherlock in the premiere. What is it about him that she connects with?

I think she sees herself in him because, as you see as the story unfolds, especially in the third episode, she is someone to be reckoned with and she is quite fearless and she's intelligent. She likes the way he is with people, and she can see that he really likes John, although he's gone about it the wrong way. She just gets the measure of him straightaway and thinks he's quite cool. And I think she says that because she wants John and Sherlock to become friends again, and that's her starting point to get the ball rolling for John to start see him. If his fiancee likes him, he can't be that bad, that sort of thing.

Will Mary possibly play a big role in attempting to help Sherlock find love?

I don't know. That would be nice! I like the fact that Sherlock can't find love and there is something rewarding about watching somebody who is lovelorn. It's wonderfully interesting to watch that unfold onscreen. But he has The Woman in his life. Irene Adler is always his touchstone, I guess. If anything who would claim him, it would be her. Maybe she'll come back. We don't know.

Any Mary/John moments from the season that stand out for you?

I love the scene when John Watson is shaving his mustache off. That was a fun scene to do.

And the "I don't shave for Sherlock Holmes" phrase made it onto a T-shirt.

There are so many T-shirts on the Internet, it's so fantastic! That was one of my favorites.

I spoke to Steven Moffat ahead of the third season and he mentioned that the show is funnier this year. Is that something you also felt?

That was a conscious decision from Steven and Mark. I think what they wanted to do was they wanted to pull the rug from under people [by the third episode]. There was a shift and there was a light-hearted approach, but I think they come back with the strong stuff with the third episode. That was always Steven and Mark's aim, to throw the audience. When you get to the third episode, you see [Lars Mikkelsen's] Magnussen being this horrible, horrible blackmailer and you see Mary's true identity. I think it was to lull people into a false sense of security.

Do you have a favorite episode?

I like three, because it’s not linear. It bounces back and forth in the timeline, and I like that you have to keep up with it. I love the villain in episode three; Lars Mikkelsen does an amazing job. And it takes it back to the original roots of Sherlock, to the first two seasons. I like it when Sherlock is darker. It just suits the tone of the show.

Are you surprised by how the show has been kept alive during its hiatus, especially after a lengthy two-year wait between seasons?

You would think after two years, people would just go, "Oh, OK..." but it's kept that momentum. That's a testament to the fine writing and the look of the show. Everyone on the show works 110 percent to make the show as good as it can be, and I think that shows when you see it. It's a work of art. It's a labor of love.

Though the fourth season hasn't been officially announced yet, it seems everything is moving in the right direction?

Yeah, the right people are gathering money and stuff, so it’s all moving. It’s finding time and Martin and Ben have rigorous schedules. It’s getting everybody in the room and doing it. I want there to be fantastic deductions and more of the same, really. That's the essence of the show, really. It's lovely to play and it's fun to watch. I'm looking forward to more.

Sherlock airs Sunday at 9:58 p.m. on PBS Masterpiece.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
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