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ELEMENTARY’s Jonny Lee Miller & Lucy Liu Talk Family & Guest Stars at NYCC

I hope you’re watching Elementary. If you’re not, you are missing out on one of the most entertaining modern adaptations of classic Sherlock Holmes stories that has been made. Jonny Lee Miller is the addict in recovery Sherlock Holmes, and Lucy Liu is the brilliant former surgeon Joan Watson. The show will have its fourth season premiere this November.

In addition to sharing the New York Comic Con exclusive clip with you all, we had the chance to sit down with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu on Friday to talk cast additions, family dynamics and guest stars just hours before their panel. Here’s what they had to say.

Spoiler Alert – This is not a spoiler free discussion.

Nerdist: Family plays such a huge part of Elementary – the mysteries, the two of you, really everything. Can you talk about preparing to dive into these relationships?

Jonny Lee Miller: I think what’s nice about it is that when you’re doing a network show which is a detective show which has a procedural element to it, the one thing that can have continuity and have a serial through line, and you can grow throughout the season, is the interpersonal relationships whether they be your blood family or the friendships of those characters. So those are really things that we get to develop over time, and they really compliment the procedural element to the show I think.

Lucy Liu: I think also it’s nice to have a period of time where you can introduce other members of the family which then can introduce your character more to the audience. Instead of saying it’s all here, it’s all out, all the time. The procedural aspect of the show, you know we’ll solve a case every episode, generally, or we won’t, but the intimacy between the two of us is also going to be discovered through outside relationships. Not just between our conversations and our dialogue but through the witness of the audience with our interactions with our parents, and who we are and how we became who we are. And obviously we’re based on something that is a historical piece of literature which then, you know, he’s sort of expounding from that point. So, there is a base and then we can sort of modernize it by giving ourselves a little more full personalities with these moments. It’s not a whole thing all at once which I think is nice. I discover it, and I’m sure you discover it too, as I go. Oh my father was schizophrenic, or that my mother was married…and my name is Watson because my mother is married to someone because something happened to my father, you know what I mean? Oh and I have a brother. So we learn about that.

JLM: The way we prepare is: we roll with it.

LL: Yeah, we read it in the script. And then we’re like Ok!

N: Speaking of the historic literature this is based on, I love that your interpretations of these characters are so nuanced, and in some ways, damaged a bit. It’s a way that I haven’t really seen the characters interpreted before. Were you able to draw from much of the source materials specifically to prepare for the roles, whether it was the books or previous adaptations? Watson and Sherlock are such historic characters in literature, but you have both brought them to life so modernly.

LL: I think that having that base puts a lot of pressure on you, but at the same time, all I know is that I was a doctor, and I was sort of excommunicated from the community, and as the story has developed, we’ve found out why she was sort of rejected, and then we find out that really she was let go – that she was fired – and that she was offered an opportunity to come back, and she doesn’t because of her chance meeting or maybe she’s disillusioned with that. So, I think when I did meet with Rob originally, I was concerned about that aspect of how do we recognize that and parallel that but not have the community of the Sherlokians and the Watsonians pressurize that image of what they believe it is? And also there’s a movie, and there’s another show out and there’s all of these other iterations, and it’s just been such a slow process of learning about the characters that I think the audience can evolve with us and along with us. We have a base and an outline, but it doesn’t have to adhere to anything specific after that because you don’t know a lot about Watson. We know that she’s the witness to all of his genius – he was the one who wrote those things down and presented them to the audience. So in some ways I have a little more leeway for where I’m going, because he’s really the magnet that draws people in to watch and read.

JLM: I think the damage aspect was really the great thing that Rob had come up with that I tried to meet with, and it’s sort of there in the source material. The fact that he’s – the recovering drug addict thing – the fact that drugs are in the book, it’s not completely out of the blue, but it’s like, “What if this had happened?” It made it very relatable, especially to a modern audience. I tried to run with that, and then I can put in all these other aspects that I had seen in the books that I haven’t really seen in other things. Like he’s struggling, he’s sort of struggling to be nice and actually is not – he actually cares about people quite a bit more than maybe we’ve seen. And I’m always trying to put that in but he sort of gets it wrong a bit. I don’t know. I really liked the what if? The schism in the character. The flaw. We’re always looking for flaws in people. It’s what makes drama fun really.

N: Were you surprised that Moriarty was brought back in towards the end of season 3 to say “You’re my toys to play with. No one else gets to play with you”? After her last episode with her daughter, I thought that might be the last we would see of her because Natalie Dormer is – well it feels like she’s in everything now. Were you both surprised to see her brought back or do they give you enough of a lead in the story at the beginning of the season that you always know what’s coming?

LL: We generally don’t find out – and they’re working it out in the writer’s room – what their plans are. Sometimes I’ll call Rob, and I don’t know, Jonny, correct me if I’m wrong…he doesn’t necessarily like to know what’s going on. He’s very much in the present moment when he reads those scripts, and he has so much dialogue. But sometimes I want to know where I’m going because I’m trying to thread the emotional aspect of where we’re going and that trajectory. I think it’s important that they continue that. If you’re going to have someone that is going to be that much of a nemesis or that much of an emotional tie to Sherlock to kind of keep sort of teasing it into the show but not necessarily have it present. Because it takes the energy away from that person. When someone makes a cameo appearance or shows up to do something that is a big deal. Do you know what I mean?

N: Yes.

LL: And so you don’t want to dilute that in any way. So I think it makes sense that she had something to do with it. I mean, I was sad that they killed off my boyfriend because was Raza was so wonderful.

N: And it was such a beautiful little storyline.

LL: It was. And I was like, “Am I ever going to date anyone who’s going to survive now?” But in the actual literature itself, what happens is Watson’s wife passes away. So I think they sort of had that analogy of the two relationships. And then he becomes really a partner to Sherlock. And I think it was very important for Rob in that particular episode that she asks him to come back. She tells him she wants to come back as opposed to him saying, “Come on,” you know. It was a big deal. We don’t know ultimately if Moriarty is going to come back but most likely not this season? It’s a tease.

JLM: It’s funny because it’s the way that you and an audience think, “Oh that actor is super busy when are they going to come back?” That’s the way people think which is so funny. Which is why it was so cool. And one thing that we know is that she really likes to work on the show, so that’s why it would be no problem for her to do the voiceover or whatever. So it is kind of cool as with many of the other characters that we’ve had. And I think that’s great. I think they’re quite deft with how they’re able to surprise people because that’s actually what you’re trying to do.


Let us know what you’re looking forward to in Elementary season 4 in the comments below. The show returns November 5th at 10pm ET.

Image Credit: CBS/Elementary

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