Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' Robert Downey Jr., Jared Harris, and Guy Ritchie Discuss the "Super-Villain" Moriarty
12.16.11 by Ryan
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law acquitted themselves nicely as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, respectively, in 2009's Sherlock Holmes, thwarting the diabolical plans of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). In the upcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, however, the stakes will be raised, as the pair will face off against their oldest and greatest nemesis: Professor James Moriarty.
Though Moriarty only appeared in two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories — 1883's The Final Problem (which ended with Holmes and Moriarty falling to their deaths) and 1915's The Valley of Fear, Doyle's final Sherlock Holmes novel — Moriarty is as iconic and as expected character in any Sherlock Holmes franchise as Holmes and Watson. In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Game of Shadows director Guy Ritchie called the character "the most famous villain in literature."
I can't think of a super-villain in a sort of obvious commercial sense before Moriarty in literature. He really has become the most famous villain in literature, for not doing a great deal, either, by the way. But it is interesting how he's carried so much momentum. He's an elusive character, really, and he gained his equity as much by being elusive as for being potent.
Playing Moriarty in the sequel is Jared Harris (Mad Men, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), who agrees that Moriarty is critical as an opponent for Holmes, since it gives the detective a formidable opponent.
You have Superman, you have to create a Lex Luthor or you have to have a kryptonite. Otherwise, there's no jeopardy in your story. You have someone who's invulnerable, who never loses. After a while, you get fed up with the stories. ...
[Moriarty]'s there for the reason that the audience would feel like somewhere out there lurking is this opponent for this character they've come to love, and they start worrying for the future of that character. Will he be all right? Will he finally meet this person? What's going to happen?
Downey Jr. feels that Harris' performance as Moriarty is the sequel's greatest achievement. "I think the great kind of success of this second installment, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, is Moriarty," the actor told The Hitlist. "He's arguably the original gangster of super villains, so we felt the weight of that. Most people know [Harris] from Mad Men and the great work he's done, but I think this is really bringing him into the forefront."
How Moriarty reclaims his "original gangster status", Downey Jr. told The Huffington Post is through "subtlety and the implied threat", an aspect of the character that producer Lionel Wigram compared to "the shark in Jaws."
You have to imagine him a long time before you actually meet him. He's the spider who sits at the center of a web of crime. He's the first organized crime boss, and you get the sense of this massive worldwide network of stuff that he's into. You just sense that Holmes, were he not so horrified, would be mesmerized by how brilliant Moriarty is.
Of course, Holmes is not so mesmerized by Moriarty that he won't get into a fistfight with his archrival, as shown briefly in on the latest TV spots for the sequel.