They say almost anyone will sell out if given the chance, and Guy Ritchie was not about to pass his up. When given the opportunity to direct what looks to be the first installment of Warner Bros.’ Sherlock Holmes franchise, he says, the decision was a no-brainer.
“I was ready for a movie like this,” the 41-year-old Ritchie says of his film, which debuts on Christmas. “I wanted to make a movie that big and accessible, I wanted to move away from what it was I was doing. I fancied a change and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
In his 11-year career, Ritchie has earned a reputation as a Tarantino-esque director, a man who makes witty movies— Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla—about tough guys duking it out on the streets of London. He could go on and on about what a hard decision it was, what a risk it was to his indie cred, to make a film like Sherlock Holmes, how he really wanted to be faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but it would all be bullshit. And Guy Ritchie doesn’t do bullshit.
“The agenda is obvious,” he says over lunch at the Four Seasons hotel. “We want it to be popular. We made it for an audience.
“I’ve got to tell you. My disposition lies in rather populist entertainment. I’m not prejudiced in whether a film is low-budget, independent, or studio-oriented. I suppose the only thing I care about is whether you get some feeling, some sense of integrity from what it is you do. As long as that’s not compromised extensively, then I think why should you care about where it comes from?”
Sherlock Holmes is still a witty movie about tough guys duking it out on the streets of London, but his leads are now played by two bonafide stars—Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes, rebooted as a bohemian swashbuckler who drinks too much and gets in bareknuckle brawls, and Jude Law as his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson.
And in keeping with Ritchie’s tart, comedic instincts, the film is also a total bro-mance: When Watson’s character informs Holmes he’s about to get married, the news is met with a Single White Female-worthy meltdown. “It’s a marriage between the two of them, certainly,” Ritchie says. “A real partnership.”
As for the mega-budget, he continues, it did not make him nervous. It was simply a total joy after 10 years of doing independently financed movies, one of which ( Revolver) took a long, long time to get distributed in the United States. “I had deeper pockets and bigger support on this. So if I said, ‘Can I have this scene tomorrow,’ previously there’d be a pause while you’d ask the line producer and there’d be a bit of biting something interesting under their fingernails going on and then you realized that had answered the question for you, which was no. You couldn’t have that. So obviously that wasn’t an issue this time and that was great.”
Making Sherlock Holmes was also cathartic for Ritchie in another significant way—he started shooting the film just as his eight-year marriage to Madonna was ending. Did having so much going on his personal life at the time of the film shoot make things easier or harder?
“Easier,” he says, “It was just sort of heads down, arms swinging.”
And while he’s cautious not to say too much about his famous ex, he’s willing to set the record straight about their one great artistic collaboration together, the 2002 film, Swept Away.
“The whole thing is supposed to be ironic,” Ritchie says of the remake, which, although technically a romantic comedy, suggested that what a domineering woman really needs from her man is a good smack. “It’s about a man that hits a woman, and at the same time, it was her. There were all sorts of irony. If you ask me, everything about it was rather interesting, but it was such a feral relationship between a man and woman and you just can’t get away with that in contemporary society.”
“If you ask me, I think she’s all right,” Ritchie says of Madonna’s acting. “I think she’s perfectly good. I just don’t think people can get her persona out of the way.”
His sublimated rage at Madonna notwithstanding, he is happy to defend her as a thespian. “If you ask me, I think she’s all right. I think she’s perfectly good. I just don’t think people can get her persona out of the way.”
Whatever happened between the two of them, one thing they are in agreement about is what is appropriate for children. And thus far, Guy Ritchie movies have not been on the approved list. Prior to this, Ritchie says, his kids with her Madgesty had never seen any of his films. It’s not the violence or the occasional sex scene, nor is he seriously worried about the films being disturbing to them. “It’s just the language,” he explains. “I don’t want them being conspicuously exposed to bad language.”
Finally, he’s made a movie his children can see. “It’s something the whole family could enjoy and at the same time it’s iconic and English and smart.”
Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.