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Sherlock Holmes plays second fiddle to the scrappy teen heroes of 'The Irregulars'
Sherlock Holmes turns 134 years old this year, and that eccentric private detective keeps proving to every generation that he's vital as ever. Portrayed more than 25,000 times (that's what it feels like, at least) in every medium from books to film, Holmes is the rare character that remains endlessly ripe for fresh interpretation. And now Generation Z is having their way with the legendary investigator in Netflix's The Irregulars.
The eight-episode series debuts on March 26 and is the brainchild of British screenwriter Tom Bidwell (Watership Down, 2018). The Irregulars actually knocks both Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes down a peg, as their adventures are less important than the fact that they inspired the formation of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of Victorian-era London teens hired to do leg work for the detectives.
Led by street-smart urchin Bea (Thaddea Graham), the team eventually widens to include her psychically-touched sister, Jesse (Darci Shaw), street buddies Billy (Jojo Macari) and Spike (McKell David), and Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (Harrison Osterfield), a character based on the real-life royal. Their demanding employers, Watson (Royce Pierreson) and Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), leave a lot to be desired as they bark out their orders for coin, but their secrets and true motivations get revealed as the series unfolds.
SYFY WIRE recently connected via Zoom with three of The Irregulars — Thaddea Graham, Darci Shaw, and Harrison Osterfield — about making Sherlock Holmes and his legacy accessible to their generation. The show's contemporary language, modern needle drops, and focus on the youthful cast reframes the sometimes-stuffy Holmes character in a way the cast says is exciting and welcome… no matter if some adults get shirty about it.
With The Irregulars coming at the Holmes legacy as both an era-appropriate Victorian period piece and a contemporary sounding mystery, what guidance did you seek from Tom Bidwell to land the show's tone?
Thaddea Graham: I remember once we got past [auditions] and we found ourselves in a room with Tom, we just picked his brain about what the hell was going on so that we were all on the same page about a lot of things. [Laughs.] And I think the way that he cast us into this universe — seeing it through the eyes of his young group of street kids — is phenomenal. Taking such iconic characters, such as Sherlock and Watson, but painting them in a way that we've never seen before, is really interesting.
And what I love about our gang is that they aren't your typical superheroes. They don't have magical powers, or fly, or anything. Well, Jessie has something going on, but I can't tell you what it is. But seeing these very normal people in extraordinary circumstances trying to figure it all out, and honestly and genuinely saying, “What the hell is going on?” I think it's really refreshing to see.
Darci Shaw: As Thaddea said, we really did quiz Tom about everything to do with the characters. And that was definitely something that I did with Jessie because she does have these psychic-ish abilities. I was really interested in the extent of that and how these nightmares link to what's going on in the real world. Tom's really intelligent in the way he did that and put the storylines together. At the beginning, I feel like there's a lot to take in. But then as the series goes on everything starts fitting into place, and you connect the dots there to figure it out. And it's really exciting as an audience to solve the mysteries as you go with The Irregulars.
Harrison Osterfield: Having to play a character that was actually a factual person is a very new thing for me. But it's also a very gratifying thing that I can look into the history and read up about what Queen Victoria used to say about her son and all of their scholars that noticed how incredibly smart he was from a young age. To have that, and then also have an amazing writer like Tom, who is only really a text away or on set so you can ask them any questions, was a real, real treat.
It really mapped out Leo's journey and his past and his motivation. And there's a lot of things coming from that. He's been in the palace for 17 years, so I can understand why he wants to get out, but what's he hoping to achieve? Being able to talk to Tom about that sort of thing, and also working and collaborating together was a real treat.
Let's talk about the Sherlock Holmes and Watson of it all, because without giving much away, they are players in this show yet they are played very differently than what many will be used to seeing. How does that help set The Irregulars apart from other adaptations of Conan Doyle's characters?
Graham: What was really interesting to see was, when they're first introduced to Sherlock, he's not in the state that we recognize, or that we expect him to be. I don't want to say too much but Bea, in that scene, is kind of outsmarting him. And he's desperately trying to catch up, to be on the same level and to prove to her that he is this incredible detective. He says to her, "You probably heard of this case that I solved?" And she's like, "Nope. No idea what you're talking about." [Laughs.] I think that's really refreshing, to see that journey.
And we have flashbacks to when he was this incredible detective that we know, and instantly recognize. But it's quite powerful to see an adult and a young person on screen, and the young person is the person he's figuring out and she has these fresh ideas and fresh outlooks. It is quite inspiring to see. Regardless of the time period, we always say the younger generation is the future, and who we should be backing and maybe listening to in a lot of cases. And I think that's really lovely to see. And I love that Tom's opened that door for us in this universe.
Harrison, you were Tom Holland's personal assistant for many years, including his entree into the MCU as Spider-Man. How did that prepare you for taking a role where you're playing against such iconic characters?
Osterfield: Yeah! It was an amazing experience to see those bigger-budgeted CGI films. And then when I walked onto Netflix, it was no different in the fact that they really threw their weight behind it and made this fantastical world. And for me, it was about having both lifestyles, with the Buckingham Palace side of things and also the street side as well. To see how much energy and thought and how much confidence they put into both of those worlds was really special. I felt very lucky to be a part of this huge, crazy experience. We've got so much from supernatural things going on to the big CGI sequences, but also it's a very grounded show as well. To have those grounded, authentic characters in that world, where things are a bit crazy, really brings it home. I think people can really connect with that.
Darci, your character is really the conduit to the supernatural elements of the series. Was it a lot of reacting to nothing on green-screen walls, or did you get more tangible insight into how it was all going to look?
Shaw: We were very fortunate in that we had an incredible costume designer, Ed Gibbon, and an incredible prosthetics and makeup designer, Lucy Sibbick. They brought everything to life. I didn't actually have to imagine a lot of it because nine times out of 10, the thing that was in the scene was in front of us. It would have the blood all over it, and be as gruesome as you thought it would be.
It was really helpful because when you first saw it, you were genuinely shocked. And I remember sometimes making a conscious decision not to look at it until we got to the scene because I thought I would try and get the best performance possible with authentic moments. It's just fascinating. That kind of work and their skill level is just incredible. They really brought a lot to the show.
The Irregulars Season 1 premieres on March 26 on Netflix.