The debonair new resident of 221B Baker Street
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The series was an on-again, off-again project for several months, during which Brett did a ``Tempest'' in Toronto and began rereading Conan Doyle's stories. ``I hadn't read them since school and I began to find all sorts of things, like he only wore the deerstalker in the country, a top hat in the West End, and the bowler in the East End. ... Suddenly there was an essence.'' Brett also discovered in the original Sidney Paget illustrations ``a look that I suddenly thought that I could use, particularly in profile.'' (Staying in profile, it turns out, and the whippy use of his hands close to his face ``to indicate a change of thought,'' are two of Brett's main techniques.)Skip to next paragraph
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``Then I did a camera test and I was terrible. I was so nervous. To try and give the illusion of intelligence, I painted my forehead white and I had a black, gentian violet under here,'' he says, putting hands to his throat. ``And I think I walked rather fast. My brilliant producer finally said, `Is there going to be anything of Jeremy in this at all?'''
That first episode was ``The Solitary Cyclist,'' about which Brett says, ``The momentum had begun and I had begun to find things - the cracks in the marble - such as his delicacy with women, his failures, the little human elements. ... But he's a very isolated, private man, he's removed emotion from his life, and that's what makes him so hard to play.''
But play him Brett does, in a supremely, if slightly out-of-fashion, high style. ``Of course, the performance is over-the-top,'' says Brett with a laugh. ``But I'll tell you what it is, I've played him as a kind of romantic hero ... because I don't feel adequate for the part. You know, you have all these marvelous ideas in your head and all that comes out is this awful `you.'''
Avoiding being bored with ``you'' seems to be a driving force for this actor, the son of World War I hero and an Irish Quaker mother, who originally wanted to be a singer. But his ``glorious soprano didn't break so well.'' Then came aspirations to be a jockey or a dancer. ``But I got too big to be a jockey. As for dance, after I went to my first ballet I suddenly realized that the man spends all his time lifting the woman in front of himself, and I thought that's a bit deadly.'' Brett settled on classical acting, attended London's Central School of Speech and Drama after Eton, and later worked in the West End.
``It was lean pickings,'' says Brett about those years. ``I was the classic young romantic juvenile, the young gent, just as the Angry Young Men [playwrights] were coming in. I mean, right. No space for me.''
Brett eventually took refuge with Sir Lawrence Olivier at his National Theatre, spending four years churning out credible Shakespearean performances before heading for Los Angeles. There he appeared in such films as ``War and Peace'' and ``My Fair Lady,'' in which he played Freddy and sang ``On the Street Where You Live.'' To this day, Brett says he prefers film to the stage.
``It's this kind of love affair between yourself and this giant one-eyed moose,'' he says about the camera. ``You cannot lie to that all-seeing eye.''
Brett's success as Sherlock Holmes has also engendered a different kind of all-seeing eye. After the death in 1983 of his second wife, Joan Wilson, the Boston-based executive producer of ``Masterpiece Theatre'' and ``Mystery!,'' Brett suffered a well-publicized nervous breakdown - a time about which he hisses, ``The press were vile. The bloody press exposed it, so I had to wear it outwardly and it's been horrid. Now, I am just beginning to get my health back.''
``It's one of things I think you'll see in these new episodes,'' he says. ``He's warmer, a little less on the dark side. I've changed the makeup a bit; he doesn't look so ill, so coked up.'' About Holmes's controversial cocaine habit, Brett says, ``That's the other thing that thrills me about these new stories, that he gets to kick the cocaine habit, which had begun to worry me. Anything that says, `Hello cocaine,' these days, well, a statement has got to be made.''
And then Brett, that darling, darling man leaps to his feet. His dresser has reappeared and the show must go on. But not before he plants a swift kiss on the cheek of his interviewer. One half expects to hear Sherlock Holmes's immortal words, ``The press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it.''