Monday night on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” Robert Downey Jr. stopped by to promote Sherlock Holmes, in theaters on Friday, and bantered with Dave about the possibility that Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective and his long-suffering sidekick Dr. Watson were more than just mates. The banter went as follows:
Letterman: “Now, from what I recall, there was always the suggestion that there was a different level of relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson.”
Downey: “You mean that they were homos…”
Letterman: [Laughs.] “Well…”
Downey: “That is what you’re saying?”
Letterman: “In a manner of speaking, yes…that they were closer than just out solving crimes. It’s sort of touched on in the film, but he has a fiancée, so we’re not certain. Is that right?”
Downey: “She could be a beard. Who knows?”
Paul Shaffer: “What are they, complete screamers? Is that what you’re saying?”
Downey: “Why don’t we observe the clip and let the audience decide if he just happens to be a very butch homosexual. Which there are many. And I’m proud to know certain of them.”
According to one published report, execs at Sherlock’s studio Warner Bros. were concerned that the star’s coy joking sets the wrong perception for the film, i.e. conditioning the audience to view Downey’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson as lovers. [UPDATE (Wednesday afternoon): Warner Bros. declined comment on Downey’s remarks, but a source close to the film insists studio execs are not upset about the actor’s Letterman appearance, which we’ve embedded after the jump.]
This isn’t first time Downey has made this crack, either. Earlier this year, the actor caused a stir in the British press with similar comments. Which is part of the reason my reaction to the “controversy” can be summed up in one word: Seriously?! With a little clever shtick, Downey has been able to create a small media stir around his film at a time when James Cameron’s Avatar is dominating the cultural conversation. Hey! Do you think that’s exactly why Downey decided to get all provocative in the first place—to push his latest very expensive franchise flick through the clutter of Avatar blah blah blah? Nah, that would be cynical! Maybe Downey was trying to accomplish something more interesting and noble. Like, what if by spinning Holmes as gay, he’s trying to get people to confront their own attitudes and biases about homosexuality, the look and form of movie heroes, and… and… oh, never mind. That sounds pretty far-feteched, too.
I know a number of people who’ve seen Downey’s Holmes in the trailers for the film and have noticed that his characterization has a bit of swish to it. But I haven’t heard anyone say that they would not see the film because of it. I would also note that people said the same thing about Johnny Depp’s turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, and that movie did just fine at the box office.
For some reason, anytime Hollywood decides to give us a male dynamic duo, gay speculation must ensue. See: Batman and Robin and Kirk and Spock. Heck, the Stiller/Wilson Starsky and Hutch remake turned this bit into a whole movie. What’s up with that, anyway? Not that it would bother me if Downey and Law are playing Holmes and Watson as closeted boyfriends, not just BFFs. I’m open minded. In fact, given how many Holmes/Watson stories have been told over the years is so many different media and mediums, I’m certainly in the market for a bold new take. But what do you think, Popwatchers? Do you think Warner Bros. should be legitimately worried for their film? Does the prospect of Downey playing Sherlock as wink-winky gay strike you as so egregiously (Baker Street) irregular that you’d steer clear of the movie–and does that strike you as intriguing? Comment below.