Sherlock's Amanda Abbington admits partner Martin Freeman is one of her favourite actors

For actress Amanda Abbington, joining real-life partner Martin Freeman in the latest series of Sherlock was far from elementary, she tells James Rampton

Amanda Abbington did not land her latest role - as Mary, John Watson's new wife, in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern-day re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes - through a conventional casting process.

The sparky, self-deprecating 39-year-old takes up the story of how she was recruited to play the fictional wife of her off-screen partner, Martin Freeman: "We went round to Mark’s house to watch The Hound of the Baskervilles. When it was over, Steven and Mark said, 'Let's go and have a chat in the kitchen about the next series. We want to introduce a new character called Mary. Why don't you come and sit in with us, Amanda?'

"I thought they were going to ask me,  'Do you have any ideas for this part? Which actress do you think works well with Martin? What about Penélope Cruz or Gwyneth Paltrow [two of Freeman's previous co-stars]?' In fact, what they said to me was, 'We'd like you to play Mary'. I probably got quite emotional at that point."

Then, Abbington recalls with a grin,  "I immediately started to talk myself out of  the job, saying, 'Are you sure? Don’t we have millions of actresses who could do this job better than I could?'"

But Moffat and Gatiss stuck to their guns and gave Abbington the role. But even here, the actress's natural self-effacement kicks in. Over a cup of mint tea in a central London hotel, she tells The Independent that, "Mark and Steven thought it would be easy for Martin to play opposite me and that we would have a natural shorthand together - how wrong they were!"

The actress, who met Freeman on the set  of TV movie Men Only in 2000, smiles that, "It's shocking. It'll be the end of the series - there won’t be another Sherlock, all because  of me. It's the curse of Amanda Abbington. There's a little spin-off show right there - a new four-parter about the downfall of all the shows I've been in!"

Holmes wrecker? Amanda Abbington as Mary Watson Holmes wrecker? Amanda Abbington as Mary Watson Of course, her on-screen relationship with Freeman in fact crackles with life. Mary pulls Watson out of the doldrums after the apparent demise two years ago of his best friend, Sherlock Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Later on in the first episode, entitled "The Empty Hearse" and broadcast on BBC1 at  9pm on New Year's Day, Mary offers her shocked husband support after Sherlock reappears out of the blue. She is also John’s rock as the detective duo go on to tackle an urgent terrorist threat.

Dropping the jokey demeanour, Abbington reflects that in reality, "I think Martin and I bounce off each other very well. He is one of my favourite actors.

"He's so easy to work with and so creative. He brings something different to every single take. He is so on top of his lines that he can dig down and find a different angle every time. That really keeps you on your toes. Both characters go on a wonderful journey, and to do that with Martin was such fun."

All the same, the actress, who was born in North London, the only child of Patsy and John, a taxi driver, admits it was a challenge initially to be the "third wheel" in the well-established relationship between Freeman and Cumberbatch.

"Ben and Martin have real chemistry, and I had to hold my own in the scenes with them. It was daunting - not necessarily to come between them, but to arrive as another dynamic."

Abbington carries on that, "I had lots of scenes with just the two of them, and that was quite a bit of pressure. For instance, in the scene where Sherlock 'comes back from the dead' and reveals himself to John, I really had to  up my game."

Ah, yes, the miraculous resurrection of Sherlock - the issue that has set the internet alight since the sleuth appeared to jump to his death off the top of St Bart's Hospital in London almost two years ago.

So, I attempt to ask as casually as possible... just how did Sherlock fake his own demise, then? "I can't possibly tell you," Abbington laughs at the sheer absurdity of the question. "The producers would have me killed - they have that power!"

In the New Year, Abbington will also be seen in another popular returning drama, ITV1's Mr Selfridge. In the second series, which is set on the eve of the First World War, she plays the lovelorn head of accessories, Miss Josie Mardle, in the famous Oxford Street department store run by the charismatic Harry Selfridge,  portrayed by Jeremy Piven.

The drama is shot on a gorgeous set custom-made in a former carpet warehouse in one of the less prepossessing part of north-west  London. Abbington, who lives in Hertfordshire with Freeman and their two young children, says that, "When you're wandering around the glamorous shop-floor set, you forget you're in Neasden. Then at 7pm, you step outside and think, 'Oh, now I remember. We’re actually in a shabby car park.'

"Last year, a lot of pigeons were living in the warehouse. One day I was doing a scene, and this big pigeon poo landed just in front of me. I thought, 'My first review is in. You didn't like it, did you? Come on, don't sit on the fence!'"

As you can see, Abbington's career continues to go from strength to strength, and the fact that she has major roles in two huge mainstream dramas will only boost her profile.

But again, the actress's natural modesty asserts itself as she jokes that, "It will either be good for my profile or people will say, 'Every time I turn on my telly on a Sunday night, it's her again!'"

However, Abbington's increasing fame doesn't mean that she's now in the market to appear on reality TV shows such as I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! "Why would you want to be in the jungle for three weeks and eat testicles with Joey Essex for money? It's like going back to Bedlam, watching people doing horrible things for entertainment.

"The only thing I'd love to do is Strictly Come Dancing. I love the idea of learning something. This is an official application. But I'm sure me being on it would be its downfall. The curse of Amanda Abbington strikes again!"

Finally, does Abbington foresee a long run in Sherlock? "I hope there will be a big future for Mary - unless I upset Steven and Mark! In fact, it all depends on this interview. Just be careful. Don’t ruin it for me!"

The new series of 'Sherlock' begins on New Year's Day at 9pm on BBC1. 'Mr Selfridge' returns to  ITV in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness