The two British stars won a joint Best Actor prize after sharing the lead in the National Theatre’s Frankenstein.
But now Jonny Lee Miller will go head-to-head with Benedict Cumberbatch in a battle to determine who is television’s predominant Sherlock Holmes.
Miller, 39, the Trainspotting actor, has won the lead role in Elementary, a show created by US broadcaster CBS, in which a detective solves cases inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, set in contemporary New York.
Elementary has already been threatened with legal action by the producers of the BBC’s Sherlock, amid concerns that its modern-day scenario appears to borrow elements from the hugely-successful series starring Cumberbatch.
Sherlock producer Sue Vertue hinted that CBS are now sniffing around her team for casting clues. She told The Independent: “Johnny is a very fine actor, who I saw recently in the theatre when he and Benedict played alternating roles in Frankenstein. Let's hope their pilot script has stayed further away from our Sherlock than their casting choice."
She added: "We have been in touch with CBS and informed them that we will be looking at their finished pilot very closely for any infringement of our rights.”
Cumberbatch, 35, has signed on for a third run of Sherlock adventures and the trans-Atlantic screen rivalry with Miller could challenge a friendship forged during their unique job-share at the NT.
Miller and Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature on a daily basis during Danny Boyle’s production. The aim was to balance Miller’s “interior” acting style of Miller with the more flamboyant Cumberbatch.
Miller admitted that swapping roles was a challenge. He said: “That was the worry to begin with; how precious were Benedict and I going to be? ‘That’s my idea, you can’t do that!’” But the pair “realised early on that we were going to get on.” They were both named Best Actor at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards.
Miller is already familiar to US television viewers after starring in a legal drama Eli Stone and the serial killer series Dexter. The BBC Sherlock is shown on the US PBS network and its success has helped Cumberbatch make a leap into Hollywood. He is currently shooting his role as the villain in the next Star Trek film and appears in Peter Jackson’s new Tolkien blockbuster, The Hobbit.
The boarding school-educated Cumberbatch studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and graduated to the screen after excelling in classical stage roles.
Miller quit school at 17 to pursue an acting career, married Angelina Jolie and earned further notoriety for running with the Primrose Hill set, whose members included Jude Law and Sadie Frost.
Miller will shoot a pilot episode of Elementary with a series planned for September if the response is favourable. CBS insists that their show not infringe the copyright of the BBC series, written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
The broadcaster said: “Our project is a contemporary take on Sherlock Homes that will be based on Holmes, Watson and other characters in the public domain, as well as original characters. We are, of course, respectful of all copyright laws and will not infringe on any stories or works that may still be protected.”