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Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Nearly seven years have passed since we were first introduced to Sherlock’s Molly Hooper, the mousey lab technician who pines for Sherlock Holmes.
Molly: I was wondering if you’d like to have coffee.
Sherlock: Black, two sugars, please. I’ll be upstairs.
Jace: As the legend goes, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the show’s creators, didn’t envision Molly being a long-standing character, but they were charmed by her and decided to keep Molly, and the actor who plays her, Louise Brealey, around.
Since that first episode, Molly has gone from being the butt of a joke to a fan favorite. She’s gotten to slap and kiss Sherlock Holmes, and we’ve even seen her portrayed as a mustachioed, Victorian doctor in “The Abominable Bride.”
Louise Brealey: I really liked it a lot. I did not want to take that mustache off.
Jace: How will Molly Hooper surprise us next?
With a new season of Sherlock lurking just around the corner, Louise Brealey answers our questions — and asks a few of her own — about her character and Sherlock lore both past and future.
Jace: This week we are joined by Sherlock star Louise Brealey. Welcome.
Louise Brealey (Louise): Hello (laughs).
Jace: True or false: Molly Hooper was only originally meant to appear in the first episode of Sherlock.
Louise: You see, that was a question, because that was the story that has become the thing that, I think, Steven and Mark say. But, I don’t know I… (Laughs) I always thought she was just going to be in it. Which is a… Because originally they were 60 minute episodes rather than the 90 minutes that we now have. So, I thought she would just be bobbing up, and getting insulted once an episode, for, sort of, ever.
But anyway they tell me now that, “No she was just an idea for the start,” and then they were so enchanted by her that they brought her back. Which is a nice story (laughs) and I’m gonna stick with it, and pretend that that’s the God’s honest truth.
Jace: (Laughs) What do you make of the character’s immense popularity, and her longevity?
Louise: Well, gosh, it’s a big question. What do I make of it? Well, I like it. It’s great. It’s great that people have enjoyed encountering her, and they can see, perhaps, some humanity in her. I don’t know. What do you think?
Jace: I love her. I mean, I think she is, in a show filled with misfits, perhaps, the most outsider-y misfit of them all.
She’s sort of the audience’s entry point, in a way.
Louise: Yeah, she’s… It was a bit at first as if she was several women that I knew that were sitting on their sofas watching it, and longing to stroke Benedict. I think there was a bit of that, certainly, at first. And I think because she’s so ostensibly normal, that that helps in terms of an audience entry point, doesn’t it? I mean, I know the obvious person that’s doing that is John Watson. I mean, that’s the character in the books. That’s his job amongst other jobs, is to be the reader, isn’t it? And I think, in her very small way, Molly achieves that for womankind.
Jace: You, to date, still have the best description of Molly Hooper that I’ve ever read, which is…
You wrote that she was, “The awkward, besotted morgue mouse with the Christmas-present bow in her hair.” Is that still how you see her?
Louise: Do you know, I don’t think it is anymore, which is rather nice, because she’s seven years old, really, isn’t she, as all the characters are. And I think, over that time she has grown. I mean, you’d think that somebody would grow over that time. Hopefully you have. I have. And she has too, which is great. Although, I still think she’d probably put a Christmas present bow in her hair (laughs).
Jace: (Laughs) What was your initial audition for Molly like?
Louise: Well, it was very unremarkable. You know, it was quite a small part, so I hadn’t got very worried about it or anxious, and I just went in and did my bit. There were three people facing me, which is unusual. It was a bit, sort of… It felt slightly intimidating in there, so at that point, I was like, “Hm, okay.”
Mark Gatiss was there, Sue Vertue was there, and the casting director, Kate Rhodes James. But I wasn’t like, “God, I’ve got to have this part.” I absolutely loved the script, as does anyone who ever reads that script, because, well, I’m not not going to pursue the metaphor, but it is a thing of beauty, it really is.
It’s just so good.
And then I got it and went to the read-through, and saw immediately that Martin Freeman and Benedict… (Laughs) He doesn’t need a surname anymore, does he? And Benedict were- that something remarkable was happening. The only other time I’ve been in a read-through room, and anything like that’s happened has been when I did Bleak House a long time ago, and that was clearly brilliant. But yeah, it was really special, so it was only at that point that I just thought, “Crikey. I’m glad- I’m really glad I got this.”
Jace: (Laughs) I will say I finished rewatching Bleak House for the 80th time last night, so…
Louise: (Laughs) Oh, did you?
Jace: …we’ll talk about Judy Smallweed in a little bit. I’ve only seen it about 80 times.
Louise: Oh, little Judy (laughs). Yes, so you know the script’s pretty good.
Jace: Yes. (Laughs) The first time we see Molly is the scene with Sherlock and the riding crop at St Bart’s in “A Study in Pink.”
Sherlock: How fresh?
Molly: Just in. 67, natural causes. Used to work here. I knew him. He was nice.
Sherlock: Fine. We’ll start with the riding crop.
Jace: What was it like filming that sequence?
Louise: Well, of course we filmed it twice, because we did it for the pilot, which we then- which was then rewritten slightly, and bumped up to an hour and half. So, I actually filmed that scene twice, I think, unless I’ve lost my marbles, which is entirely possible. It was a while back.
The writing was so good that I immediately had a, sort of, quite a clear feeling of how I thought she might be. And, you know, some of that stuff is just outright amusing, I think, with her… I found this little “okay” that she says… She sort of nods and “Okay, okay.”
Sherlock: What happened to the lipstick?
Molly: It wasn’t working for me.
Sherlock: Really? I thought it was a big improvement. Mouth’s too small now.
Louise: And that, and that seemed to… (Laughs) That got me through the first episode (laughs). It’s just… Yeah. She just wouldn’t say boo to a goose in that season, I think, and certainly not in that episode. Anyway, I digress.
It was brilliant fun. In fact, we weren’t shooting at Bart’s, obviously, but we were in a morgue in Merthyr Tydfil, in South Wales.
Which is one of the least fun places that I’ve been to. Not to be mean about Merthyr Tydfil, it has, I’m sure…
Jace: It has it’s charms, I’m sure.
Louise: (Laughs) Yeah, I’m sure it does. The morgue isn’t- or the mortuary at that hospital isn’t one of those charms. So, it was a very curious environment, and we were all slightly trying to pretend that we weren’t really filming in a morgue with loads of actually dead people in the fridges. In fact, we’ve not filmed there very much over the seasons, because Mark, in particular, absolutely hates it, and I don’t blame him. It is quite odd. So, yeah. So, we were there, with Benedict whacking a cushion.
Jace: (Laughs) What do you make of Molly and Sherlock’s dynamic, and how it has shifted over these three seasons?
Louise: Well, first I just think the fact that it has shifted is brilliant. Their dynamic is very funny and very, you know, hopefully, ultimately moving once you key in to Molly and start to, hopefully, like her, and invest in her and what she desperately wants. And then how that developed, I just think it’s very skillful of the writers because, you know, in another show that would have just continued, and I really appreciated the way that she grew.
And her great love for him, it it doesn’t dim- ultimately I don’t think it diminishes her, somehow. I don’t know how it’s possible, because… It… I’m gonna get all, sort of, vague about it, but…
Jace: No get philosophical.
Louise: (Laughs) Yeah, well I just think, you know, unrequited love is hard, but there’s something about being able to love like that I think is… I do think it’s redemptive.
And I think that their friendship, it would’ve been very unlikely at the very beginning, because he just didn’t respect her in the slightest, I don’t think, and she was just, you know, that emoji with the love heart eyes. I mean, that was what she really was.
And I think, yeah. I think… I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I don’t think her love is remotely diminished, but… I keep saying “diminished” (laughs). I must have read it today somewhere.
Not that I’ve never read it before. But, do you do that, when you just get a word and just completely overuse it. Anyway, sorry.
Reduced. Reduced? (Laughs)
Louise: Yeah (laughs).
I really love their relationship, I’m really… I find… I love Molly. I’m really proud of what I did with the part, and I’m… I just think the writing’s terrific. So, every box is ticked (laughs).
I’ve bumbled off into other things. But, no… But, perhaps… Yes. You might want to… I don’t know.
Jace: (Laughs) No.
There’s a bit of fan service in the kiss Molly and Sherlock share in the fantasy sequence in “The Empty Hearse,” which represents Anderson’s theory about how Sherlock survived the fall. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous scene. What was it like filming that sequence?
Louise: It was so James Bond, the whole thing. I mean, obviously we were in a studio, and there was sugar glass, and crash mats, and harnesses, and all sorts. And, it was just a great laugh. Ben and I are friends, and it was just brilliant fun to be doing this, sort of, crazy scene.
I mean, I didn’t realize that it was going to be, for some Sherlock fans, as (laughs) exciting as I think it was. I mean, it really was crackers. I think, at the time, I had something like 7,000 Twitter followers, and within about a minute and a half of that kiss screening I had 14,000.
Louise: I mean, it was absolutely bonkers. And… I mean, I’ve always taken the credit for Ben’s hair ruffle as he comes through the window to get rid of his glass. He did it in one take, and then he didn’t do in the next one, and I said, “Ben put the ruffle back in, it’s hot. Do it again.” (Laughs) So he did. And that… So, yeah.
Jace: It makes that scene.
Louise: Well, I think so, Jace. I think so (laughs).
I’m sure Ben will take the credit himself, but he’s lying.
Jace: It’s all Louise. It was all Louise.
Molly and Sherlock form a short-lived, crime-solving partnership in “The Empty Hearse.”
Louise: They do.
Jace: Why do these two keep coming back to each other?
Louise: Well, I sort of… I know why, why- Molly simply simply loves him. And it’s not a sort of… I don’t think it’s a stupid thing. I think, there’s something pure and beautiful about her love for him, and so… He, Sherlock, has become… You know, we’ve seen more of his vulnerabilities, and humanity, and I think Molly saw it from the start, and I think that that’s one of the reasons why she cares for him.
And in terms of him with her, I think she surprised him. I dunno, I really like that these tiny moments happen and other stuff’s obviously going on behind, you know, that we don’t see, as an audience. And something about those tiny moments tell you that — this sounds odd, so you might have to winkle out exactly what I’m on about — but it’s like those tiny, tiny moments make you feel like there’s something else happening somewhere else. Does that make sense? (Laughs)
Jace: It does. Well, speaking of, I think there are these tiny moments that have huge weight. When Molly is able to see Sherlock in a way that the others can’t, she says…
Molly: Are you okay? Don’t just say you are, because I know what that means, looking sad when you think no one can see you.
Sherlock: You can see me.
Molly: I don’t count.
Jace: That does play into, sort of, what we don’t get to see, what happens between episodes or between scenes, that gives a weight to their relationship. I think that’s what, maybe, you’re alluding to.
Louise: I think so. And, and I just think the quality of the moments we do see are such that they allow you to dream around them a little, and just think about who these people might be.
Jace: I mean, Sherlock humiliates Molly at the Christmas party in “A Scandal in Belgravia.”
Is he especially cruel to Molly or does it feel more cruel because of her unrequited love for him?
Louise: That is a really good question. I think, you could argue either. I don’t have the answer to that. I would like to think that he’s especially cruel to her, because I think that gives her a status with him that I would like Molly to have. But, I don’t know.
Jace: I mean, I think she does have a status, you know. The one person Moriarty thought didn’t matter to him mattered the most; she made everything possible.
Louise: Well it… You are… It’s true, you’re right (laughs). I’m done being-I’m being bashful. No, you’re absolutely right, Jace.
I think she unsettles him, or did, you know. I think there’s something about the, sort of, purity and simplicity, and, sort of, unconditional nature of her love, which he does see, ultimately. And there’s something about that doesn’t sit well with him. I dunno. Maybe it frightens him (laughs). I don’t know. What do you think?
Jace: Maybe it does. It might. It might be that sort of unsettling thing.
Louise: I mean, it’s counter to who he is.
Jace: Yeah. I mean, she is overt.
Louise: She’s all feeling, isn’t she? And he’s all thinking.
Jace: Thought. I know.
Louise: At least, that’s what sort of… That’s their sort of baseline. So, yeah.
Jace: She has the worst track record when it comes to men.
Sherlock, Jim Moriarty, Tom who seems to be a Sherlock manque. Why can’t she find happiness when it comes to love?
Louise: Well, I dunno. What as… I’m not her psychologist, and it’s not my job to do that. However, it’s very difficult not to wonder, and… I mean, I think the obvious answer is that she can’t find happiness with someone else, because Sherlock is just in her blood. But, dunno. Maybe she… (Laughs) I don’t know. I mean, the cod psychology version is, she knows he’s not going to commit, and she’s afraid of committing herself, so that’s why she’s gone there. But I don’t… I mean, I wouldn’t… I don’t really get into that, because it’s not conscious on her part, so it’s not really useful to me. I dunno. What does she… I wonder what she would think about it? I think she would probably prefer not to think about it (laughs).
Jace: See, I want a Molly in therapy episode. That’s what I want.
Louise: (Laughs) Yeah. That would… yeah.
Jace: Molly goes to therapy.
Louise: Yeah, Molly goes… Oh, bless her.
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Jace: Where do we find Molly in Season 4?
Louise: (Laughs) I haven’t seen it. I’m seeing it on Monday.
Jace: Oh, I’ve seen it.
Louise: You are ahead.
Jace: I’ve seen it. I’m ahead of you.
Louise: You are ahead. I’m seeing it in three days.
Louise: And, I mean, obviously I read the script, but I’m really looking forward to it. Tell me how brilliant it is. How brilliant is it?
Jace: It’s very brilliant.
Louise: It is very brilliant, isn’t it? I thought it might be. I’m really excited about the scripts this season. I think, they’re just the best, so spare, and dark, and… Yeah. It was really great to play them.
But, in terms of “Where do you think Molly is?” then, well she’s wearing a very fetching head thing, again. It’s red.
Jace: It’s red.
Louise: Will I get in trouble? Anyway, she’s got a sort of nice head scarf thing on. And, where is she? Well, she’s all right, isn’t she? Bopping along.
Jace: She’s doing fine, yeah.
Louise: I think she’s doing all right, yeah.
Jace: Here, we’re going to play a little game.
Louise: Oh yeah?
Jace: This might be difficult, because you haven’t seen the episode, but you’ve read the script, and you acted in it, so…
Louise: I did (laughs).
Jace: This episode… (Laughs) This interview is running before the first episode of season 4. If “The Six Thatchers” were an adjective, what would it be?
Louise: Oh. Um…
Jace: These get harder as they go.
Louise: Oh, great (laughs). I’ve failed the game on round one. Okay, I’ll just be quick. Black.
Jace: If it were an animal, what would it be?
Louise: I’m so not a lateral thinker, this is hell. I’m sweating. Um, animal. Uh… Oh I know, maybe it’s that… Do you get Planet Earth in America?
Louise: I’m basically plugging a million other shows that aren’t on your channel. I’m sorry. Anyway, it’s brilliant, and there’s this scene where a marine iguana hatchling is pursued by a lot of snakes up a mountain.
And it’s amazing telly. Anyway, I think it might be one of those.
Jace: It’s that. If it were a body part, what would it be?
Louise: Oh, goodness me. Um… Achilles heel (laughs). I don’t know.
Jace: Yeah, so that’s… It’s true, though. I like that, Achilles heel. And lastly, if it were a food, what would it be?
Louise: Oh, good heavens. What would you say? I want to ask you all… I bet you’ve already thought about it, haven’t you?
Jace: I haven’t. God, you’re putting me on the spot now.
Louise: Alright, what’s your… What meal would it be? You’ve gotta help me out here, I’ve done all the other ones.
Jace: Uh, steak and kidney pie.
Louise: (Laughs) You’re so funny. Okay. With peas? Garden peas?
Jace: With peas. Well, yeah, of course. Has to have peas, yeah.
Louise: Obviously. Okay, okay.
Jace: Obviously. Do you have a favorite scene from the series to date, of your own?
Louise: Oh, it’s hard. I really loved dressing up as a man, having a mustache.
Jace: Yes. “Abominable Bride.”
Louise: So that was pretty fun. I just really, really- I really liked it a lot. I did not want to take that mustache off, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around (laughs) in what was Daniel Radcliffe’s suit from “The Woman In White.”
That’s what I was wearing. So, yeah. It was a lot of fun.
It was really fun being Victorian, but with the show, because it just didn’t actually feel that weird. You’d think it would be, sort of, jarring or anomalous or something, but it didn’t. It was just like, “Oh, yeah. Here we are.”
Jace: Your Twitter bio reads, “Actor. Writer. Feminist. Dog botherer.”
Jace: Which of those descriptors best captures you as a person?
Louise: “Dog botherer.” (Laughs)
Jace: (Laughs) Why are you always bothering dogs?
Louise: Because I don’t have one. I can’t really have one, because I’ve got a silly career, a wonderful career, obviously, but a career that doesn’t really allow for you to have a four-legged friend. So, I just pester everyone else’s in the street, and… Yeah.
I mean, that’s really a defining factor when I’m outside. You know, if I’m outside in the streets, then it would definitely be dog botherer. But…
I dunno which of the other three in… I think I’m all of them.
Jace: Do you see Molly Hooper as a feminist character?
Louise: (Laughs) That’s interesting, because I was really coming into a much clearer understanding of feminism and how it impacted me and my life and women around me, and the women in my family. Through those seven years, I became much more political. So, there was an interesting moment for me, actually around the Christmas present scene when we were rehearsing it, because we used to sort of do little bit of rehearsal. We don’t need to do it anymore because we’re marvelous at it, so we don’t need to practice, but…
So, we were rehearsing that and it was a slightly previous version, and in that version, Molly didn’t really have a comeback. Sherlock gave her all that stuff, about breasts and f***ing… Excuse me (laughs). Oh, dear. All right. Hang on.
Erase the tape. Whoops. Well, there you go. You see, I’m… Well, it’s because I’m riled. Well anyway, about breasts and lips and blah blah blah. And I was there and I did the scene, and it didn’t have a comeback, and I just said to Mark and Stephen, I said “Look, I know she’s just-” at that point she was still quite mouselike, “I know she’s a little rodent and everything, and I know that she adores him, but she needs to say something. I don’t know anyone… No.”
She needs a comeback.
Sherlock: …It’s for someone special then. A shade of red echoes her lipstick, either an unconscious association or one that she’s deliberately trying to encourage. Either way Ms. Hooper has love on her mind. The fact that she’s serious about him is clear from the fact she’s giving him a gift at all. That always suggests long term hopes, however forlorn, and that she’s seeing him tonight is evident from her makeup and what she’s wearing, obviously trying to compensate for the size of her mouth and breasts…
Molly: You always say such horrible things. Every time. Always, always.
Louise: Look, I think, it’s absolutely fine to play an antifeminist, a racist, it doesn’t matter. If the show isn’t supporting that point of view, then that’s fine. You know, I didn’t have to play someone who is empowering or empowered. I don’t have to that. It’s a ridiculously boxing-in thing. But at the same time, you have a sort of responsibility- I don’t know, we’re getting into dodgy ground. But, anyway, I was really glad they gave her that other line, and I’m really excited that she has a dignity to her.
Yes, I’ve gone off on one, again, haven’t I?
Jace: No. (Laughs) I can’t get through this interview without saying “Shake me up, Judy,” which I say at least once a week, because of Judy Smallweed in Bleak House.
Jace: That was pretty early on in your career. What was that production like?
Louise: Well, it was wonderful, because I was with the completely brilliant Phil Davis the whole time, because I was playing he granddaughter, much to his chagrin, because he’s not- you know, he’s only- he’s certainly not old enough to be my grandfather (laughs).
And in fact still whenever I see Phil about, because obviously he was in a “Study in Pink” wasn’t he?
Jace: “Study in Pink,” yeah.
Louise: Yeah, so, we occasionally see each other around the houses, and I absolutely love him, and I always am shocked by how well he looks, and I say, “Phil, you look amazing,” and he’s like, “Yes, Loo, you say that every time.” (Laughs) “I was covered in red stuff from my face veins, and I had all my teeth yellowed when we did that job.”
So I always think he looks amazing when I see him.
It was great, and it was really fun to be, you know, doing a period drama. And also, the other brilliant thing about it for me was that I didn’t really have any makeup, it was this sort of little pot of brown dust that the makeup designer just smeared artistically on my face, which was immensely liberating, because you didn’t have to try to look, you know, attractive. Anyway, I digress.
So, that was lovely. Me and Phil are always really surprised by how much people enjoyed “Shake me up, Judy” (laughs). Bless him.
Jace: There’s been talk that this might be the final season of Sherlock. If it is, what will you take away from your experience on the show?
Louise: Oh. You know, it’s funny, even just acknowledging that possibility is… It has just been a really big part of my life. I owe it so much, and I love it. And I love her.
It’s a funny one, I think, being involved in a show that big, I’ll always be Molly from Sherlock. I just will (laughs). And I’m okay with that. You know, obviously, I also want to work and surprise people and challenge myself and, you know, be allowed to grow as an actor as well as a person, but at the same time, I don’t feel allergic to the idea that this show changed my life, and has touched so many people. I mean, how impossibly annoying of someone would that be, you know? I know that that does happen occasionally, and I’m sure it gets- if you’re super famous it must get absolutely relentless, and you want to just go “Graaaa!”
But I’m not in that bracket, and I… It’s nice, you know. I was having a dinner with my friend last night in a lovely, little Italian restaurant up here in Edinburgh, where we’ve been filming, and this very drunk woman came and knelt, knelt at my feet (laughs). She was a grown woman, she wasn’t a child. I mean, she was, as the Scots say, “steaming.”
Very drunk. But, she was, you know, she was just so excited about Sherlock the show, and she just loved it. And, you know, how can you… You know, obviously, if there was a queue of people wanting to kneel at your feet while you’re trying to eat your tagliatelle, it might be problematic, but that’s not my life, so I’m just very glad that I did a good audition that day, and that I got this chance to be a part of something like this. Because I don’t think it happens very often.
Jace: The game is almost on. Ring in the new year with brand new Sherlock, premiering on January 1st at 9 pm ET on MASTERPIECE and streaming online.
Martin Freeman: And it’s more fantastic adventures, frankly.
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MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Rachel Aronoff. Kathy Tu is our editor. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas and Susanne Simpson. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
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Jace: But I loved your raspy man voice as doctor Hooper.
Louise: (Laughs) Oh dear. Yeah. That was a funny old day (laughs). Yes, I dunno. I can’t… “Holmes. Holmes. Watson.” All that stuff.
Jace: (Laughs) It was very Frank Butcher from EastEnders.
Louise: Oh, God. Thanks a lot. Jesus.
Jace: (Laughs) In a good way, in a good way.
Louise: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.